A few months back, I did a podcast with Dom Goucher where we talked about some of the “ninja” tools and tips that we use to make our workdays easier and more productive.
It’s about 50 minutes long, so I thought I’d condense the main tips into an article.
Yes, some of it is a little on the geeky side, but I’m reliably informed that geeky is the new sexy.
That might be a misquote.
Anyway, let’s get into it.
I’m starting with an obvious one, but there will be some people who haven’t come across this shortcut before.
Basically, you hold down the “Alt” key (“Command” key if you’re using a Mac), tap the “Tab” key, and a list of all the running applications will appear in the middle of the screen. Keep tapping “Tab” (while still holding down the “Alt” or “Command” key), and you can scroll through the open applications until you get to the one you want.
Bonus Tip: If you’re using the latest version of Windows, trying using the “Windows” key instead of the “Alt” key for a flashier version of the same technique.
Filing documents on your hard drive properly is a challenge. Even if you start out on a new machine with good intentions, creating lots of tidy folders and grouping files together in a logical order, it’s not long before the sheer volume of data makes finding something again almost impossible.
This is because most people neglect the most important aspect of file organisation…
The name that you give to the individual files.
You might, for example, think you’re pretty smart in creating a folder for receipts for online purchases, but how are you going to find the receipt for that kettle you bought last year when every file looks like this…
Unless you can remember the exact date that you made the purchase, you’re going to struggle.
What you should have done, was to save each file using a name that properly describes the contents. If, for example, you’d called the filename of the receipt for your kettle:
Do you think that might make it easier to find?
Along the same lines, a simple trick is to create three-letter codes that represent different projects, and then include that code in every file that is related to that project, whatever type of file it is. Not only does that help your overall organisation, it also makes the files easy to find, even years later, by simply entering the three-letter code into your computer’s “search” facility.
You can come up with your own system for creating logical filenames, but it’s a really good habit to get into that most people never figure out.
This is evidenced by the number of CVs that employers receive called… you guessed it…
What they should be receiving is a document called…
Once you realise the sense in creating descriptive filenames and you start to put it into practice, you’ll wonder why you didn’t begin sooner.
I discussed email management in a previous article (see “Managing Your Inbox” article), so I’m not going to rehash it here, except to follow on from the previous section by pointing out that you can also include your three-letter codes in the subject lines of your emails, to make filing and sorting that much easier.
Teach your team of employees and outsourcers to use the three-letter codes in their correspondence to you and then use your email software filters to automatically place emails into the correct folders.
It doesn’t matter how smart you think you are, no one is immune to the danger of accidentally damaging or deleting content (see www.wimp.com/storydeleted, for a really scary example).
If you’re not backing up your hard drive on a regular, preferably daily basis, you’re basically collecting petrol in cans under your office and wandering around with a lit cigarette.
Sooner or later, your business is going to go up in smoke.
The funny thing (and it’s not really funny) is that you’ll never fully appreciate how much you take for granted the software, data and settings that you have on your computer, until the day you lose them all.
Better not to find out the hard way, so back up everything to an external drive, or use an online service.
Use What You’ve Got
One of the quickest ways to get more out of your computer is to learn how to use the software you already own.
I can guarantee that the software you already have installed boasts some incredible features that you don’t realise exist and that you would use every day if you took the time to discover them.
Try Googling “tips on using <software name>” and the chances are good you’ll find a whole bunch of articles that will help you become a power user of everything you own.
If you own an Apple product, make sure you check out http://www.screencastsonline.com/. They post weekly videos that show you how to get the most out of your Mac, iPad or iPhone. If you purchase an annual plan, it works out about $3 a month, and you get access to the archive of existing videos.
Well worth it, in my opinion.
TextExpander (http://smilesoftware.com/TextExpander/) is a tool for Mac users that lets you store specific blocks of text and recall them when you enter a sequence of keystrokes.
For example, anytime I want to enter my email address somewhere, I simply type the @ symbol twice in a row, and the software removes the two @ symbols and replaces them with my full email address.
Depending on the kind of work you do, there are lots of different ways to use this software, from inserting signature text, to saving email templates.
And you may be pleased to read that there is a PC version of this software called Phrase Express (www.phraseexpress.com).
Just Read It Already
I heard this quote years ago that went along the lines of:
I’ve got a huge library of books. I was smart enough to buy them, now I want to see how smart I’ll be if I actually read them.
I’d actually go beyond that. If buying a book and reading it are the first two steps, then the next two are…
Trusting the author enough to read the book to the end, instead of getting half-way through and thinking, “Actually, I know more than this expert, so I’m going to go off and do things my own way”.
Taking action and applying the knowledge that the book has provided you. That means, making notes as you go along and, at the end, making an action plan to implement everything you’ve learned.
So, there we go. There’s quite a variety in the last 1000 words, so hopefully you’ve found something in there that’s new and that you can start putting into practice.