Text expanders are the magical productivity tool you need to master
If you hate repetitive work, these apps are definitely for you.
What if we told you that you could do your most tedious work in a fraction of the time? If you would reply “My boss would just make me do other work,” well, you’re probably right. Nothing we can do about that. But we can help you get more efficient at sending emails, data entry, and any other task that requires you to plug in repetitive, formulaic text all day. How? Text expanders.
These nearly-invisible automation apps let you quickly insert snippets of text, automate some aspects of entering data, and generally make your workflow more efficient. They might only save you a few seconds per task, but that time adds up. Not only will you breeze through spreadsheets, but all that repetition will wear on your brain a little less, making it easier for you to move through your daily checklist.
What you can do with text expanders
Text expanders occupy that unique space within the vast genre of productivity tools where almost everyone can benefit from using them, but their use cases are so individualized that it can be hard to explain exactly why they’re useful. It takes a little bit of work to figure out how they can fit into your workflow, but once you do, they’re indispensable. With that in mind, here are a few examples of how a text expander could help your work:
Automatically fill out recurring email snippets
If you spend all your time sending emails, the snippets features of most text expanders can help. These are blocks of text that you can assign to just a few keystrokes. So, instead of typing a new message every time you need to ask a client to pay your invoice, you can save the text of your first email as a snippet and quickly insert it into your subsequent similar emails. Since this approach to saving text is more modular than, say, a full email template, you can break recurring emails into parts and add different pieces as necessary.
Customize your email signature based on who you’re talking to
Email signatures are a useful way to give people information about yourself without making your emails unbearable. However, you might want clients to have different information than colleagues, or maybe you prefer a more professional-looking signature for coworkers, rather than your friends. By creating different signatures and assigning them to different abbreviations (like “sig1” or “sig2”), you can tailor your emails without adding a ton of extra work for yourself.
Calculate due dates and other important data on the fly
Some text expanders include intelligent macro editing that can, for example, automatically enter certain data into your snippets. Say, you want to send an email telling someone payment is due two weeks from today. You could pull up your calendar and find the exact date yourself, or you could use math macros to automatically add 14 days to the current date when you use the snippet. Not only will this save you some typing, but it will also do the math for you every time. Computers are good at math! Let them do it!
Automatically correct common mistakes (that regular autocorrect doesn’t catch)
Your computer might notice when you mispel someting, but you might also get that little red squiggle under things like proper nouns or proprietary words. If you want to make sure that you never accidentally misspell the name of your boss, Mr. Butte, you can add it to your text expander so it will automatically correct you if you ever accidentally type anything else. And while you could use your computer’s built-in autocorrect for this, text expanders are better when you’re working with others because you can:
Share your snippets with everyone else on your team
Many text expanders allow you to share and sync the shortcuts you’ve created with everyone else on a team (though teams are often a paid feature), so you can not only stop yourself from misspelling your boss’s name, you can make sure no one else does, either.
These are just a few of the many ways that you can use text expanders to make your work more efficient, but—like most productivity apps—it’s best to look at your personal routine and see when they can help. You know your workflow better than anyone else, so if there’s some repetitive task you’re used to grinding away at, see if you can offload that work to a text expander instead.
The text expanders we like best
Text expanders are rivaled only by to-do list and email apps in terms of how many options there are on the market. Chances are good that if one doesn’t work quite the way you want it to, there’s another that works better. We’ll outline a few of the most prominent options here, but there are plenty more out there.
One of the oldest of the old school apps, and still one of the easiest to use, TextExpander supports Windows, macOS, Chrome (both the browser and the operating system), and iOS, and can sync snippets across all those platforms. It comes with a ton of features to manage a team, including the ability to share snippets with coworkers and a permission system to manage who can edit which snippets.
TextExpander also lets you create fill-in-the-blank snippets, which will create a pop-up asking you to fill in whatever variables you build into them, such as a person’s name or pricing info. This is especially handy if you send a lot of emails that are mostly the same, but you still need to change a few pieces of information.
This is a paid app that starts at $3.33 per month (when billed annually) for a single user, or $8.33 and up (again, annually) per user for teams. You can get a 30-day free trial of the two lower tiers if you want to see how it works before you shell out money.
TextExpander starts at $3.33 per month for individuals on Windows, macOS, Chrome, and iOS.
One of the better competitors to TextExpander, PhraseExpress offers a ton of macro and scripting features that let you automate basic tasks such as launching applications or opening webpages. It even has a companion Macro Recorder that lets you record an action you perform repeatedly and turn that into an action that the app can then repeat for you with a single button. You can check out a full list of PhraseExpress’s features here.
PhraseExpress uses a freeware model and is entirely free for personal users. The company asks that if you use the app for any commercial purpose that you buy a lifetime license—which start at around $47—but the company won’t block you from using the app if you don’t. It will only nag you if you use certain paid features, and even then only after your first 30 days of using the app. This is a good app to start with if you want to try working a text expander into your workflow but aren’t sure you’re ready to pay for one.
PhraseExpress is free for personal users on Windows, macOS, and iOS.
Like the others on this list, aText lets you create snippets for blocks of text, automatic corrections, and images, and has scripting features to generate dates or automate keystrokes. While other apps will sync your data for you through their own servers, aText can sync data through storage you control like Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud, which might be appealing if you want to take a more roll-your-own approach to text expanders.
This tool is free for Windows. Just free. No freeware, no trial periods. If you want to get it on a Mac, it costs $5. That makes aText one of the cheapest ways to get into text expansion, even if you take the paid route. It’s not available on as many platforms (only Windows and macOS), but if you don’t need to manage a team or engineer wildly complex text expansion scripts, this is a good entry point.
aText is free for Windows and $5 for macOS.