Speed Up Data Entry With TextExpander

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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.