By Patrick Lucas Austin
November 12, 2018

Sorry to tell you this, but you repeat yourself quite a bit. You may not be telling the same Christmas party story on repeat, but you are probably writing the same text message to your friends or family over and over, caught in a loop forever giving the same answer to questions like “Have you left the office yet?” It’s worse when the messages you’re endlessly duplicating are part of your job, and typing that standardized greeting becomes yet another daily task on your list.

Ditch the tedium and take advantage of text shortcuts, a quick-typing magic trick. They’ll let you type a short pre-set short keyword and, the second you hit the spacebar, expand into a more complete phrase. So “brt” instantly becomes “be right there,” or “na?” turns to “need anything?” You can even set them up for your mailing address, contact info, complicated emoticons and more.

Setting up your own text shortcuts is a breeze, and can save you literally hours of time in the long run. Here’s how to do it on your iPhone, Android or other device.

How to Use Text Shortcuts

Chances are good your smartphone or laptop has a text shortcut feature built right in.

iPhone and iPad users can use Apple’s built-in text expansion tool, which syncs with your iCloud account. To find it on your iOS device, visit your Settings app. From there, go to General -> Text Replacement and see your list of text expansion snippets. Adding to the list is easy, but remembering those snippets might take some getting used to. You don’t necessarily need to include a shortcut either, and can let the predictive text feature suggest the phrase when you begin typing something like your email or home address.

On the Mac, you can visit the System Preferences app. Click Keyboard -> Text to see the list of shortcuts and fiddle with formatting options. Since they’re synced via iCloud, the same shortcuts on your Mac will be available on your iOS device.

Unfortunately, Windows 10 lacks a native text shortcut option, so your only option is using a third-party app.

Android users can rely on the native text shortcut feature hidden in your smartphone’s Settings app. Tap System -> Languages & Input -> Advanced -> Personal Dictionary to see your list of shortcuts.

Text Expansion Apps for Power Users

Already use your included text shortcut tools? Great! Want to do even more with them? That’s where text expansion apps come in. Third-party text expansion apps include more features for more complex snippets, including the ability to handle ever-changing information. They’re slightly more complicated, and might require you cough up a few dollars, though.

TextExpander is one of the most capable options, and is available on Mac, iOS, and Windows devices. Using TextExpander, you can create more than simple responses to messages, and write entire paragraphs or form templates if that’s your need. It syncs across all of your devices, and uses its own keyboard on iOS to enable snippets in every app.

Your responses can include more context-dependent elements like the date, time, or copied text you’d like to include. Your snippets can also include text fields prompting you to fill in relevant information, like a name, and supports script creation and code templates for programmers looking to cut down on the more rote work. You’ll have to pay a monthly or annual subscription, but if your daily routine includes writing code, prose, or anything using characters not readily available on your keyboard, it might be worth the convenience.

A more affordable option is the $5 aText, which boasts a set of features similar to TextExpander, including syncing via the cloud. If you’re subscription-averse, and just want to dip your toe into a more advanced app, you won’t be disappointed.

Android users can check out Texpand to get their expansion on. The free app works with whatever keyboard you use, and also supports more dynamic information in its shortcuts, like the date, time, or copied text. It even helps with the problem of forgetting your shortcuts for those time-saving snippets by offering suggestions that match your text as you type.

For Windows users, a variety of options exist depending on your needs and budget. For simple text expansion for phrases, emails and signatures, apps like the free WordExpander will do nicely. More expensive options, like the well-regarded Breevy and feature-rich PhraseExpander, will allow for dynamic information, text fields, easy form filling, and support for code and scripts.

Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at patrick.austin@time.com.

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