Workflow Experimentation using TextExpander

This is a productivity blog entry is geared to those of us looking to make our lives a bit easier. I’ll start here with the quick-and-dirty material right at the top. If you want to read a little more into the background feel free to look into the Long Verse section at the bottom.

I have two areas of consideration:

  • Work– windows desktop and MacBook Air
  • Home– iMac desktop and iPhone

My first attempt is to leverage the popular mac tool TextExpander from from Smile Software. At first I found it in theory to be a great tool, and from a conceptual standpoint an easy win. The implementation is a bit tougher, but I believe I got down a working model (not perfect) with the main goal of keeping everything synchronized across all platforms.

My TextExpander Workflow Setup

The Basics

I’ll skip over the basics and assume you know how to install, and get the program running. I’ll look at how I have mine setup so you might take some clues for your own use. The first thing you will notice after the install is that it shows up in the top menu bar as well as in your dock. You will be able to access the program from either one of these locations.

Preference Tip 1

Here are a couple preferences I recommend. First set your ‘Expand Abbreviates’ to ‘immediately when typed’. Since my snippets will be cross functional some keyboard will not have the extra expand abbreviations like ‘tab’ or the ‘semicolon’ easily accessible.

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Preference Tip 2

For the second tip set your Sync to Dropbox. If you aren’t using it already a member, head over there an create a free account. The Dropbox synchronization will allow me to make this cross platform compatible.

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Setup Tip

After looking at the sample snippets that were preinstalled I decided to delete most of them. The reason is that my primary goal here is to learn, and use the system. Keeping it simple makes it easier to use, and therefore easier integration of my regular day workflow. As you can see it is very sparse, but the shortcuts are easy, and I know exactly how they are going to behave. Later when I’m used to this workflow I’ll go back, and explore the advanced TextExpander capabilities.

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The iPhone Configuration

For the iPhone I purchased TextExpander for iOS. There are three settings that you should be aware of:

  1. Share Snippts: ON
  2. Use Dropbox: ON
  3. Expand Immediately: ON

On the typical iOS keyboard you will not have quick access to they typical delimiters. Since I wanted my experience to be the same across all platforms I chose ‘Expand Immediately’ turned on. There are a couple things here you should be aware of:

  • Due to Apple iPhone sandboxing TextExpander will not work across all other iOS programs. You can read about that here. It is a clear compromise, but one that I could live with.
  • Since the iOS is universal you can leverage the same setting on the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch.
  • Setting TextExpander to immediately expand will make it much  easier to accidentally trip the text expansion unintentionally. Make sure to use abbreviations that you would not normally type.
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The Windows Piece

Now that I have my Apple devices working as I wanted, my final piece to this workflow is the Windows component. Sadly there is no TextExpander for Windows, but you do have a couple options. The key here is to remember Dropbox provides that link to sync your snippets regardless of device/platform.

  • The first alternative is program called PhraseExpress which is free for personal use. While it will not sync you snippets automatically it will allow you to import your snippets. From my limited usage so far it appears to have same functionality of the Mac version.
  • The second alternative is Breevy at a cost of $34.95. The huge advantage of this software over it’s free competitor is the ability to leverage TextExpander snippits via Dropbox sync. From my limited usage so far it appears to have same functionality of the Mac version.

Long Verse

Hi everyone! I recently took a vacation, and had a great time. As with most other people I wanted to take a break from work, and life, to unwind and recharge my batteries. Unlike most people I actually like my chosen career, and can’t help but think about it even while on vacation. On my vacation I had no enthusiasm to read getting into heady subject matter so making any real progress in any of my work area was going to be limited. I hit upon the idea that maybe it wasn’t the actual work I need to work on, but how I accomplish that work.

I’ve been a long time fan of the popular site LifeHacker.com. It dispenses pearls of wisdom like a candy machine. While I wouldn’t call myself a follower of any one particular methodology I’d best be classified as an interested watcher. To me this means I would like to get a better workflow in place, but feel that  most systems are more work to implement therefore not minimizing the existing work. A losing proposition for me. At work my desktop is a Windows 7 workstation. I work as a Windows SharePoint Engineer, and it just wouldn’t make sense to have my primary computer be anything except for a Windows workstation. When I come, and go, from work I normally carry a 13′ Mac Book air. This is the unit I tote around work to meetings and the such. Primarily because it is light and easy to deal with.  At home it is all Apple. When they talk about the Apple ecosystem I’ve bought into that hook line and sinker. My work/personal phone is an iPhone.

Hopefully this gives you a better perspective and some ideas in your own workflow.

-Javi

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