Productivity Tech Tip
Text Expansion for Fun and Profit
For a practicing attorney, efficiency and accuracy are key components of effective work habits. If you can get your work done more quickly, and avoid mistakes such as typos (or overlooking something you meant to say), you will be more productive. You could use that time to get in a little more work on a motion. Or go to an industry networking event, or catch up with a friend over lunch. Or go home and enjoy dinner.
If you could save yourself 10 or 15 minutes per day while ensuring the high quality of what you write, wouldn’t you?
What Is Keystroke Expansion?
Keystroke expansion tools, also called text expansion, let you create shortcuts for words and phrases. By creating your own shorthand for phrases (or multi-paragraph blocks of text) you use repeatedly, you can quickly create a document, letter or email that says what you want — without having to hunt for the last contract or email you wrote that said something similar, and then go through it to change, for instance, people’s names. You increase your efficiency and your accuracy.
Why I’m Using TextExpander
I chose TextExpander based on recommendations from colleagues and the integration with my computer systems: TextExpander is available for Mac and iOS, with a Windows beta. Unfortunately, it recently moved from a license model to a subscription model, with an increase in price (which angered many users, but see Brett Terpstra’s assessment). There are many less-expensive desktop text expansion utilities (e.g., aText, TypeIt4Me, Typinator), and there are more powerful Mac text expansion and macro programs (e.g., Keyboard Maestro), and the geek-sphere (where I often am) likes to discuss which to use, and what to use them for (see here, here, here, and here).
While I’m still on the older version, I believe I’ll stay with TextExpander and pay for the subscription because of the combined ease of use, flexibility, sync and integration in iOS. There’s a useful but limited iOS keyboard you can use from any iOS app, and many apps (Fantastical, Daylite, Drafts, Launch Center and Dispatch, to name some of my most-used apps) will automatically expand TextExpander snippets as you type. The text you expand doesn’t have to be only plain text. TextExpander lets you:
- Define “optional” sections in a snippet that you choose with checkboxes when the snippet expands
- Create drop-down menus
- Put a fill-in text field in a snippet, for you to complete when you call the snippet
- Use other snippets you’ve made inside a snippet
- Format text, including creating internet links
TextExpander has been recommended many times (here at Attorney at Work, and again, and by MacSparky), and has good instructional videos. So, rather than telling you how to set it up, I’m going to share some of my favorite uses and snippet abbreviations. Remember, you’re creating a shorthand language, so make it work for you (and your team, as you can share snippets with others).
One tip: I suggest starting nearly all snippets with x for ease of access and typing on iOS and OSX. Relatively few words start with x, which is important because you don’t want snippets to expand when you’re typing something else.
Quick Ways to Use Keystroke Expansion
Typos. To save some time and ensure accuracy, activate TextExpander’s default snippet sets for typos and accented words. If you find there are words you repeatedly misspell, add them!
Email closings and signatures. You probably write many emails, and maybe even letters to be printed. Wouldn’t it be great to have a set of three-key snippets that expanded into the various closings and signatures you use? Yes, it would. I have a set of closings (“Best, Matt”; “Best regards, Matt”; “Cheers, Matt”), and a set of the longer signature blocks containing full or short versions of my contact info, with either formatted links or plain text (not all email programs handle HTML or links properly), and with and without disclaimer language. Make a shorthand that makes sense to you. (I use xsb, xse, xsc for the closing examples above, and xsy and xsmy for some of my longer signatures.)
Contact info. Rather than typing out my phone numbers or email addresses or physical addresses, whether to share with people or to fill out a form, I use snippets: xphw gets my work phone, xadw types out my work address, formatted.
Links. Perhaps you want to share your firm website (xurl), or blog or social media profiles (xsocf, xsoct, xsocl, xsocg). A moment with TextExpander, and you can have formatted links ready to expand, with text before or after. For example, use this if you want to refer to one of your blog posts in an email (more on that in a moment).
