Going Paperless: Evernote + TextExpander = Productivity

I am currently away on an Internet Vacation. I’ll be back online on March 31. I have written one new post for each day of my Vacation so that folks don’t miss me too much while I am gone. But keep in mind, these posts have been scheduled ahead of time. Feel free to comment, as always, but note that since I am not checking email, I will likely not be replying to comments until I am back from my Vacation on March 31. With that said, enjoy!


I am away from the Internet until March 31, taking a little vacation from tweets and Facebook posts, RSS feeds and email messages. What I am really trying to do is write without the nagging desire to see what’s going on in my growing social network. All of this is preface to say that today’s Going Paperless tip is going to be brief, but hopefully useful. It centers on the desktop versions of Evernote, both Mac and Windows, and what I think is a fairly easy way to make yourself more productive when you use them.

I’ve written before about how I frequently use note templates to more rapidly populate frequently-created notes like meeting notes or telephone call notes. Templates are fine for this, but there is still a drawback: it takes several mouse-clicks to create the template. I keep my templates in a “Template” notebook. Typically what I have to do when I want to create a note based on a template is the following:

  1. Open my Template notebook.
  2. Right-click on the desired template note.
  3. Click the Copy To-> option
  4. Select the destination notebook.
  5. Navigate to the destination notebook to begin using the new note.

Sure, I save some time by having a template in the first place, but these five steps still feel cumbersome to me. I’ve been looking for a way to cut them down, or eliminate them entirely. A service like KustomNote is one way to do this. The problem for me is that KustomNote works from the web, and I typically create these notes from within the desktop clients. But I have finally found a solution!

TextExpander!

I use TextExpander on my Mac to cut down on my typing and more or less automate common, repeatable tasks. For example, I can never remember my home phone number, the hard line that we don’t give out to anyone but friends and family. When sending someone an email and telling them to call me at home, I always had to pause to look up the number. Finally, I created a snippet for my phone number in TextExpander. Now, whenever I type “hphone” no matter where I type it, it instantly replaces the word with my home phone number.

It occurred to me that the same tool I use to expand my home phone number, email address, website URL, etc., I could also use to expand templates in Evernote.

Using TextExpander to create templates for Evernote on the Mac

First, I created a new “group” (folder) within TextExpander to contain my Evernote-specific expansions:

TextExpander Groups

Next, I added the snippets that I wanted to be able to expand. Here is my snippet for my “phone call” template:

TextExpander snippet

There are two interesting things to note here:

  1. TextExpander for Mac allows the insertion of formatted text, which is convenient if you want nicely formatted templates. Actually, TextExpander will let you insert just about anything as a snippet. For instance, my “snippet” could be an image file. Any time I typed the abbreviation, the image would be inserted.
  2. TextExpander has some “insert-time” replacement capabilities.Notice next to the “Date and Time of Call:” there is a string of characters that looks like this: %m/%d/%Y %1I:%M %p. When my snippet is expanded, that string will be replaced by the current date and time at which the snippet was inserted, which saves me even more time.

Here is how it looks in action:

First, I create a new note in Evernote, and then I type my expansion shortcut in the body of the note. In this case my shortcut is 7 characters long, two semi-colons followed by the word “phone”. (I use the two semi-colons first so that typing the word “phone” alone won’t expand the text.)

TextExpander New Note

 

As soon as I finish typing my shortcut word, TextExpander automatically expands it:

Evernote Expansion

 

Note that note only does the text expand, but the date and time codes are converted to the current date and time.

Any text expansion snippet you have in TextExpander can be expanded in Evernote so even if you have some that don’t expand to templates but to other things (like my home phone number) will expand as you type, saving you a little bit of time. But the expanding templates becomes particularly handy when used in conjunction with one of the new features in Evernote for Mac, the Quick Note. By using this new feature I can create a new phone call note, for instance, without even being in Evernote and with a grand total of 1 keyboard shortcut and my snippet shortcut. Here is how it works:

Step 1. Press CTRL-COMMAND-N on your Mac. This brings up the QuickNote window for Evernote:

Quick Note Window

 

Step 2: Type your snippet shortcut into the Quick Note window. This results in the following:

Quick Note Window Expanded

Using PhraseExpress to create templates for Evernote on Windows

TextExpander is only available for the Mac. However, there are equivalents for Windows. The one that I use is called PhraseExpress. One of the nice benefits of PhraseExpress is that it can read TextExpander settings files so you can easily import your Mac TextExpander snippets into PhraseExpress. Here is how you setup a template for Evernote in PhraseExpress.

Just like in TextExpander, I’ve created a folder that contains my Evernote Template. It is into this folder in PhraseExpress that I put my Evernote expansions.

