Semi-custom messages with text expanders

The growing popularity of Google Helpouts mean that I often respond to requests from people who want to learn more about taking notes and learning more effectively. I want to make sure that people who book Helpouts with me (for the virtual equivalent of hot chocolate and a muffin!) think about specific questions, check for technical issues, and are otherwise prepared for the 15-minute conversation. That way, we can both get the most of the time.

Since I find myself sending people messages that are similar but not identical to others I’ve sent, I use text expanders instead of autoresponders to save myself time. My favourite automation program is AutoHotkey, which is rather geekily configured through plain text files. (Want a cleaner interface? Try Lifehacker’s recommendations for Windows or Mac). I’ve defined a few hotstrings that expand to welcome messages for my different Helpouts, nudges about technical issues, and so on.

If you find yourself typing or copying and pasting a lot of text frequently, consider using a text expander. Typing a pre-defined shortcut is easier than finding a specific item in your snippets file, and you might even be able to do all sorts of other things with the tool. For example, I’ve used AutoHotkey to set a keyboard shortcut for copying something from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet row, switching to another application, pasting it in, reformatting it, and then moving on to the next row. Lots of good stuff. See my Autohotkey blog posts for more examples.

Be lazy and automate! =)