Productivity Tip – Text Shortcuts

My favourite recent productivity tip is using text replacement which is built into to MacOS natively (System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Text). These rules also sync with iOS so you can use it on the go with your iPhone. It’s native in the operating systems so you can use these shortcuts in whatever program you’re using (iMessage, WhatsApp, Email, Google Docs etc).

I’ve set up about 20 text shortcuts and use them many times a week. I set up the shortcuts to begin with “>” which makes them hard to trigger accidentally and also lets me to use words/phrases that are easy to remember. Some examples:

  • Phone number: >ph
  • Address: >add
  • Intro thank you and to bcc: >intro1
  • Intro nice to meet you: >intro2
  • Schedule a call with me: >schedule with Calendly link

I had Alfred (paid product) for this previously, but it’s a step function worse because it’s not deeply integrated with both MacOS and iOS. The only benefit from Alfred is that it supports Rich Text (formatting) and the ability to add text with links – I now just put links in brackets. I has previously also used canned responses in Gmail but this method is superior.

It does take a little bit of time to set up and get familiar to using the shortcuts but once you get going it’ll save you a ton of time.

Manage Energy, not Time

I read the HBR article in 2009 called ‘Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time‘ and it really resonated with me. I’d felt similarly for a long time but did not have a framework to describe it. I’ve since shared this article and this method of thinking with dozens of colleagues and friends and many have found it valuable.

I find that creative individual work or complex problem solving goes poorly when forced into a pre determined time slot. This kind of work is what highly compensated knowledge workers get paid for and we are often forced to do this during 9-5 and in our office environment.

There are three main takeaways for me and how I’ve applied it to my own life:

  • Understand my own energy level before starting a task, and if I’m not in the right mindset switch the task to something that requires lower energy (e.g. submitting my expenses, or other administrative tasks) or take a break to restore energy.
  • Understand what drains energy and what generates energy – a nap, some exercise or a walk with a podcast are all restorative for me personally and so if I’m unable to get something done, instead of staring at my screen I’ll often do one of these and come back more refreshed and ready to complete the task at hand.
  • Work on creative or complex tasks during high energy times – I usually feel most creative and productive in the mornings and try and do most of my IC work during the mornings. In my current job it’s challenging as I work with many folks in Europe so I block out a few mornings a week without meetings.

When you’re a people manager or have meetings that you have to attend for the benefit of others and (not yourself) you often have to compromise on these principles because you’re optimizing for a larger group which is rational but not always pleasant if you’re low energy.

It is much easier to apply these principles a distributed environment (e.g. at Automattic where I work) as we can work from wherever (and mostly whenever) we feel most productive and, in my opinion, is one of the best advantages of distributed work over a traditional office.