Friday I had a tiny rant about this TextExpander article. I didn’t think it was a great jumping-off point for computer automation as a whole. Instead, it was an article on how best to utilize TextExpander and best practices for a team. I don’t think automation needs to remain at the team level. I think lots of average, everyday users would benefit from simple automations.
I will say, this part of the article was dead on.
Often, new users install TextExpander, stare at it, but can’t come up with a Snippet. There are limitless possibilities, and possibility can be paralyzing. Writers deal with this all the time—it’s called the blank page problem.
The trick to defeating the blank page problem? Simple: get something—anything—on the “page!” Going from zero to one is a giant leap, but getting from one to two is only one small step. Here are some tricks to getting from zero to one.
Once you find just one single thing to automate, you’ll want to dig in and find the next.
Starting Out: Eliminate Just One Step
You know what’s annoying: Having your hand on the mouse to select text, hit right click, find copy, mouse over to a new window or tab, right click and find paste, then paste. Or do the same operation with two hands and keyboard shortcuts.
I use a Logitech MX Master series mouse. I think it’s their 3, but I linked to their “quieter” 3s. This is a piece of hardware that is essential for this automation, but it is also the gateway drug.
The MX Master 3 has two buttons on the side of the mouse, right where your thumb rests. I set one of these buttons to copy, and the other to paste. Now, without moving the mouse, the right click, click, find the new window, and paste became much more streamlined with two-button clicks. This may seem stupid. It takes almost zero time to right-click and hit copy. It takes even less time to hit the keyboard shortcut with your off-hand. However, the cognitive load it eliminates is worth the five minutes it takes to set up using Logitech software.
Keyboard Shortcuts > Mouse Shortcuts
If I’m mousing anyway, what other keyboard shortcuts can my mouse do? Funny you should ask. The answer is almost anything.
Expose is a Mac feature that displays all windows that are presently open. A tap of my thumb on a button my thumb is resting on brings up Expose.
If I want to take a screenshot I could hit Alt+CMD+4.
- I’m not sure if that’s the right keyboard combo
- I’m not contorting my hand to do that
Instead, I hit that thumb button and drag my mouse down a little. All of a sudden I’ve evoked the keyboard shortcut for a screenshot. Not only that, I went one step further and did the even more extensive keyboard shortcut to add it to my clipboard. Now I can use the first paste shortcut I set up, and I’m doing all of this without taking my hand off the mouse.
I also set up a secondary mouse gesture which is the thumb button and up which will take the screenshot and save it to my desktop in case I need it for archival reasons, which was a much less frequent use case.
You could be asking “Why?” It’s a valid question. One that we should dive into, and turn into a series. The why in my case was simple: I move data between spreadsheet cells and browser tabs for a living. I take raw data and morph it into usable data. I copy and paste all day long. The less I have to switch from the mouse to the keyboard to the mouse, the better my life is. I also was in constant communication with coworkers.
- “Hey, look at these numbers”
- “What is this weird error I’m seeing?”
- “This is a funny meme.”
Having the ability to quickly and easily share screenshots made communication that much easier. And like I said, once I had copy and paste down, it was trivial to add a second and third automation to my mouse.