Typing efficiently can be rewarding
If you are a knowledge worker or writer or a software programmer or just about anyone having to do a lot of typing in your computer, you may or may not have realized this; but you are subjecting yourself to a lot of stress, even injury on your fingers, hands, elbows, and shoulders.
Regardless of whether you are a professional typist or an amateur, you can save plenty of time, money and energy by minimizing the keystrokes.
For e.g. let us say you type repetitive words and sentences like “Thank you, Have a great day!” every day. Or you launch the same programs over and over, you can save thousands of keystrokes, maybe even millions over a period, by adopting some clever strategies.
It makes you more efficient. More importantly, it can protect your health from repetitive strain injury. According to Dr. Emil Pascarelli and Deborah Quilter’s study:
In simple medical terms, repetitive strain injury (RSI) is defined as a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) stemming from prolonged repetitive, forceful, or awkward hand movements. The result is damage to muscles, tendons, and nerves of the neck, shoulder, forearm, and hand, which can cause pain, weakness, numbness, or impairment of motor control.
Strategies to minimize typing and get more written:
You can minimize your typing and get more done primarily by some variant of the following 4 strategies. It can even be a combination of these strategies.
- Reusable Templates
- Dictate your document using Speech recognition
- Clipboard Managers
- Text Expansion Programs
(1) Reusable Templates:
Templates are boilerplates (ready-made content with some placeholders), that can be reused with minimal changes. Let us say you want to create content that includes information that infrequently changes from message to message. Templates are your savior.
You can compose and save the content as a template, and then reuse it when you want it. New information can be added before the template is reused or sent as an email or newsletter or even snail mail.
Most email programs (such as Outlook, Notes, Gmail) and word processing applications (such as MS-Office) have the template feature built-in. Even marketing applications such as MailChimp, primarily thrive on the template model.
Say you want to send a Welcome note to all your subscribers, as soon as they subscribe to your blog. Your message could look something like this:
Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter. We hope to send out valuable content every week straight to your inbox. If you want to unsubscribe at any time, you can do so by dropping an email to subscribeme@my sitesemail.com
If you notice the above message, the only thing that needs to be changed from message to message is the <Firstname> itself, all the other content being same for everyone.
Messages like the above are candidates for templatizing.
You can save a huge number of keystrokes and deliver consistency, and professionalism, in all your messages. That too, efficiently to possibly hundreds of subscribers. To sweeten it, you can automate the process of using reusable templates.
Note that templates can be used only if the same format of the message such as invitations, welcome notes, instructions with only a few variables are applicable. If the format changes from letter to letter, then it may not help you to save typing as much.
Some resources on Templates
(2) Dictate your document using Speech Recognition
Recent versions of MS-Word (starting 2013) on Windows 8 and 10 support speech recognition. You can activate the speech recognition features, by opening the speech recognition application from settings in Windows 10 or 8. The screen looks as below:
The above screen is self-explanatory. You can follow the various links from above to set up your microphone, go through the speech recognition tutorial and set yourself up for voice recognition.
Once your voice recognition is set up, you can turn on the voice recognition program.
You will see a small popup that sits on your screening in the listening mode (screen below). You can turn it off by clicking on the blue toggle button on the left.
If it doesn’t understand what you are saying it says: “what was that?” (screen below), so you can speak again.
The moment you start talking, the assistant recognizes your voice and starts to type the content as it understands. You will see the text getting typed magically on the word processing (MS-Word) or notes taking application that you are using at that point.
The inherent simplicity of Speech Recognition. If you speak, it understands and types it for you.
My experience with Voice Recognition is a mixed bag. Sometimes, I got decent results, but on quite a few occasions, it was terrible. For e.g. when I spoke “this is a flute”, it understood and typed as “Disney is cute”
You should invest some time in properly training the Voice Recognition software. It captures your voice, speed (perhaps even accent), and uses those inputs to deliver good results.
Often, I would like to correct or change what I already typed. The Voice recognition software has commands to let me correct previous words or sentences, but it still is not mature. To a point, where I get frustrated, just ditch it, and start typing.
You can save copious amounts of text, or even images in a Clipboard, and use it multiple times through your writing.
By default, both Windows and Mac provide 1 clipboard from where you can copy and paste content. However, in Mac, you can use the Kill and Yank commands to hack another clipboard.
In the case of Windows, you sure know Ctrl+C to copy and Ctrl+v to paste. In case you are using Mac, Command + C and Command + V. You swap C for X to apply the Cut operation.
The bad side of having just 1 clipboard is that you can accidentally overwrite what you intended to copy and lose it. That’s where Clipboard Managers provide cover.
They help you in holding multiple items on the keyboard so that you can type or capture them once, and easily insert them in your content at multiple places, saving you the aggravation of having to type, and instead do it once, and re-use most at many places.
Office Clipboard manager:
The best Clipboard manager I would recommend is MS-Office Clipboard manager that comes loaded as part of MS-Office.
Where to find it? You find it right under the Home Tab, in the Clipboard section (see image below).
When you click on the image, it opens a pane on the left (as below) where you can see all the items that you have copied (up to 24). If you want to reuse those text, you can simply click on them and it gets pasted (text or image) in your document.
Comes bundled as part of MS-Office. No additional cost if you are own an MS-Office license. The simplicity of use.