Calendar entries. A great suggestion from David Sparks (among many) is to use snippets to place a calendar entry into the right category (Personal, Work, Family, Phone Call, Meeting, etc.). Using Fantastical, at the end of the entry, I type xca, xcc or xce, and get Calendar Administrative, Calendar Conference/Event or Calendar Communication-Client, respectively, so the appointments wind up in the right calendar or category.
Phrases you use repeatedly. I practice patent and trademark law, and I am often typing two-word and three-word phrases. So, snippets: patent application (xpa), provisional patent application (xppa), federal trademark registration application (xftma) and so on. I’m sure there are many phrases you type over and over.
Longer Keystroke Expansion Snippets
Quick emails. Many emails I write could nearly be done from templates. Build your email templates in TextExpander, and you won’t be stuck using just one email program, or just one computer. Need to respond to cold contacts by email? Need to check in with a client or a prospect? Make snippets with a fill-in field for the person’s name, drop-down lists of what you’re writing about and why, checkboxes for optional phrases, one of your preferred email closing snippets (see above), and you’re done. I have snippets for a check-in email (xci), for an update email after submitting a filing (xmf), and for the subject line (xmeas) and body (xmeab) of the emails that get sent from my electronic signature service when I send engagement agreements (which, of course, is xea).
Your helpful blog posts. Your blogs have helpful info. You should share them. When you want to share one with someone, don’t navigate to your blog, find the post, copy the URL, paste it into your email, and write a sentence on what it’s about. Instead, make a snippet with a list of all your posts.
You can make each line optional, or group them by subject matter, as shown here with a view of the pop-up window that opens when you type the snippet. Easy.
Where to meet. Want to meet for coffee? Of course you do. Want to spend 60 seconds remembering or finding the address? Or giving directions? Me neither. Make a drop-down snippet of your preferred coffee shops, restaurants and pubs, name it xwhere or xwhe, and enjoy those extra 57 seconds. You earned them.
File naming. What’s in this file: “SCN00142597723_153426”? Beats me. How about “2016_07_26-Matthew_Yospin-document-FOR_SIGNATURE”? Right. That’s why you need a file-naming convention. That convention is only as helpful as your implementation, which is why you make a snippet that concatenates the date, with a section for client or project name and/or docket number, and a section that describes the contents. Make each of those last two sections into drop-down menu snippets, and populate them with client/project/docket info (which you’ll need to keep updated), and types of documents (motion, response, patent application, document, photo, etc.). Call those snippets from within the snippet for the file name, put a fill-in field after them for miscellany, and whenever you type xfile you can name your files quickly and accurately.
Price and services info. Understandably, clients will ask what services you offer, what the costs are and what steps are involved. If you sum up all of those answers in a few paragraphs, make one long snippet and make each paragraph optional, you can open an email or letter to a client or prospect, type in xprice and quickly choose the relevant services and process steps for that particular project. No need to go find the last emails you wrote with answers to those questions! Put a fill-in field with a salutation at the top, a closing at the end, and maybe a few drop-downs or optional sections within paragraphs, and you’ve saved yourself up to 15 minutes.
Good work! Take a stretch break.
Bios. With all that time you’re saving, you’ll probably have more time for networking. One good suggestion I’ve heard is to have multiple bios, so when someone wants to introduce you to someone else, you write to the first person, thank them, and give them a bio that is relevant for the introduction. You’ve helped someone to introduce you, and you’ve done it efficiently.
Do you have other uses for keystroke expansion software?
I’d be glad to hear about them in the comments below, or email me using my Contact Me page on my website.
Matthew Yospin is a solo patent attorney specializing in software and mechanical devices at The Law Office of Matthew M. Yospin. He loves working with entrepreneurs and businesses to protect their intellectual property and craft strategies to grow and protect their businesses. Follow him on Twitter (@MatthewYospin), LinkedIn, Google+, his firm blog, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, or any of 200 other social media platforms. In his spare time, Matthew enjoys building furniture and the occasional database or software app, gardening and adventuring with his kids.
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