Speed Up Data Entry With TextExpander

Screen-Shot-2012-06-21-at-16.30.45.jpg

I spoke last week about the benefits of IFTTT.com , a service that helps you automate some of the more mundane tasks. The busier I get, the more often I look for ways to streamline my workflow. And, since there's only so much you can do with the actual work itself, I usually try to focus on some of the peripheral tasks.

The next big one on my list is TextExpander. I know this will sound silly, but one of the big reasons I was excited about using a Mac at work was TextExpander. They only have versions for OSX and iOS, so I had previously been limited to using it on my iPhone and iPad.

What's TextExpander?

If you type a lot, especially the same things over and over, TextExpander is an amazing time saver. The app lets you setup "snippets". Snippets are bits of text that are effectively shortcuts to larger bits of text. Just like pressing Ctlr+C copies text in Windows, typing ddate while using TextExpander will magically replace ddate with today's date. Much quicker than having to type the date each time.

I know, it's a bit hard to wrap your head around at first. On the Mac, when you open up TextExpander it will have a few common snippets built in. These will help you write out things like your address, the date, an email signature, etc.

There are 3 parts to each snippet: the abbreviation, the content, and the snippet name.

The Snippet Name: Pretty straightforward. This is just the name you give the snippet. So, Email Signature or Home Address.

The Abbreviation: This is the short bit of text that will trigger the content. Try to make it something that can't be accidentally typed regularly. One way is to add a symbol to the front or back of the abbreviation. So, instead of sig for your signature, use ;sig. Another way is like the date example above. Just double up on the first letter like ddate or nname.

The Content: This is the text that shows up when you type the abbreviation. I say text, but you can get really complicated in here if you want. I'll maybe write about that in a future post, but let's stick to the basics for now. I'll give you a couple examples that I use.

Example 1: My email address Like most of you, I have to type out my email address on a regular basis. Filling out forms, or writing letters to people, I'm constantly having to fill in that info. Now, instead of typing out eric@thatbookkeeper.com, I type ericem and voila, ericem disappears and eric@thatbookkeeper.com shows up in its place.

Example 2: My email signature If I only used one email client, or used the same signature every time, I wouldn't have to worry about typing this out. GMail will let you save a signature, and will automatically add it to every new email. The problem is that I don't always want to use the same signature, and I'm not always using the GMail client. So, I have setup a few different signatures, depending on the email account and the situation. Now, instead of typing out a long signature with links, I type tbsig and suddenly my name shows up, followed by links to the website, Facebook, and Twitter.

To say that TextExpander has saved me time is a huge understatement. If you do a lot of typing, it's well worth the money to have it on your Mac, and on your iOS devices.

Note: The functionality of TextExpander is across all apps on the Mac. However, it's limited on iOS. Apple doesn't like other apps having access to its own products directly. Because of that, TextExpander will only work with 3rd party apps. If you want to use your snippets for email, you would have to compose the email in an app like Byword or Drafts first, and then email from there. Not too handy. But, if you're typing blog posts (like I am right now), using Byword makes typing on the iPad infinitely more efficient.

Like a lot of really good apps on the Mac, you're not getting this for free. TextExpander is $34.95 on the Mac, or TextExpander Touch is just $4.99 for iOS. You can use the iOS app on all devices. I have to say that it's well worth the money. Once you have your favourite snippets setup, it's going to save you a lot of time each day.

If you're already using it, let me know what you think.

Automate Your Workflow With IFTTT.com

Running my own one-man show has many advantages. I can set my own hours. I don't have to worry about personnel issues. I don't have to fight my boss about salary disputes. The list goes on.

It does, however, have one huge, glaring disadvantage. I am but one human being, and by nature I have limits to the amount I can accomplish in any given day. Since I don't plan on looking into human cloning (two of me would be terrifying), I have to find ways to simplify or automate my daily tasks.

This can be done in many different ways, and I'd like to discuss a few of them in the future. For today, let's talk about one site in particular that helps automate my work.

IFTTT.com

IFTTT stands for If This Then That, which is a great way to describe the point of the site. When you first sign up, you connect some of your most used web services and social media accounts. Then, through the creation of what the site calls Recipes, you answer the question...if this happens, then do that.

The site gives you a lot of ways to answer that question. This is accomplished with the connections you make. There are the social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. There are storage services like Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive. There are productivity options like Evernote, and even something as simple as date/time or the weather. In total, IFTTT.com supports 59 different “Channels”. The image above shows them all, at least as of the date of this post.

Each site has triggers, actions, or both. Triggers are the this and actions are the that. If you are using quite a few of these channels, you are suddenly faced with quite a few ways to combine 2 services to automate common tasks.

Examples.

It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around what this site does without some examples. Here are a few that I have setup.

  1. If I’m tagged in any photos on Facebook, download them to a folder in Dropbox.
  2. If I Star an article in Google Reader, save the post in Evernote.
  3. If it’s going to snow tomorrow, send me a text.

On their own, these aren’t tasks that are monumental. It’s not like I’m automating huge chunks of data entry, but it all adds up. The “Recipes” I have setup all represent small tasks that are really good ways to procrastinate throughout the day. Instead of checking the weather reports several times a day, I just know that I’ll get a text to warn me I should plug in the car tonight. Trying to track down and download all the pics I’m tagged in on Facebook could waste a lot of time. Now I just open up a folder in Dropbox once a week to see what showed up.

The site lets you browse through other people’s recipe, and lets you share your own too. When you’re just getting started, it’s a big help seeing how other people use the site.

The service is completely free, so there’s no financial harm in trying it out. If you already use it, or you end up trying it out, I’d love to hear about some of the recipes you come up with.

Eric Matthews

I'm a bookkeeper, husband, dad, music junkie, and general tech geek. When I'm a bookkeeper, I focus on cloud bookkeeping. I write at ThatBookkeeper.com, which helps bookkeepers and business owners move their books online. I work with apps like FreshBooks, Xero, Kashoo, Wave, and QuickBooks Online.

New feature coming soon...

With the new changes to the site, I thought I'd add something a little different.

In the past, I will do the occassional review, or just mention a product or service I like in passing.

I wanted to have the tips and stories separated from the products and services. And, instead of just having a static page full of pictures and links, I thought I'd setup a separate blog...just for these products and services.

When I come across something I really like, really hate, or just think you'd be interested in learning about...this is where it will go.

It won't be limited to just products and services. It could be books, movies, music, websites, etc. As long as I think it relates to running a small business, I will be sure to let you know about it.

Sometimes the links I provide will be affiliate links. What I mean by that is, if you click through and buy the product I might make a few cents. As in the past, I don't highlight anything I wouldn't recommend or talk about without those incentives.

Hopefully you will find some value to these posts. If you come across something you think I'd be interested in, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Eric Matthews

I'm a bookkeeper, husband, dad, music junkie, and general tech geek. When I'm a bookkeeper, I focus on cloud bookkeeping. I write at ThatBookkeeper.com, which helps bookkeepers and business owners move their books online. I work with apps like FreshBooks, Xero, Kashoo, Wave, and QuickBooks Online.