We could all use a little more time in the day, and that means you shouldn't be wasting time navigating through menus or punching through keyboard commands while you're at work. Luckily, there are a bunch of apps available for Mac and Windows that will help you get work done faster. These are our picks for the best time-saving apps.
FastKeys (Windows, $US9.99 ($13))
FastKeys covers a lot of bases. It can expand text abbreviations (so you can set up a two-letter code for your email address, for example), help you build a fully customised Start menu, add new keyboard shortcuts and mouse gesture actions to your programs, auto-complete words and phrases, and more besides.
Despite all of the functionality it packs in, FastKeys is easy enough to use, even if you're not that familiar with automation tools. New commands and shortcuts (organised by category) are configured through a dialog box, and if you get stuck at any point there's plenty of help on the web. A bunch of presets are loaded on the software, too. Making shortcuts couldn't be much easier.
Keyboard Maestro (Mac, $US36 ($47))
Mac power users have been relying on Keyboard Maestro for years, and the latest version of the program packs in more time-saving features than ever before. The newest version lets you launch apps quickly and cut down the time it takes to type your address. There's a lot to explore in the newest version of the software, and you'll probably be surprised by how much faster you can get work done while using this app.
The macro editor that acts as one of the application's main screens is comprehensive without being confusing. Pretty much anything you do on your Mac, from rating songs in iTunes to resizing windows as they appear, can be handled by Keyboard Maestro. Particular actions can be linked to times and keyboard shortcuts for even more control.
AutoHotKey (Windows, free)
AutoHotKey isn't the most user-friendly of the automation tools out there, but balanced against that it's hugely flexible and comprehensive in what it does. It won't take too long to learn the ins and outs of the application, and it's backed up with a stack of help documentation. Plus, the applications's open source, so you don't have to pay for it.
The program lets you automate pretty much anything on your computer with a mouse or keyboard macro combination (you can even convert these macros into executable files for use on other machines). You can remap the keyboard or add new shortcuts for your programs, and text expansion capabilities are included too for even more time saving.
Alfred (Mac, free for basic use)
There are an awful lot of strings to Alfred's bow, from a smarter Spotlight search function to instant file previews, and it's easy to see why this has long been one of the most popular automation tools on the Mac. To take advantage of all the program has to offer we'd recommend forking out an extra $US25 ($33) to get hold of the Powerpack enhancements.
Those paid-for enhancements let you create your own workflows, where hotkeys, keywords and actions are linked together. You can, for example, shorten URLs, resize images, convert between different units, automate your tweeting, and more besides. There's also a companion app for iOS to control your computer from a phone or tablet.
AutoIt (Windows, free)
AutoIt is aimed more at the code-savvy user but pretty much anyone can pick up the application's simple syntax and start building some automated scripts. From the basics of simulating keystrokes on your keyboard to more advanced work like creating customised graphical user interfaces, there's a lot that AutoIt can do once you've learned the ropes.
You do need a text editor to create your AutoIt scripts (there's one included in the full download package that highlights your syntax appropriately and adds a few other extras). If you're feeling a little overwhelmed by the interface there are a handful of example scripts in the app folder and plenty of help on the AutoIt website to help you get started.
Automator (Mac, free)
Automator is developed by Apple itself and comes included as part of OS X/macOS, so it's a good starting point if you don't want to have to install any extra software. All kinds of shortcut scripts and macros can be built, so whether you want to resize a whole batch of images at once or speed up the process of merging PDFs, Automator can lend a hand.
The Automator interface can look daunting when you first fire it up, particularly if you've not used programs like this before, but you'll soon get to grips with how it works. Crucially you don't need to get your hands dirty with any programming and there are plenty of example automations on the web that you can borrow and adapt for your own needs.