What AutoHotkey can do for you

February 2016 · 6 minute read

Microsoft Windows only. No install required.


AutoHotkey is a free (and safe; donations accepted) software program that allows you to make your computing life faster and more efficient. It can be a lifesaver at work, making lots of little annoyances go away, and improving your efficiency a few seconds at a time.

The Basic List

You can use AutoHotkey to:

That’s just the basic list. If you want to get fancier you can set it with conditional logic to:

If you find this article interesting, check out my ebook (costs less than a coffee!) Practical AutoHotkey: How to get faster at work with text expansion and automation, which covers all this in detail.

How does this help me?

Text expansion

Text expansion is your computer expanding abbreviations. For instance when I type ‘ahk’ on my computer it automatically expands it to ‘AutoHotkey’. You can define whatever abbreviation you want to expand into whatever text you want.

Text expansion sounds super simple, and it is, but it’s also super useful. I liken AutoHotkey in general and text expansion in specific as the tool you never knew you needed, *but now you can’t live without.* Once I implemented it on my computer at work, I started seeing opportunities to use text expansion all over the place. Not everywhere, but in a surprising number of applications. 

I use AutoHotkey’s text expansion capabilities for a lot of random things:

If this all sounds useful, but you’re intimated by the idea of editing a simple text file to define these these yourself—and don’t mind paying money—check out PhraseExpander which, while marketed at doctors and other professionals, can be used by anyone. One caveat, unlike AutoHotkey, PhraseExpander needs administrator access to install—in other words, you can’t sneak it through the system if you don’t have administrator access on your computer at your place of employment.

Of course, thanks to PhraseExpander’s requirement to be installed on a computer, I learned the joys of AutoHotkey—learn them once, and suddenly you have this Swiss Army Knife at your disposal.

(I do not have an affiliate relationship with PhraseExpander; I examined the alternatives and, as of January 2016, it’s the best option on the market, although there are cheaper ones available.)

Launch Programs

Starting programs sounds pretty simple, but it can be very helpful. If you keep opening-and-closing several different programs throughout your day (a task system, your e-mail, web browser, specialized software for your job, and so forth).AutoHotkey can help by launching that program for you (and/or switching to it, if it’s already open) with a single key press. Note that last bit—switching to the program if it’s already open somewhere.

I use this every day by having a keyboard shortcut for some of programs I use a couple of times a day, but I don’t need to keep open.

No matter what I’m doing on my computer I can press:

Please note that you can use AutoHotkey with any key you so choose—I’m fond of the function keys, so I started there, but I have a bunch of other keys setup too. (With luck, I’ll soon have one to launch Chrome and edit my blog posts!)

Automate repetitive tasks

This is for more advanced users, but you can script AutoHotkey to launch programs, click on certain parts of the screen (where buttons in a software program will be), type in some text, and then close the program.  I don’t have any good examples of this, but I imagine certain people use software day-in-and-day-out that requires them to perform the same sequence of actions over and over again – AutoHotkey can be a lifesaver here. In that case, AutoHotkey can make you more productive (maybe giving you enough time to loaf off at work, without any loss of productivity?), and help save you from repetitive stress injury. 

Remap keys

Last, but not least, AutoHotkey can remap keys on your keyboard to do other things. While this idea is scary and unintelligible to many, I use it on a daily basis—remapping my Caps Lock key to be an extra Control key.

(I also have AutoHotkey setup to allow me to use the ‘Menu’ key on my particular keyboard as Caps Lock, for the really rare instances that I REALLY REALLY NEED TO USE CAPSLOCK. But they’re rare. Hardly ever see those.)

AutoHotkey to the rescue

I’ve covered using AutoHotkey at work—getting it installed (without admin rights) and using it for basic text expansion.

If you found this article useful, check out my ebook Practical AutoHotkey: How to get faster at work with text expansion and automation on Amazon. The examples and a brief AutoHotkey reference section are available on this website for free.

Copyright © 2016-2017 Nick May.