Applications, services, tools, plug-ins, add-ons, bookmarklets — there’s an endless list of things we look to in an effort to be more efficient. Here at WWD, we write about all of them and how they can be of benefit to us. We discuss how they look, how they work, how much they cost, etc. But in the end, we’re looking for productivity. We either want to get more done, or take less time doing those things.
I know I’m going to sound like a snake oil salesman but I’ve found an answer — a tool for Windows (s msft) users that when used, really used, will save you time and make you more productive.
ActiveWords is combination program launcher, text replacer, macro recorder, wizard, wonder and an incredible time saver.
At its core, ActiveWords lets you assign actions to trigger words that you type. These words perform a task or series of tasks that you’ve designated, from basic text substitution to complex macros or scripts.
A frequent complaint I hear about many of our favorite web applications is the number of clicks that it takes to accomplish any task. Clicks represent time and we’re busy folks.
We seem to have a different attitude to our desktop environments, though. We’ll click around mindlessly and repetitively to find and launch programs and documents. We’ll type the same text endlessly, keystroke after keystroke on our own PCs. We’ll do the same actions every day and never complain to ourselves that we haven’t removed those barriers — those extra clicks. That’s what ActiveWords does.
Think for a minute about the repetitive tasks that you do everyday, perhaps multiple times per day. A basic tenet of productivity is to automate repetitive actions or tasks and this is one way that ActiveWords can really help you. Adding a signature to your email or forum post, responding to an inquiry with a canned response, typing your address or phone number — all of these actions can be automated and triggered with a few keystrokes. These are just basic examples but the possibilities are unlimited — it’s staggering how many trigger words you’ll set up once you get started as you begin to examine your daily process.
ActiveWords also works tremendously well as a program or web launcher. I’ve got trigger words set up for web sites I visit regularly and other common applications, and I can pull them all up with just a few keystrokes. For example, no matter what else I’m working on or in, if I type “new task” followed by two spaces my Toodledo web app opens — poised and ready for me to add that new task.
The integration with Toodledo goes even further though; it’s one of many applications with an add-on pack available that allows easy access to common functions. Additional add-ins are available for Outlook, Clear Context, Mind Manager and others. These help you get up and running quickly as they add pre-defined options to your ActiveWords setup to hook in to these programs.
There is actually a pretty extensive library of add-ins available to control everything from Windows functions to adding Google hooks (s goog). You can even add in-place arithmetic which is insanely useful once you get used to using it.
There is also a very powerful scripting language in ActiveWords that I’ve just recently begun to experiment with. Because it works at the OS level, it can interact with any interface — basically if you can access it via keyboard you can program it via an ActiveWord. ActiveWords works everywhere unlike, say, the macro or auto-complete functionality in a program like Microsoft Word.
There isn’t much of a learning curve to using ActiveWords but it does take some thought about the types of things to automate, how you want to name your trigger words, and how to actually trigger them.
The interface to ActiveWords is sparse, which is good. There is a menu bar available at the top of your screen and a keystroke triggered “Action Pad” can pop up to accept your ActiveWords. The interface appears a little dated, but honestly after a day or so you’ll likely end up turning off or disabling the visible portions.
One of the coolest things about ActiveWords is that you don’t have to use the Action Pad or anything else to make it work, you can type your ActiveWords anywhere. I’ve got it configured so I just start typing my trigger word followed by two spaces and it does the rest, no matter where I am.
There are some instances where typing my trigger words does interfere with keyboard shortcuts (Gmail is a frequent culprit) so I move to the search box and type my trigger words there. ActiveWords automatically removes the trigger text after processing the request.
I do wish there was some sort of auto-complete functionality available for the active word triggers that I’ve forgotten. I find the lesser-used ones do get forgotten and while there is a search functionality, I liked how in a tool like Launchy it tries to guess the action based on my past usage.
ActiveWords does a decent job of recommending frequently used programs and documents and suggesting that I create a trigger word for them — it only takes a second to add items to the directory with the wizard-like prompts.
ActiveWords is currently for Windows PCs only. A very generous 60-day trial is available, which is plenty of time for you to decide if it’s working for you. My hunch is that when the trial ends you’ll stare blankly at your screen wondering why your triggers aren’t working, they really do become such an integral part of your workflow. And because it works so seamlessly you really don’t even think about the fact that you are using it — it’s just there.
Registration after the 60 days is $49.95 but that covers all the PCs that you use, so you can take advantage of the benefits if you jump between multiple machines like I do. It’s easy to import and export your directories but I’d love to see the ability to make sync easier.
I tend to be skeptical when I read reviews like this one. Could it really be that good? Can it really save me that much time? In this instance, the answer is a resounding yes.
Has ActiveWords boosted your productivity?