When I talk about how I use TextExpander to increase my productivity, I sometimes get questions about what TextExpander actually does. Although the name is pretty clear, if you’ve never used the tool, it might not be obvious how it can help speed up your day. So I thought I’d give folks a peek into my TextExpander snippets so you can see what I am talking about.
TextExpander is a Mac-only tool. On my Windows machine, I use a tool called PhraseExpress, which does the same thing–and it can even use my TextExpander settings files, which I keep on Dropbox for this very purpose.
My Golden Rule of productivity
For context: if I have to do something more than once, I try to automate the process. I am sitting at a keyboard all day, and there are many things I find myself typing over and over again. Email addresses, phone numbers, and common replies are just a few examples. TextExpander allows me to create shortcut phrases for these common things so that I don’t have to type the whole text every time. I type the shortcut and it automatically expands into the full text.
Above you can see a list of some of my more common TextExpander snippets. The shortcut for each appears in the gray oval to the right. I preface my shortcuts with two semi-colons to avoid a conflict with the word itself.
For example, when I type ;;paperless, it automatically expands into http://www.jamierubin.net/going-paperless. I don’t have to type the entire URL and there is the added benefit of eliminating the risk that I might make a typo if I do type it manually.
You can see other examples in the list. TextExpander makes it easy to take a short phrase and expand it into something longer.
Common uses for expansion
There are things that I type frequently throughout the day. If I am writing an email and tell something to call me at home, I can include my home phone number by simply typing ;;hphone. This will expand into my home phone number.
If I am filling out a form online and it asks for my street address, I can type ;;street and it expands into my street address. I can type ;;address and it expands into my full address.
I have a number of common replies that I’ve created for frequently-asked questions that I get in email. I get quite a few requests to write guest posts, for instance. I rarely have time to do that, and in those instances, I reply to the email message and in the body I type ;;guestpost and it expands into my default reply.
When I am working on a story or a novel draft, I’ll create snippets for common things like character names, which I can easily expand to save time writing. For instance, for my active story, I’ll create a snippet called ;;mc which will expand into the name of the main character of the story. Consider how often the main character’s name appears and you’ll begin to get an idea of how effective TextExpander is.
One of the more powerful features of TextExpander is that you can use dynamic expansions. You can, for instance, have a shortcut trigger a script that produces output. I often tweet or post about what I am reading. My reading list is kept in a plain text file. If I want to refer to whatever the current book is that I am reading, I can type ;;book and it expands into the current title and author of the book I am reading. I can also type ;;title to get just the title of the book. Or ;;author to expand just the author. I don’t have to change the snippet each time I start a new book. I use a script to lookup the current book. The snippet looks like this:
I have a similar expansion, ;;streak, which will expand to the number of days of my current consecutive day writing streak (571 days as of today).
These seem like small little expansions, but they save me a good amount of time at the keyboard each day. And I am always adding new ones as I find myself repeating other things over time.
Use TextExpander, and have good ideas for other types of snippets? Suggest them in the comments.