Even if you’ve learned to type blazingly fast, you still spend a large portion of your time typing. Email, documents, instant messages and online comments require that you type thousands of words every week.
If you could save yourself even a small fraction of the time you spend typing, you could save hours of your time every week. That’s exactly what text expansion is for.
What Is Text Expansion?
Text expansion is a bit like predictive typing or auto-complete on a cell phone — it allows you to type a long string of text by entering a shorter string. It’s like a keyboard shortcut for a word, phrase, or sentence. When you’re using a text expansion app, it monitors your typing, and whenever you type a specific sequence of letters, it will replace those letters with a predefined piece of text. It could be your name, your address, or a full paragraph that you’ve saved.
Think of how many things you type over and over on a regular basis; your e-mail address is a good example. I don’t know about you, but I type “Let me know what you think” at least three or four times every day. Text expansion allows me to type a few letters instead of that whole phrase.
It gets even better than that. Most text-expansion apps offer you the ability to insert more things than just text. For example, you could create a form-fill profile by inserting your name, a tab, the first line of your address, two more tabs, and your postcode. Or you can insert the item on your clipboard in the middle of a phrase. Instead of typing “Check out the page at www.makeuseof.com” you could just type “slink” and have the link on your clipboard automatically filled in.
You can do some dynamically generated things as well, such as the current date or time, and you can also set up your text expansion program to do some auto-correcting for you, if you regularly spell the same words incorrectly.
Does It Really Save That Much Time?
If you take the time to properly set up a text expander app, you might be surprised at how much time you can save. There are so many things that you type on a regular basis that you probably don’t even think about it, especially when it comes to common phrases. Getting your app of choice setup takes some time, and it’ll take a while to get used to, but you’ll thank yourself when you’re utterly dependent on it.
If you write for the web or create webpages, you could use text expansion to insert lines of HTML with fewer keystrokes. If you greet people using instant messaging a lot, you can create a quick shortcut to say “Hey, how are you?” If you sign your e-mails with different signatures, you can type any of them with just a few keys. If you’re a student, you can create entries for things that you type in your research papers. These are just a few of the great uses for text expansion.
Don’t forget that too much typing can be bad for you, especially if your computer setup isn’t great. Text expansion can help you avoid a repetitive-stress injury, which is definitely a productivity killer.
Getting Started with Text Expansion
To get started with text expansion, you’ll need a text expansion app. If you’re using Mac OS X, there’s actually text-expansion capability built into the operating system, so you can give it a try before you try one of the more comprehensive options. To get started, just go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Text. From here, you can create some basic text expansion options.
As I mentioned before, I type “Let me know what you think” all the time. I’ve created a rule that will replace “,lmk” with that phrase. Now, whenever I type “,lmk”, it gets replaced with “Let me know what you think”. And all I have to do is enter a space, a period, or an exclamation point after it, and the phrase is inserted!
OS X doesn’t let you do anything too complicated, but you can add a few different sequences for the things you type most often and give it a try. If you like it, and you think you’d benefit from a text expansion app—and I can almost guarantee you will—you can think about investing in one of the more comprehensive options, like aText ($4.99), TypeIt4Me ($20) or TextExpander ($35), pictured below.
If you’re on Windows, there are plenty of options that you can use to get started. PhraseExpander ($59), Breevy ($35), and PhraseExpress Text Expander ($49, free for personal use) all have free trials that you can download and try to see if you’re willing to shell out for the full apps.
Are Text Expansion Apps Worth the Price?
If you use your expansion app a lot, you could easily make up the price of admission in short order. If you take a look at Bakari’s article about TextExpander, you’ll see just how much time TextExpander can really save you (and the app saves you the bother of counting). Think of how many hours you could save over the course of six months or a year—isn’t that worth $50?
If you’re not ready to spring for one of the more expensive options, there are definitely some more affordable ones. For example, aText is only $5. There’s no catch—that’s just how much it costs. And PhraseExpress is totally free for personal use – you don’t even have to make up the money you spent in time saved, you’re ahead as soon as you start. Unless you don’t do much typing at all, investing a little bit of money and time to set up a text expansion app will almost certainly be worth it.
Do you use text expansion? What’s your favorite app? Do you have any really cool replacements setup? Share your thoughts and tips below!
Image credit: Kim Love via Flickr.