Getting Started with a Stream Deck for Productivity
A Stream Deck is one of those devices I’ve wanted for quite some time, but never got round to it. It’s a set of buttons which sit on your desk allowing you to get things done faster, easier and more productively. It’s fully configurable with LCD screens per key. I love having a visual representation of an icon I’ve designed myself to show me which button to press. I have a picture of a microphone to run the macro to set up Drafts ready for me to dictate. Instead of having to remember keyboard shortcuts you can just press a button on this device and hey presto. You can get these with 6 keys, 15 keys and 32 keys. I decided to get the one with 15 keys because I’m heavily into automation and I didn’t think six keys was going to be enough. You can also have folder keys to let you drill down to another level of keys.
Installation and First Steps
Installation was easy. I just plugged it into a USB port on the back of my iMac and downloaded the software from the Elgato website. When you first start this up it only has one key enabled which is a link to the Elgato website to get help and information about how to use this device.
As you may have guessed from the name of the device it is for when you’re streaming video or audio and you want to quickly control what’s happening on the screen. If you’re live streaming on Twitch or on YouTube and you want something to happen with your microphone, your camera, your desktop or something within the chat connected to the stream, press the button and it’s done. Set a button to show a lower third graphic on your video stream to make yourself look entirely professional. Concentrate on the game or the content of your video. Have things can happen in the background so your viewers don’t get distracted by seeing weird stuff happening on your screen during your live stream. I don’t generally do any live streaming, but it’s nice to know I have all of this available to me. I’m more interested in the productivity angle.
Enhancing Productivity with a Stream Deck
I’m still getting to grips with the Stream Deck and so far all the videos I’ve seen are all about how to do the streaming. I have seen it’s easy to set up a button which will take you directly to a website. It is supposedly possible to set off a Keyboard Maestro macro off by pressing a key. Well, it is, but only by using a hot key combination in KM. There’s a way to activate a key on the Stream Deck from KM, but that’s looking at the device from the other end of the workflow.
Why Use a Stream Deck?
I have so many keyboard shortcut combinations in so many apps it’s hard to remember them all. By using this device I can see the automations I have set up as brightly coloured buttons on my desk. For example I have keyboard shortcuts in Drafts to run actions. I often use the action to send text to Day One journals. The words go to the main journal if it’s a general posting. I’ve a journal for motorcycling and another for cultural comments of my life experience. I have assigned buttons for each of these. I don’t have to open the sidebar with the actions on display and double click on the action. Now it’s done with just one click. I have a button which runs a Keyboard Maestro to set Drafts up for dictation. Just the text entry window in view and the drafts and action lists pushed out of the way. In fact I have set up a profile which displays itself automatically when Drafts activates. Buttons to run my most used actions will take the top ten spaces and the five on the bottom row will be for opening other apps. Or…. I will use a button to open up the Default Profile which has the buttons for the applications.
The Story so Far
I’ve decided to try and put as many macros onto the buttons as possible. These are automations connected to keyboard shortcuts. I had a keyboard shortcut in KeySmith to run my ‘Ready for Dictation’ macro. I found it worked better making the same macro in Keyboard Maestro. It could have been a problem with overlapping key combinations because at one point it worked and later it didn’t. Mostly I have not run into many problems like this. This morning I wanted to set up Drafts to run an action from a Stream Deck Button. My first attempt didn’t work. I changed the keyboard shortcut for the action and then it worked. my reason to put this on a button is because it saves time. The action is in a group of actions I don’t normally see on the screen. By using a button I save myself a few clicks not having to navigate to the social network group of actions in Drafts. I could just remember the keyboard shortcut to do this task. That’s probably not going to happen though. I have too many shortcuts to remember and this is a perfect use for the Stream Deck device.
Thinking About How I Use the Computer
When you’ve been using a system for some time you will have organised, reorganised how you do things. You will have created keyboard shortcuts in various applications and also systemwide to help you get things done. During that time your needs will have also changed. There will be keyboard shortcuts you once used daily or multiple times per day you now no longer need. They are still sitting there on the system taking up space. It’s quite possible for me to create a new keyboard shortcut and for it to not work due to a conflict. Something else will happen or nothing will happen and I’m left scratching my head. I have a number of automation tools like KeySmith, Keyboard Maestro as well as application-specific keyboard combinations. On top of that you have to consider the keyboard combinations you can set up from within the keyboard settings in the system preferences. Sometimes it could be a good idea to start from scratch and make a plan. You could have a specific keyboard combination like Command with Option plus a letter to do certain types of task. It would help to remember these productivity keyboard combinations.
