Using a Text Expander

Jul 11, 2014
Joe Buhlig
~2 mins

Do you ever find yourself typing the same thing over and over again? Stuff like an email address, the date, a URL, or even a template of some kind? If so, a text expansion app might be just what you need.

I spend a lot of time on the computer. Working for a virtual company means most of my communication is through the phone or the computer, so I end up typing most of the day. That’s where text expansion comes in.

What is a text expansion app?

It’s an app that runs in the background. It allows you to type a string of characters that will expand into a longer string of characters. For example, I have a snippet that allows me to type ;td (short for today’s date) and it will remove ;td and replace it with 20140711. In other words, it will take ;td and expand it into today’s date. It’s kind of like a keyboard shortcut for text.

There are quite a few text expanders out there: Phrase Express, AutoHotKey, aText, Typinator, TypeIt4Me. Personally, I prefer TextExpander. It comes with AppleScript support and allows me to sync my snippets across computers.

Examples:

  1. ;td = 20140711

    Gives me today’s date in the format of YYYYMMDD. I use this one a lot for titling a new Evernote note or naming files.

  2. ;tt = 20140711_060327

    Gives me the time right now in the format of YYYYMMDD_HHMMSS. Really handy for adding a time stamp to filenames.

  3. ;9tom = 20140712 9am

    Allows me to easily set a start date in Omnifocus for 9am tomorrow morning.

  4. ;joe = My email address

    Email addresses are used all over the place. I just got tired of typing it all the time.

  5. ;newp = https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?fs=1&view=cm&shva=1&su&tf=1

    This is awesome if you use Gmail as your email client. This URL will give me a blank email without taking me to my inbox. I can go to the address bar and type ;newp and it will expand into the link. I have a separate one (;neww) for my work email.

  6. ;sigp = My personal email signature

    I’ve never liked the automatic email signature addition that a lot of email clients have. This allows me to turn it off entirely and easily enter my signature when and where I want it. Again, I have a separate snippet for my work signature (;sigw).

  7. ;cc = My conference call dial-in information

    When I’m setting up a meeting, I can type 3 quick characters and get all of my information without having to look it up.

You’ll notice that I use a semicolon at the beginning of each my snippets. I don’t want my shortcuts to be something that I may accidentally type when I don’t want them. I use the semicolon because it’s a character that I don’t normally use in everyday writing and it’s never immediately followed by anything other than a space.

I’m only breaking the surface with what you can do with a text expansion tool. Any names, urls, agenda templates, addresses or even common misspellings can be added to make life just a little bit easier and give you some time back. According to my stats in TextExpander, I’ve saved 8 hours of typing since January. Whoa!