A few of my Twitter followers have asked me how do I keep track of and remember triggers (stringer letters, finger gestures, and voice commands) I assign to various Mac automation tools.

That’s an excellent question, for I imagine many computer users face the challenge of remembering keyboard shortcuts, text expansion abbreviations, and the keys for typing special characters.

The following explains what I do to remember assigned triggers, though I don’t mean to suggest that all my methods will work for everyone.

I invite readers to share their own methods for remembering shortcuts in the comment section below.

Use It or Lose It

For a while I tried using cheatsheets to review and remember assigned triggers, but I realized that I each time I pulled up a cheatsheet I was defeating the purpose of using automation hacks if I had to consult a cheatsheet to remember triggers.

So basically the triggers I remember most are the ones I use on a regular or daily basis.

For example, I use lots of lots of BetterTouchTool finger gestures. There are ones that very easy to remember, such as my global Three Finger Swipe Up to activate a screenshot application, SnappyApp, which I use at least a few or more times a day.

However, I have a harder time remembering the assigned finger gestures for when I’m working in ScreenFlow, because it’s not an application I use on a regular basis. When I do use ScreenFlow, I review the assigned finger gestures in BTT as I need them —such as a Four Finger Click for splicing a clip in the time line.

I remember nearly all my global finger gestures in BTT because they are the ones I use regularly.


For TextExpander abbreviations, I try to use a combination of letters that are close to the abbreviations of the text snippet they are to trigger and paste.


For instance, for the word, “automatically,” I use the abbreviation, “atc”, which consists of letters that appear in the syllables of the word, and the letters I chose are not in conflict with a real word I might type. Similarly, I use “cnv” which triggers “Central Valley,” and “dz” for “dozens”.

For some snippets I use the the first few letters of the word. For instance, when I want to type the word “abbreviation”, I simply type “abbr”, because there’s no other word that I regularly type that begins with “abbr”. The same goes for the word, “upgrade.” I type “upg” and TextExpander replaces those letters with the assigned word.

I also combine two whole words, such as “boardmembers”, which pastes a list of names, and “guestcallin” that pastes a phone number. Similarly, some word expansions are too short for an abbreviation. For instance, I don’t use an abbreviation for “Alfred,” but I do want to TextExpander to capitalize the first letter for me. So in that case, I just type “alfred” so I don’t have to hit the Shift key to capitalize the word. The same goes for my name. I can type “bk” for “Bakari,” or bakari, and replaces it with Bakari.

Incidentally, I use the Keyboard Maestro string letters “ptx” to toggle  TextExpander on and off. In my mind, the string of letters means “pause TextExpander.” So if TextExpander is getting in the way of my typing, I can quickly trigger it while typing, and there’s no need to remember its keyboard shortcut.

Note: the latest of version of TextExpander includes a feature that actually posts a notification reminder when you type out a word or snippet that you already have assigned an abbreviation in your TextExpander library.

TextExpander reminder

String Triggers 

Many of the Keyboard Maestro string letters I use are selected because they are quick to type. This letters include “jj”, “jk”, “fh”, “jn”, “uu”, “fj”. These strings don’t require me to look down on the keyboard to locate and type, and they are usually easy to remember, especially for my most used KM string triggers.

KM trigger

I find string triggers ten times easier and faster to use than keyboard shortcuts, because strings don’t require lifting my fingers off the main keys in order to trigger a macro.

As with TextExpander abbreviations, I also create strings that reflect the actions of the macro they trigger.  For example, “tcc” triggers a macro for converting a line of text to title case.  As you can see, the string letters is sort of an abbreviations for the action, “title case.”  Another set of string letters, “sll”, triggers a macro that selects the current line of text. In my mind, “s” is for “select” and “l” is for “line.”

Finger Gestures

finger gestures2 copyI use a several dozen finger gestures to activate all types of actions using BetterTouchTool. I use the global actions the most, and I find that if I force myself to use the gestures, I will remember them better.

However, some finger gestures seem to be easier to remember than others because they are in my mind associated with the action. For example, I use the Five Finger Tap to quickly hide the current application. And similarly I use the Five Finger Click to delete a selected file, and Fiver Finger Click+Option key+Command key to quit the current application. Notice how the finger gestures are similar, just as the actions they trigger are similar.

A Three Finger Force Click activates BetterTouchTool itself, and I chose   the gesture because BTT is a three letter word.

I remember other finger gestures simply by using them regularly. A Three Finger Swipe Left toggles Dragon Dictate on and off. I use the gesture so much that I don’t even have to think about it.

Voice Commands

Dragon Dictate voice commands are another set of triggers I use. Many of them are easy to remember because they reflect the action I want to perform. For example, if I say “cut,” Dragon Dictate deletes the word behind my cursor. If I say, “my phone number”, DD pastes it for me. If I say, “my phone number without area code,” it does it that way for me.

vocie commandThe commands for downloading a webpage is pretty easy too, because the command always starts off as “Jump to…” followed by the name of the website (e.g., “Jump to Mac Automation Tips” or “Jump to Amazon”.)

Dragon Dictate actually allows for sending a voice command to set up a command for the frontmost webpage. Simply say, “Create a command for this page,” and DD will create the webpage command in the Commands Manager. It’s totally sweet.

Dragon for Mac 5


The times when I don’t remember assigned triggers is usually a day or two after I create them. If I want to commit a trigger to memory, I need to use it several times. If I forget to use the trigger, I undo the action and look up the trigger so that I can use and remember it.

If you’re new to Mac automation I can assure you that remembering triggers gets easier the more you use them, and especially if you work at your Mac on a daily basis.

If you’re an existing Mac automation user, let me know which strategies you use to remember triggers, or which of the above strategies you use. I look forward to hearing back from you.


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