The key limitations are that it operates only in the Office environment and secondly, the no. of clipboards is just 24.
Other clipboard managers
It boosts your efficiency with hotkeys, keywords, text expansion and more. You can search your Mac and the web, and be more productive with custom actions to control your Mac.
It keeps track of what you’ve copied, and if you need to paste something old, open Alfred and type clipboard. That’ll show a list of everything you’ve copied, with Command+1 through 9 shortcuts to copy the most recent items and search to filter through the things you’ve copied.
Best of all, it pastes whatever you select right in the app you were most recently using. That saves you an additional step. It’s the quickest way to use your old clipboard items—and much more—without leaving your keyboard.
It’s another great clipboard manager for any Windows app. It hides in your system tray and keeps track of everything you copy. When you need something, click its icon and double-click the item you want to paste it immediately and re-copy it to your clipboard.
If you are looking for something you clipped a while ago, Ditto includes a search bar on the bottom of its window. Type to filter through the things you’ve clipped.
You can even set keyboard shortcuts to paste your most recent ten items without having to open the app or tweak its settings to paste unformatted text, remove capitalization, compare changes, send text to Google Translate, and more. In short, it’s a full-text processing tool that keeps your entire clipboard history just a keystroke away.
Copied (macOS, IOS), CopyClip (macOS), Spartan (Windows), 1Clipboard (macOS, Windows, Free), Unclutter (macOS – $9.99), ClipAngel(Windows-Free), are some other Options.
(4)Text Expansion Programs
There are programs that let you expand a small string (abbreviation) or keystrokes to much longer strings, words or sentences or even paragraphs. That is a game changer in your typing productivity. It can drastically reduce your typing. These are called Text Expansion Programs.
Say you are writing a document, in which you need to type a long name such as Johnson Williamson Crossman repetitively throughout your document. You can abbreviate it in a shorter string such “jwc” to expand to “Johnson Williamson Crossman”. 3 Characters to expand to 28 characters including blank spaces.
How to define Rules:
The rules such as what strings expand to what sentences are usually stored as part of the programs. Setup the rules once and forget them forever. They can also be changed as you wish.
You can use text expansion not only in word processing but wherever repetitive typing of information is required in any program (say your notes applications, or emails or IDEs or browsers) because these programs work at an Operating system level (not at an application level).
For e.g. these can be used typing emails, addresses, phone numbers, frequently occurring data to fill up forms, change email footers, write canned responses etc.,
Use caution to not store passwords, or any personally identifiable information (PI) or sensitive personal information (SPI) such as Social-Security numbers, as part of your rules. If this file gets hacked, the hackers shouldn’t get any PI out of it.
Also, if you lend your computer to someone else, make sure to turn off these programs, so that they don’t get confused seeing something funny when they accidentally type your abbreviations.
Make sure not to use commonly used abbreviations (such as PM, VP, FYR etc,) as part of your rules to override into something else different, as it could expand to cause confusion to the readers and writers alike.
Some of these programs as (Phrase Express, Breevy) have a User Interface to let you define your expansion rules, while others don’t. They provide a scripting language instead.
Phrase Express (Available for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android)
PhraseExpress is a powerful program. Apart from simple text expansion of snippets that you create, it can watch everything you type, learn your own individual style, and start autocorrecting phrases for you as you type.
It also has a dictionary of oft-misspelled words, that way you get autocorrect in any app on your system. While this is a plus, it can also contribute to some issues. It also has several advanced settings to let you dig down and tweak how you use text expansion, which is great for power users.
PhraseExpress has a freeware version, but it has restricted functionality and keeps prompting you to go for the paid version. There are standard, professional and enterprise versions of this software starting at $49.95.
This is another stable, easy-to-use option without sacrificing features. It can launch applications, websites, files, and folders. It can abbreviate anything. It comes with autocorrect features and 13,500 abbreviations for medical transcriptionists.
AutoHotkey (Windows – Free Open Source (GNU GPLv2))
AutoHotkey is a free, open-source scripting language for Windows that allows users to easily create small to complex scripts for all kinds of tasks such as form fillers, auto-clicking, macros,
This is my personal favorite and something that I use. It packs a powerful, but easy to learn automation scripting language.
Even if you are an amateur, you can learn it quickly. The quality of documentation for AutoHotkey is outstanding. It will let you understand the scripting language and let you get better with time.
For e.g. here’s a script snippet of that lets me expand my friend’s personal email id (Warran.email@example.com), as and when I need, by simply typing “wse”
;/////////////Code snippet below
;what goes after the first semicolon is a comment
; declare my abbreviation as a variable
wse := “Warren.firstname.lastname@example.org”
; The following lines instruct AHK to expand whenever it encounters the abbreviated keystroke wse
;/////////////////End of code snippet
With time, you will know yourself better. I mean, you will know the words, phrases, sentences that you use repetitively. You can add many expansion strings, depending on your usage, that can make your typing much more efficient using the abbreviation.
Note the important downside of text expansion programs. Over the period you can get so lazy with typing, that if you must use someone else’s computer you will find it hard to be productive.
Hence it is useful to back up your settings or scripts of the Text Expansion programs. That way you can quickly recover in case of any downtime, or if you have to use another computer.
I hope you found this post useful, and you use one or more of the strategies to get more written. Let me know the approaches that you use to get more done, in the comments.
Cover Photo courtesy: