Streamlining Your Digital Life: An Introduction to the Elgato Stream Deck

by Maya Berger

This bejewelled little box could be an efficiency game changer for editors. I recently got one, and I love how it’s already simplifying many of my everyday computing tasks, including opening all the checklists, time sheets, style guides, and web pages I need to start a new editorial project all at once, and letting me run macros and text-expander snippets without having to remember keyboard shortcuts.

Front view of Maya's Elgato Stream Deck MK.2, displaying 15 keys with colourful icons.

What is the Elgato Stream Deck?

The Elgato Stream Deck is a device that connects to a PC or Mac and allows you to create shortcuts to various actions. Each of the 15 keys on the Elgato Stream Deck MK.2 can be programmed to correspond to a single action, a sequence of actions, or a folder with more actions within it. (There’s also a mini version with six keys and an XL version with 32 keys.)

If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like how macros work, you’re right. Macros are just recorded actions (or sequences of actions) that you can run repeatedly whenever you want. The most common way to run a macro is with a keyboard shortcut, but the Elgato Stream Deck lets you run a macro by pressing one of the shiny keys on its keypad.

Programming keys might sound intimidating, but there’s no specialist tech knowledge required. You just install and open the Stream Deck app on your computer, and then it’s a matter of dragging and dropping the actions you want to assign to each key. (More on that below, where I delve into some of my favourite actions!)

You can also use images of your own choosing from the built-in library of icons (see screenshot below), create them on the fly using the key creator, or pick from hundreds of user-submitted icons that others have added to the free icon shop.

The Elgato Stream Deck's Icon Library, including over 200 colourful key icons.

How do you program a key?

The Stream Deck app displays the same keypad layout you have on the device itself, and down the right-hand side there’s a list of action categories you can choose from.

The Elgato Stream Deck app, displaying a blank 15-key keypad and a list of action categories.

Click and drag the action you want to automate into one of the 15 key squares. In the screenshot below, I’ve selected the Website action from the System category and dragged it onto the top left key:

The Elgato Stream Deck app, displaying a keypad and a list of action categories. The top left key has a website icon in it.

Under the keypad display, there are fields where you enter the title of your new key and what you’d like it to automate (in the case of the Website action, enter the URL you’d like to open). 

To the left of the title and URL fields is a square displaying the icon for whichever key you’re currently selecting. That’s where you can customize a key’s icon.

My Elgato Stream Deck includes a key that opens The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) website—specifically, the web page for section 14.23 (featuring notes and bibliography examples and variations, in case you were wondering). This is what it looks like with a customized icon I created:

The Elgato Stream Deck app, displaying a keypad and a list of action categories. The top left key has a customized blue website icon with text reading "Open CMOS Notes Page."

Below the keypad, the title field reads "CMOS Notes Website" and the URL field includes a link to a CMOS web page.

I already bookmarked this CMOS page in my browser, in a folder with at least 20 other CMOS web pages that I sometimes refer to, but this page is the one I use most often, and I love the instant gratification of pressing a button to access it without having to wade through a list of bookmarks to find it.

What other simple actions can you automate?

The Open action

The Open action opens a file, folder, or application of your choosing on your computer.

If, like me, you have a labyrinthine system of File Explorer folders and subfolders on your computer, this key can save you the hassle of navigating through them each time you want to find and open a particular file, folder, or application that you use often. So far, I’ve created Open keys for:

  • my editorial business’s style sheet (handy for keeping me consistent whenever I’m updating my website or writing a new blog post);
  • the giant spreadsheet where I record my income, expenses, projects, and client details (for a full suite of editorial Excel tools I’ve created, click here);
  • my project time sheet template, which I use to track my editing speed and progress for each editorial project; and
  • the folder that includes all the details for all the Excel and business data presentations I’ve given.

The Hotkey action

The Hotkey action performs the function of a keyboard shortcut that you’ve already assigned to a task. I find it especially handy for opening macros and TextExpander snippets—already big time-savers in themselves. Rather than having to remember a keyboard shortcut for each one, I can do it with the click of a button.

The screenshot below includes Hotkey keys for two of Paul Beverley’s Word macros—ProperNounAlyse and MultiFileText—in the bottom keypad row. Creating these keys was as simple as dragging the Hotkey action onto each of the keys, giving the keys titles, typing in the keyboard shortcuts I’d previously assigned to them, and giving them eye-catching icons.

The Elgato Stream Deck app, displaying a keypad of 15 colourful key squares and a list of action categories. The middle key in the bottom row has a customized MS Word icon with text reading "PNA."

Below the keypad, the title field reads "ProperNounAlyse" and the Hotkey field reads "Alt+P."

How can the Elgato Stream Deck automate action sequences?

Replacing a few mouse clicks with a shiny button is pretty neat for single actions, but the efficiency really kicks into gear when pressing a key can open or close several files, folders, web pages, and applications all at once.

Multi Action

Let’s say I’m about to start a new project for a publisher client that we’ll call Publisher A. Now, imagine the joy of pressing a “Publisher A” button and having my Elgato Stream Deck:

  • open the File Explorer folder where I keep all my files for Publisher A;
  • open any style sheet templates, query sheet templates, editorial report templates, guidance documentation, and project time sheets that I use for projects from Publisher A;
  • open my invoice template for Publisher A in my invoicing software app, in a browser tab, or in a file folder on my PC; and
  • launch a Spotify playlist to match the mood of the text and keep me focused while I edit.

With Multi Action, you can do just that. In the screenshot below, I’ve dragged the Multi Action action into the bottom left key and titled this key “New Project”:

The Elgato Stream Deck app, displaying a keypad of 15 colourful key squares and a list of action categories. The key on the far left in the bottom row has a Multi Action icon with text reading "New Project."

Below the keypad, the title field reads "New Project" and the Content field reads "6 actions."

If you look under the title field for the key, you’ll see that pressing this key performs six actions. And those actions correspond to my about-to-start-a-new-project tasks:

The Elgato Stream Deck app, displaying the details for a "Multi Action: New Project" key. The list of actions for this key reads:

System: Open
Open Publisher A folder

System: Open
Open Publisher A's Style Sheet

System: Open
Open Maya's Copyediting Checklist

System: Open
Open New TEA Project Timesheet

System: Website
Wave login

Spotify [BarRaider]: Playlist Start
Publisher A playlist

I press one key, and everything I need to get started on this project appears on my screen, ready to go, without me having to remember which folder I saved my copy editing checklist in or opening a new browser tab when I want to create a new invoice.

Further reading

The Elgato Stream Deck comes with a Quick Start Guide booklet, and its contents are also available on Elgato’s website.

For tips on using the Elgato Stream Deck as an editor, Will Fuqua of Candlelight Editing has a short YouTube video highlighting some of the gadget’s most useful features for book editing.

In addition to the standard actions that come with the Elgato Stream Deck, several users have generously created their own actions and made them available to download for free (either individually as plug-ins or in profiles). Two that I’d recommend checking out are BarRaider (the creator of the Spotify Playlist Start action I mentioned above) and Krabs.

And finally, if you have thoughts about the Elgato Stream Deck or other automation tools, leave a comment or get in touch. I’d love to hear your experiences and tips!

Maya Berger (she/her) is a Toronto-based editor and business administration consultant. She is the creator of The Editor’s Affairs (TEA) system of Excel spreadsheets, and is an Advanced Professional Member of CIEP (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading). Maya edits and proofreads speculative fiction, erotica, and academic texts.

This article was copy edited by Alicja Minda.

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