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Taming repetitive tasks

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jan 23,2020 - Last updated at Jan 23,2020

Whether you are a technology power user, a moderate or a casual one, chances are your device and your software applications challenge you every now and then with tedious, time-consuming repetitive tasks.

Actually, the very notion “power user” is becoming obsolete. We all are power users by now. There is not even an antonym in the English language for the expression. A few years ago, Jeffrey Henning, an industry analyst from Norwell, Massachusetts, wrote: “The lack of an industry term for the opposite of power users indicates a blind spot — a failure to place user needs before technology. Not everyone loves technology for its own sake”. Things have changed since — drastically.

Repetitive tasks are many and vary in nature, when working at your computer. It could be tagging a large number of photographs where you simply want to replace “Jarash” with “Jerash”, or a group of MP3 music files. Or executing a set of Excel actions several times, like for instance: insert a row, move a given cell to the right and capitalise the first word in the cell above, a hundred times… 

In other cases, you would like to convert many Microsoft Word documents to Acrobat pdf format. Opening each Word document, saving it as pdf and then closing the document is the wrong way of doing it. It would be a waste of time.

There are at least three type of solutions to alleviate the pain of repetitive operations when using a computer. They work in different contexts.

One way is to use a general-purpose macro maker such as Macro Express by Insight Software Solutions. The application lets you easily define the set of keystrokes you would otherwise apply on your keyboard, save it under a name and assign a shortcut to it so as to activate it when needed, like for example “Control+K”. The beauty of Macro Express is that it is easy to learn and use and does not require programming skills or other. Again, it works on anything you may be doing with your computer, on any task, software or job.

Another very practical piece of smart software and that specifically addresses massive file renaming is Better File Rename (BFR) by Frank Reiff. It integrates easily in Windows Explorer, becomes available upon a simple mouse right-click and lets you rename any number of files in any way you can imagine, quickly and effortlessly. Like Macro Express, BFR does not require special skills to learn and to master.

The last utility is more on the professional side of computing and require minimum programming skills, something that most of the population learns at school nowadays. It entails understanding the notions of variables, loops and functions. It consists of creating what are called macro-commands. It does not only work with Excel but also works with MS-Word and actually any Microsoft Office module that accepts VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) coding.

Fortunately, there are two ways to create macro-commands with VBA code: the easy and the hard way! With the first you simply say that you want to “record” a set of commands, activate these commands one after the other, and then save them under a name for you to reuse at will. Excel or Word will then write (generate) for you the VBA programming code pertaining to the macro-command you have just defined. With the second you have to write the VBA programming code yourself from scratch.

The third, hybrid way, consists of creating a macro-command by recording it, then going to the VBA code that has been automatically generated to modify it and to fine-tune it manually. This understandably is for advanced users.

Without any doubt, using a smart, balanced combination of Macro Express, BFR and Microsoft Office macro-commands will save you a lot of precious time and effort and will make you love your computer more.

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