When you use a computer all day, every day, typing will invariably take up a significant amount of your time. Therefore, finding ways to minimise what you need to type, can not only save your fingers some extra mileage (helping to stave off RSI), but also result in some significant time savings as well.
For the last few months I have been using Breevy (for Windows) and TextExpander (for Mac) to achieve just that. Not only have I found significant time savings by typing less, I have also found I can achieve tasks faster by the reduction interaction with the mouse. I personally think the mouse is the slowest form of input we currently use today with computers, and therefore by automating tasks and removing the need to take my fingers away from the keyboard I can greatly increase my productivity.
What do they do?
Both Breevy and TextExpander enable you to define keywords/abbreviations that will expand to a “snippet” of text when they are typed on your computer. For example rather than constantly typing “Kind Regards, <newline> Stuart” on emails all I need to type these days is “krds”, and the text is expanded for me.
While this may seem simple at first as you start to use the text expansion on different tasks, the time savings really start to add up. Currently I use the following keywords (just to name a small few):
- pmob – Mobile Number
- pmobi – Mobile Number (international format)
- pmail – Personal Email
- umail – Work Email
- lhack- Lifehacker URL
- sshcbg- SSH to a server with a specific connect string with port forwarding
- sr- My Name
- /. – Loads Slashdot.org URL (personally I love the geekiness of this one)
You might wonder why I use a text expansion utility for entering URLs, as I mentioned earlier I find the mouse to be a very slow form of input. Now I can open my browser using keystrokes on my keyboard, then type a few letters and press enter to go to all the common websites I visit. The great thing is I can do this all without needing to move my hand away from the keyboard to engage with the mouse until the website is actually loaded.
What is the difference between Breevy and TextExpander?
From the feature set that I have used the programs are virtually identical and perform the same function. Breevy and TextExpander are made by two separate companies and the biggest difference between them is that Breevy is for Microsoft Windows and TextExpander is for Mac OSX.
Both TextExpander and Breevy have implemented synchronisation via Dropbox. This enables you to keep all your shortcuts in sync between your different machines. Breevy has taken this one step further and provided the option to synchronise with a Dropbox account that already has a TextExpander database on it. What this means is for you geeks that switch between Mac and PC you can use both Breevy and TextExpander between your machines without needing to maintain two separate copies of the database.
What do they cost and where can I get them?
Both Breevy and TextExpander cost $34.95 USD each (at time of writing). Both are available directly from the company that develops the software, Breevy is available from 16 Software and TextExpander is available from Smile Software.
Tips and Tricks!
Firstly I would strongly recommend that you start out small, pick a few easy things such as your name, mobile number, email address and train your mind to start using those as shortcuts. Once you are in the swing add some more, then take a while to get use to it and so on.
I too thought “Ooh I could add that… and that… and that…” but discovered that by doing it a little bit at a time, I was more easily able to memorise the shortcuts and not have to constantly refer back to find out what the shortcut I had written was.
Another thing to be aware of is that after you create a shortcut you may find that down the track you run into an issue where another “actual” word causes the expansion to occur. Take for example the shortcut “blogger” if you were to create the shortcut “ger” which would expand to “get emergency rations”, you will find you run into issues. When you attempt to type “Blogger” you will end up with “Blogget emergency rations”, therefore you will need to rethink the shortcut and perhaps add an additional letter to it.
This is the main reason why I now try to aim for four letters minimum in my abbreviations. I do admit I have made a couple of exceptions to this rule however even the “sr” I mentioned earlier causes me problems at times.
Lastly, while it is not a feature that I have used (YET), both Breevy and Textexpander provide the ability to use variables in the templates, upon triggering an expansion the software will pop up a box at you requesting the information so you can have a template that requests the users name for example. Very powerful and definitely worth a look, as I mentioned I have decided to start out small and have been slowly building up over the last couple of months.
As an Analyst/Programmer, I use a computer all day, every day. The use of these text expansion tools has helped me to save significant amounts of time by eliminating (at last count) 119 repetitive typing tasks that, previously, I did not realise were taking me such significant amounts of time.
All I can say is do yourself a favour, if you have a computer, and you use it regularly, grab yourself a trial and see the amount of time you can save by eliminating the need to type the same things over and over and reduce the times you need to reach for the mouse.