I’ve loved video games ever since my mom beat me down in Dr. Mario when I was 4 years old. Even with video game systems in the 90s, controllers could be bought with ‘turbo’ buttons that are programmed to press A or B quickly so you didn’t get a repetitive stress injury. With modern computer games, the combinations of keys and actions a player needs to perform has gotten much more complex, and the technology has evolved to allow a gamer to create quick macros on the fly. A macro is a combination of keystrokes or computer actions that can be performed by hitting a single key. I believe this technology targeted at gamers has potential to benefit folks outside of the gaming community.
In this article I’ll convince you why anyone working with computers on a daily basis needs to buy a gaming keyboard with a quick macro feature to condense simple (or complex) repetitive tasks down to a single key. I’ll give you some examples of macros I’ve made for myself, and finally, I’ll share some recommendations on decent equipment to consider.
The snowball effect, and why you need macros in your life
A wise teacher and brilliant Finale user (it’s a music composition tool) once told me, “every click brings you one step closer to death.” This was his way of reinforcing the importance of shortcuts while using audio software, but the quote stuck with me as a guiding principal to working with small, repetitive tasks. Limiting mouse clicks makes these tasks less likely to give you a repetitive stress injury down the road.
Let’s look at a basic task: formatting cells in Excel
These styles are already pre-made, which makes this a little quicker, but it still takes me a little over 1 second per task, and the majority of that time is because I have to move my mouse back and forth across the screen. With 5 rows, this isn’t a huge issue. It’s 5 seconds. But expand this task out to 600 rows and you’ll log some significant mileage on your mouse.
Now let’s see the same task, only I’m going to use a custom macro that does the following:
- Highlights the current cell as bad, good, or neutral
- Moves to the next cell below
- Note that this task uses the Alt key to navigate through Excel’s menus without using the mouse, a great technique to learn when creating macros.
Each of the separate styling tasks gets assigned to its own “G” key on my keyboard — a key reserved specifically for macros. And macros can be program-specific, so when you open Excel, a certain set of macros is active, but when you open Word, a different set of macros is active. You can also disable this functionality via Logitech’s Gaming Software, which will show you all of your macros, software, and more. More functionality exists in the software, including the ability to add mouse clicks.
How to Create a Macro using Logitech’s “MR” key
Creating a macro isn’t a groundbreaking idea, but the speed at which you can create a macro with a Logitech keyboard is incredible. Here is my workflow:
- Notice myself repeating the same task
- Think briefly about whether I can perform the task without touching the mouse (using Alt, Tab, Home, End, etc. to navigate)
- Press the MR button and select a G key to assign a series of keystrokes to the G key. You can set this to record the delays between keystrokes, if you’d like
- Record my keystrokes to perform the task
- Press MR again to write the keystrokes to the G key
There are a few products that will let you create macros by scripting. AutoHotKey is the one that comes to front of mind for me. The issue I see with this is you need to learn the scripting language before you can create any helpful macros, and scripting is inherently more time consuming than recording the keystrokes in real time. Please let me know in the comments if there are other tools similar to AutoHotKey that make it easier to create macros on the fly, I’d love to try them out!
The Time Tradeoff: Creating a Macro vs. Completing the Task
A good guiding principle for creating macros is “Will it take longer to create the macro than it would to complete the task?” But keep in mind the following:
- This may not be the only time you will ever perform the task. Do you have to do this every few days/weeks?
- Other people can benefit from you creating a macro. You can be the macro wizard and wear a special hat.
- It will take longer to create your first few macros. Once you get a grasp on the workflow from the previous section, it only takes slightly longer than it would to perform one task to create the macro.
- Macros save time, but they also prevent errors. In cases where you’re using a macro to add text, you can be sure that the text will always be exactly the same.
Examples of some of the macros I’ve made:
- Go to the next Excel sheet, paste a hyperlink 2 rows below the bottom of the data in the current sheet that takes the user to a Summary sheet.
- Adding prefixes / suffixes to file names
- Copying text or image from one open application, moving to the next open application and pasting the text or image.
- Throw an entire hotbar of eggs in Minecraft.
Gaming keyboards are designed to allow gamers to chain together complex commands in their game of choice. Having a gaming keyboard will help you slay any dragon whose special attack is forcing you to perform a tedious task 1,000 times in a row without making a single mistake. If the metaphor isn’t clear, Tediolus — the Dragon of Ultimate Tedium — is Microsoft Office.
Equipment to Consider
The keyboard I use is a Logitech G510s, which is a discontinued model (very sad). The next best one I can find as of January 2022 is the Logitech G910 Orion Spectrum, but the literal key to purchasing the right keyboard is the “MR” key, that will allow you to create new macros on the fly!
I’m not sponsored by Logitech, so please share your recommendations in the comments if you have a macro-capable keyboard you love. Thanks for reading!
No macros were used in the making of this article.