You may have heard of textexpanders before but been put off setting one up as you know there is an element of habit change to adapt to. That’s how I felt. But a few weekends ago I finally made the leap and have not regreded it.
Finding A Good Textexpander
An important first step is to get yourself a decent textexpander. For your Mac this means having functions so that you won’t accidentally set it off if you are playing a game. For a more general point of view a textexpander that supports macros are better than one that only supports text. This allows for further automation without needing to check information or the ability to create fill in forms with text boxes or drop down options.
I recommend the smile group of textexpanders. This is mainly because they are the service I started with but also because they provide both iOS and OSX apps that work on across your devices.
[Note since I started writing this article version 2.3 of textexpander for iOS has come out and at this point has limited functionality within other iOS apps. They have released an SDK which other developers will need to implement to restore further cross app functionality]
Advance Textexpander Functions
Although pasting in a piece of text is great and very useful, textexpanders can do even more. By using macros you can either automatically enter data (such as the date) or you can create text boxes or option lists where a variable is needed. When you really get into this you can set up systems so that you simply choose from a few options and you get a whole list put out.
Setting Up Your Textexpander
This depends to some degree on if you are using an iOS or Mac OS text expander but there are some common things you should consider.
Using Prefixes For Categories
This helps you group ideas and keep can help simplify your creation process. By starting with an uncommon symbol you are likely to avoid accidentally activating a snippet and yet keep the a divination simple and easy to remember.
Some examples are
- Start with # for numbers
- Start with ! for address
- Start with ; for common snippets
- Start with sig for your signatures
- Start with . for symbols
[Note: I stole some of these ideas from asian efficiency]
Make Sure You Won’t Type It By Mistake!
Some text expanders will replace text automagically even if you don’t want them too! It really helps to make sure that this isn’t something you might easily press by mistake. This is why I like using unusual, yet easy to type, prefixes rather than suffixes or just unusual words. It’s also a reason to make sure you have a good textexpander and not a cheap one (my old Windows one got very confused, and confused the rest of the computer, especially during games.)
Sync Between Devices
Getting your iPhone, iPad and Mac to all have the same textexpander settings will save you from that annoying moment on your phone where you want to send a quick thank you message and the person on the other end simply gets TYVM. or Sig1 in an email. Services such as the great textexpander from smile provide you with a dropbox sync between all your devices.
Use Folders And Organise Your Snippets
After you’ve been using your snippets for a while you’ll want to change things. Maybe you’ve got a new phone number, or maybe you need to update that stock email you send. Or perhaps you need some snippet for a certain client which you don’t need later. If you don’t keep your snippets in a good folder system then you’ll be searching for ages to find the right one. Keep them Organised.
Keep A Cheat Sheet
No matter how natural your snippets are, it will be a bit like learning a new language. I like writing out my snippets (by hand) and having a paper copy on my desk or above the screen at my home desk so I can check them (plus writing things out by hand is a great way to embed new words into your memory as you have to concentrate more than just spelling aloud.
Some Common Snippets
Here are a few obvious examples of snippets that you can easily create and start using right away. It’s not a conclusive list and I’d love your feedback on your favorite snippets in the comments.
Avoid Spelling Mistakes
I’m Dyslexic and British to boot so when writing for an American audience It’s simply a waiting game for someone to come along and
insult correct my spelling. Using a textexpander has helped me to avoid some common mistakes I make when typing. Not only that but it helps me with formatting such as iPhone so that if I accidently type Iphone or another combination I can use the case sensitive settings to correct it to proper formatting. Brilliant!
However, as clever as a textexpander is, it can’t help you with your “you’re and your” or “too, two, to”
Writing your address at the top of a letter doesn’t take long but by replacing it with a short text expander chunk saves you just a tiny bit of time and effort (but feels so good when you start doing it).
A great trick is to use an exclamation mark before the address. From example !home or !jane.
Likewise, your email address is probably something you have to type out even more frequently. Simply replacing it with a text chunk like eee (or !eee as it is a type of address) will save you time everyday.
There are certain responses on certain topics that I send a lot. Generally i try to personalize every message just a bit but the main bulk is often the same. Even just things like your email signature like sig1 or sigwork (for work rather than personal).
Work in an office and need to send letters with the date all the time? Well using a text expander chunk that is set up with macros will do the thinking for you. You don’t even need to check what day it is.
Building on from this, a way to keep track of your expenses can be to use a text expander widget that brings up a stock from for you to fill in. When used in conjunction with an iPhone and an application like evernote or dropbox you can quickly set up some default text that you need to record for your boss or accounting department. When you add in the ability for Evernote to take photos of a receipt and you can quickly store the data you need.
Personal Finance Tracking
Likewise you don’t just have to use this for your work. Keeping track of your personal expenses is important and having a really easy way to set up a form to track your expenses with.
If you are a web designer or editor and write large chunks of code over and over again, then shortening them via a text expander can save you serious time. The beauty of this over, say a default template, is there are chunks like a content box from a database or a navbar. You might not need the exact same parts on every part of a site or mobile app screen so having a quick way to fill it in.
Need to bill a client? Well use a text expander chunk with macros so you can set up variables as you go can help you quickly build a message to send out to your clients in order to get paid.
If you are just using a basic text document for your journal then creating a default journal entry (what happened, what I learned, what could have been better etc) will save you from typing, make sure you don’t accidentally overwrite the original document (I’ve done this so many times myself without thinking) and provide a good framework for each day.
Ever need to enter a symbol like a copyright or even just an й or other letter from a non latin script. By creating snippets for letters or symbols you use a lot you don’t have to search through the insert option, or change keyboard setting or whatever. Simply type your snippet out and it’s there.
Basically, if you find yourself writing a fixed or semi fixed message or chunk of text regularly then save your fingers some leg work and use a textexpander for all it’s worth. I’ve certainly found it to be useful and I am looking for more ways to use it even better.
Do you use a text expander? What are you saving your fingers from typing? Leave your favorite text expander cheats and we’ll post a round up of some of your favorites.
[photo via: bobbi blogger]