When you write in a word processor or text editor on OS X, you might want the app to do more than record your words as unadorned plain text. In addition to specifying formatting (such as font style and type size), you may want to insert things like smart (or “curly”) quotes and live, clickable links. You may want your spelling and grammar to be checked as you type. And you may wish to insert certain bits of text automatically, to save time.
While some word processors and text editors have built-in tools to do all of the above and more, others don’t. That’s why it’s a good thing that OS X has its own system-wide text-manipulation tools, which allow you to substitute and transform characters and words in a variety of ways and which are available in many apps where you have to type text. But these settings aren’t necessarily easy to find, and it’s not always obvious what they do.
You’ll find these features in all Apple apps where you can type text—including Pages, Mail, and TextEdit—as well as in many third-party apps; notably, they aren’t available in Microsoft Office. In OS X apps that do support these text manipulation features, you can see the available tools by right- or Control-clicking in an app’s editing window to summon a contextual menu. Some, but not all, of these settings are also available from the Edit menu.
The closets, shelves, and drawers in my office are full of old Macs and iPhones (as well as even older non-smartphones), keyboards, mice, trackballs, cables and adapters of every description, books about decades-old products, tchotchkes from a hundred trade shows and conferences, and other tech detritus. In fact, it’s not only tech products. Somehow I’ve accumulated several lifetimes’ worth of office supplies and numerous other objects I’ll just never use.
Junk itself is a comparatively minor problem. What bugs me is inefficiency. Unneeded (or seldom-needed) objects have a way of interposing themselves between me and the Useful Object I Need Right Now. So, I’m working to simplify my home office—not only by getting rid of old stuff but also by rearranging furniture and electronics to reduce time spent searching for and moving things instead of doing productive work.
There are well over a million files on my Mac. Sure, a few hundred thousand of those are components of OS X itself or of the apps I’ve installed. But, still, the number of user-generated files I’ve accumulated over the years astonishes me.
Most of the time, those files just sit there minding their own business, bothering no one. But sometimes, say, when I do a Spotlight search for a document and thousands of potential matches pop up, I start thinking a bit of file-simplification is in order.
Every time I read about a new Mac or iOS app in a category I use, I think to myself, “Oh, cool. That could save me some time and effort.” I download the app and try it out, but more often than not, I quickly conclude that my previous solution was just as good, and leave the new app sitting unused. From then on, whenever I see the app, I feel a vague, low-level anxiety. But still I accumulate more apps, and the cycle repeats.
Now I’m on a mission to simplify my apps by choosing fewer, better tools; learning them well; and deleting the rest.
If your email is completely under control—your Inbox is normally empty, filing new messages is a breeze, and you feel no anxiety at all about the number of messages you receive every day or the number you’ve stored over the years, you can stop reading this article now. For everyone else, I have a few suggestions to help simplify your email experience.
Consolidate your accounts
Most email clients, such as Apple’s Mail and Microsoft Outlook, can handle as many accounts as you throw at them, and of course it’s often necessary to keep work and personal accounts separate. But do you really need email accounts from iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, your ISP, and so on? You can simplify your email by picking just one as your go-to account and setting up all the other services to forward email to that primary address (so you don’t need to worry about sending everyone a change-of-address notice).
Are you following too many people on Twitter, or finding your timeline unruly and hard to keep up with? If so, you may have the Twitter overload blues. This happens to many Twitter users, but there’s a way to cure this problem: Use lists both to organize the accounts you follow and to use Twitter more efficiently.
Create a list with Twitter.com
When you follow people on Twitter, they get added to one long list of accounts. Your timeline contains all the tweets (and retweets) from all those accounts. But you can create lists to organize the accounts you follow and view each list individually, cutting down the density of your timeline.
Lex uses a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 5, an iPad mini, a Kindle 3, a TiVo HD, and a treadmill desk, and loves them all. His latest book, a children's book parody for adults, is called "The Kid in the Crib." Lex lives in New Jersey with his wife and three young kids. More by Lex Friedman
Used to be, people maintained literal personal phonebooks. Books into which they scrawled the names, numbers, and addresses of their friends and family members. Those were dark times.
In 2014, there’s no need for such old-fashioned foofaraw. Your Mac and iOS devices can sync all your contacts for you, and store more data than those books of yore could have handled even if you wrote with the sharpest of number two pencils. There are plenty of ways to deal with your contacts’ information, so which method do you choose?