I could reorganise some of the actions I have within Drafts. I could make sure the ones I use most frequently are in the action group I tend to keep the front. I would necessarily need to use the Stream Deck because it would be just as easy to do a double click directly on the action. At least it’s easy to find out which actions are most used by looking in the action log. It seems I mostly use Drafts for writing posts in my journal app of choice Day One, at least that’s the case during the last month. When I’m in writing mode I do the writing for blogging and for the books in Drafts. From there I move it into Ulysses for the editing and publishing. It’s good to have a copy of your first draft as a backup. Just in case anything happens.
Using Stream Deck for opening applications. We already have a number of ways of opening applications on the Mac. Most times I open or switch to an application by using the keyboard shortcut command-spacebar. This opens up Alfred and I can find the application just by typing the first couple of letters of the application name. Then there is the dock on which I have placed my favourite applications. I could even use Launchpad to see all of my applications available on my iMac. I have just set up a keyboard shortcut to get out that quickly, although there is no guarantee of me remembering the shortcuts. I would need to put a Post-it note at the bottom of the screen and use it multiple times to get it into my muscle memory. At least now I could make a button on the Stream Deck so I don’t have to remember the secret handshake to get into Launchpad. Now I have this button to press I might actually start using Launchpad more often.
Creating Buttons on Stream Deck
When you first open up the application to configure your Stream Deck your first job should be to tidy up the list of available actions. On the right-hand side of the screen you’ll see a list which includes many things you don’t need or want. There’s a button in the top right which looks like a list of three things. Click on that and get rid of any superfluous actions. For example I got rid of the actions for the OBS streaming.
Then you might click on the button in the bottom right corner to get more actions. This will bring up another window where you can choose to install actions to work with Apple Mail, Philips Hue Lights, PowerPoint (if you’re that way inclined) and other specific applications. It works with a wide variety of streaming applications such as Wire Cast and Ecamm Live. There are a few actions designed to give you information on the buttons such as a Bitcoin price ticker, a world clock, stocks and there’s one for displaying the current CPU usage.
Solving A Problem With The Stream Deck
It Doesn’t Always Work
When I was taking the draft document to put onto the WordPress blog post I wanted to automate the process. In WordPress I’m using a system called Elementor which is a great way to drag and drop elements to make great looking blog posts. I have to work on it per element, so per header, per paragraph and so on. This is so I can arrange the blog post and set it up just the way I want. What I was looking for was to have a button on the Stream Deck to copy a line or to copy a paragraph in the Drafts application. Then I would go to the creation of the blog post in Safari and have another button which would paste without formatting. I can never seem to remember the keyboard shortcut for paste without formatting. To do this properly it has to select what’s already there and paste over the top.
I created a button in the Stream Deck which used a combination of keyboard shortcuts. I needed an action which moved the cursor to the end of the line. Then another keyboard shortcut to select the whole line. Finishing off with a keyboard shortcut to copy selection to the clipboard. That seemed to work fine.
Moving to WordPress. I needed another button which would paste the clipboard contents over the top of the placeholder text in the element. So I have my cursor within the placeholder text. I have to move the cursor to the end and then select all of the text. I can do this using the right keyboard shortcuts. Finishing off the automation with a paste of the clipboard contents.
This all more or less works. The problem is, I have to click a second time on the actual text otherwise I only have the element selected. If I don’t do that the automation tries to select all of the other elements rather than just the text I need to be selected. So sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. When this happens it starts to feel frustrating and more of an annoyance than a good automation.
The I found the keyboard shortcuts I used which were fine in the main interface of Drafts, didn’t work in the Preview view. Instead of getting a whole paragraph I got an odd selection from the middle of the sentence where the cursor was to the same position in the line below.
Now I am finding the selection of a paragraph to be easier by triple tapping on the magic trackpad anywhere within the paragraph. I have the PopClip application which gives me the copy command right on the cursor and it is so easy to use.