Want to spend less time on your computer during the pandemic and beyond? Here are five productivity tools I use every day along with some tips on how to get the most out of them.
Do you find yourself writing the same sentences over and over again? For example: closing an email with “I’m looking forward to speaking with you soon.” Or starting an email with something like, “It’s great to hear from you.” Or, do you write anything where having super-quick keyboard shortcuts would help you be more productive? If so, check out Text Expander. It will literally save you hours each year. I have built hundreds of snippets for myself, such as: ;add for my address or ;em for my email or ;ttt for “Thank you very much.” or ;sig to add my personal signature to the bottom of an email instead of my pre-programmed business signature. Text Expander is a paid program, but it’s worth the $3.33 per month they charge. (Just a heads-up: on the Windows version you will need to install the Chrome extension.)
You can do almost exactly the same thing for free on an iPhone by tapping General>Keyboard>Text Replacement and adding an abbreviation and a phrase to match. Line breaks are tricky, but for single sentences, this is a great productivity booster. Especially if you find yourself texting things in different apps, like, “I’ll be home in 10 minutes.” Or, in my case, my personal email address is pretty long to type with my thumbs, so I have it set up as “Eem” on my phone. Why not “;em” like it is on my computer? Because on my iPhone keyboard, you need to hit the shift key to tap a “;”. I have zero interest in doing that – so, “E” because the iPhone automatically capitalizes the first letter of any word you type, and “em” for email. There are no words in the English language that start with “Eem,” so it’s a safe, super-quick abbreviation. For Android users, there’s freemium app called Texpand that works great. (Pro Tip: double letter starts are great for snipets. “ccell” for your cell number or “wweb” for your URL.)
Alfred is an app launcher for macOS. It allows you to set a keyboard macro that will open a single input dialog box. You type the first letter of the app you want to launch and Alfred will show you the apps you’ve launched in a list. More than 90% of the time, you just hit enter to launch your app. About 10% of the time you arrow down an app or two. This is a huge, huge time saver. You never have to take your hands off the keyboard to launch an app. No mouse, no icon, just a couple of keystrokes.
For Windows users, you can download Microsoft Power Toys from GitHub. It’s not as powerful as Alfred, but it does have a launcher function that is similar.
3. Alfred Powerpack
Alfred Powerpack is a paid addition to Alfred. It has all the functions of Text Expander, it is a launcher, and among other incredible productivity enhancements, it offers a virtually unlimited clipboard history. Of all the power user tips in the world, of all the little things you can do to level up your computer skills, clipboard history apps are at the very top of the list. Alfred Powerpack has been my secret weapon for years. You can search it for phrases you copied from an article three weeks ago. You can use it to help you remember the syntax of that line of Python code you used last month. You can use it to remember the website coupon code you used yesterday. Clipboard history is simply a must for anyone who wants to get faster and more productive.
For Windows users, Windows 10 has a 10-slot clipboard history built in. Hit “Windows-v” and you’ll be offered any of the last 10 things you copied to your clipboard. It is a poor substitute for a true Clipboard app. There are dozens of options. At the moment, I’m using Comfort Clipboard Pro on my Windows machines. You can also create keyboard shortcuts, BTW. It’s not Alfred, but PCs aren’t Macs.
4. Remove Backgrounds
remove.bg is a single-purpose website. You upload a picture of, let’s say, Grandma standing in front of the Empire State Building, and remove.bg removes the Empire State Building and lets you download a .png file with a transparent background. It works beautifully. If you’re doing a PowerPoint and you just need to grab the subjects from an image and you want to have a transparent background so you can position your image in front of other images, this is the fastest way I’ve found. Yes, Photoshop has this built in. But you have to launch Photoshop and then start clicking. With remove.bg, you just upload and download and start to use the image. I always try remove.bg first, and if the results aren’t what I need, then I open Photoshop.
5. Dealing with .webp files
So you’re on a website and you want to download an image. Or you’re in Google images and you find an image you want to download. Only there’s one issue: it’s in webp format – which nothing will open. If you’re in Safari, you can simply save the file in another format when you download it. But for every other scenario, there’s ezgif.com. It’s a free site that lets you upload a .webp file and download a .png. This is a fast, easy way to grab a .webp file from the web and throw it into a PowerPoint or any other program (Word, Google Docs, etc.).
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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.