Sandpaper Apps

The need for certain applications is obvious. It doesn’t take the average user long to grasp the need for applications like nvALT, Mailplane, Evernote and OmniFocus. They help with universal challenges such as idea capture, correspondence management, file storage and to-do management. It’s why applications like these make up the foundation of a workflow

Next you have the applications that help you meet your own needs. For my writing, I use apps like Byword, Scrivener, iThoughts HD and Marked. While these have less of a universal appeal, they help me achieve my writerly goals in a way that appeals to my geeky nature.

Last but not least, you have applications like Keyboard Maestro, LaunchBar, Hazel and TextExpander. What they do is clear; what you can do with them isn’t always obvious. At a glance, they can seem unnecessary, yet when used well they make a a real difference in the way you work. These small, focused apps make my workflows better. They remove the friction that exists between key applications. They are my sandpaper apps.

Are Sandpaper Apps Necessary? 

No. They are helpful. Here are a few examples:

Keyboard Maestro lets me string together several actions across multiple applications in a single “macro”. For example, with a single keyboard command in Byword, I can copy the HTML of a blog post, open up MarsEdit, create a new post, extract the post title and paste both the title and text in the correct spots. I also use a macro to close all unnecessary applications before recording a podcast and another to restore things back to normal once I’m done (ever try to use Skype while backing? I don’t recommend it.). Is Keyboard Maestro required to do this? Not at all, but because of it, everything gets taken care of before I can even recall the steps I’d need to take. 

LaunchBar is activated by hitting a keyboard command. Once activated, it can do just about anything or, more accurately, make my computer do just about anything. While it’s primarily used to launch applications, it can perform all kinds of magic. With a single keyboard command, I can search Google, look things up in the dictionary, do calculations, and act on selected files or text. I can open websites or even log into websites through integration with 1Password. It has a clipboard manager that gives me access to up to forty of my last copied items. It’s the digital equivalent of slicing, dicing and making Julienne fries. Could everything here (excepting the clipboard manger) be done manually? You bet, but it’s far more enjoyable to use a computer when just about everything is a few keystrokes away.

Hazel watches folders and acts on files, often before I’ve had a chance to think about what I’d want do do with them. With a single “Rule” a properly named file on my desktop is added to Evernote and placed in the trash with no additional effort on my part. With a minor tweak to the name, I can even create a task from the new note in Evernote. Can I do this manually? Of course, but Hazel ensures that everything is properly filed. It also does wonders to help avoid the backlog and errors that happen when I attempt to do this my own.

TextExpander takes text abbreviations and turns them into larger text snippets. You can even get fancy by including text on your clipboard, adding customizable pop-ups, selecting from multiple options or creating optional areas within snippets. This can be used for everything from automatically correcting commonly misspelled words (and boy do I commonly misspell words), to shortening up things I type every day such as my email address. You can also go crazy and make elaborate snippets for things like customer service emails). Could I just correct these words as spell check catches them, get better a typing or copy and paste long bits of text out of a document? Obviously, but why on earth would I want to do that?

Note: This is an oversimplification of what each app is capable of, just wanted to offer a few tangible examples.

So Where Do Sandpaper Apps Fit?

You want to start with the applications that make up the foundation of your workflow. After that, it pays to prioritize the tools that can help you execute on your own goals. Once these are in place, don’t forget to check out the sandpaper apps. There may not be much that you can build with them on their own, but they help remove friction between all of my applications and make everything a whole lot smoother.

  • Wojciech

    Hi – very useful post, thanks! I’m wondering if there are any similar apps (or blog post with app list) for Windows, maybe you know something about that?

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I haven’t kept up on Windows, but Rafal over at Thinkinprojects.com does a really nice job of covering this.