Phrase Express

 

Once I’ve setup my phrases, all I have to do is type them into a note in Evernote. So for instance, if I create a new note in Evernote and then type the phrase “;;meeting” in the body of the note like this:

PhraseExpress2

 

as soon as I press enter or his the space bar, it turns into this:

PhraseExpress3

 

The one disadvantage I’d note that PhraseExpress has compared to TextExpander is that the former cannot do rich-text, so that expansion comes out looking plain text. You’ll note that in the Mac version above, the snippet expanded to rich-text.

Other uses of TextExpander and Evernote

Of course, once you start using TextExpander (or PhraseExpress) in earnest, any expansion you create works in Evernote. If you are creating a grocery list and have a standard set of things you buy, you can create a snippet for that and have it expand when you type the key phrase. Think about the things you type into Evernote over and over again and you’ve probably got a pretty good list of snippets you can use to save you some time in creating notes.

TextExpander for iOS

I suspect more than one person will ask about whether this will work for Evernote on iOS (I can’t speak to Android as I have never been an android user.) TextExpander is available for the iPad and I use it there frequently, because expansion really helps when typing on those virtual keyboards. There is a caveat, however. Applications must be built to make use of the TextExpander API and not all applications are built this way. At present, Evernote for iOS does not use the TextExpander API so your expansions will not work in Evernote on iOS. I have suggested this as a future enhancement to the folks at Evernote, but I don’t know whether they will include it or not in a future release.

That said, iOS comes with same native text expansion capabilities. They are not as robust as what is available in TextExpander, but you may find them useful, and these expansions will work in Evernote. To set them up go to the iPad settings and select Keyboards:

Configuring Expansion in iOS

To add a new shortcut, click on the “Add New Shortcut…” option. You’ll see this:

Add new shortcut

Finally, once you are ready to create a note in Evernote in iOS, simply type your expansion phrase in. You’ll see a bubble appear with the fully expanded phrase. Press space or enter and the phrase will expand:

Text expansion in Evernote iOS


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest1.

Notes

  1. Guess what? This post footer: via TextExpander. It’s got all kinds of uses!

17 thoughts on “Going Paperless: Evernote + TextExpander = Productivity

  1. I think you have just saved my life. I have been using Evernote to save, edit, and create recipes, as I’m an aspiring chef. I have been desperate for some sort of recipe template in Evernote, as I’m constantly typing the same thing over and over again, and I want the recipe notes to all look the same. KustomNote doesn’t really work well, the templates are bland and not easily customizable. I was about to abandon Evernote for this purpose even though I’m a premium member and I have hundreds of recipes already. This is working very well so far, and I’m already getting dozens of ideas in my head of how to make other templates with TextExpander in Evernote and beyond. Thanks!

  2. Fantastic tip, Jamie! This is just what I needed. I found out that TextExpander can no longer “play” in the App Store due to Sandboxing, so got the latest version from the website. The app is definitely worth the money.

  3. In regard to Evernote on iOS: you could make use of an app called Drafts to create your note using Textexpander snippets there and send it to Evernote.

  4. I use Breevy for Windows, which is better than PhraseExpress in a sense that it syncs with your Textexpander snippet file in Dropbox. Rich text not supported as well, unfortunately.

  5. I succeeded in getting this working in Ubuntu! Using the native Linux program Autokey (has to be version 0.82 or higher for the shift key to work correctly with wine) and running Evernote Desktop in Wine, works like a charm!

  6. Hi Jamie! Thanks for the wonderful tip! I’ve started using it in our organization and am already referring this to many of my friends. Great work. Keep it up!

    1. And by the way, PhraseExpress DOES support Rich Text Format (RTF). I just did it on my Windows Desktop.

  7. Absolutely brilliant!

    I have been using Phrase Express for awhile now and had never considered using it to create Evernote templates. This is really going to speed up my process. Thank-you so much for sharing!

  8. Thank you for this great blogpost which I found in your shared EverNote notebook.

    For Windows users who speak German there’s a free alternative to Phrase Express (even for business use) which even has rich text support. You can find information on “Textbaustein deluxe” here: http://www.jbsoftware.de/textbausteinverwaltung/index.htm

    You can sync your phrases via Dropbox or any other sync service to use on different computers, too.

  9. Thank you for sharing this very useful idea with us.
    In combination with the app Drafts for iphone (which works with textexpander) i get the benefit of this solution on the iphone too.

  10. Good tip. However there are options available for us iOS Evernote users.
    Just don’t write your notes in EN but in other note taking apps like: Drafts for iOS or FastEver XL.
    These apps do integrate perfectly with TextExpander and will upload your post afterwards to EN.

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