How to improve productivity if you are not a geek

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Lots of productivity advise is geared toward geeks and people willing to play with software. You can hear about using macros, scripts, auto text solutions which automate a lot of your work. But those solutions require at least some computer knowledge and willingness to explore.

At the same time if you work for a big corporation, use of non-approved software is not permitted. It’s more than likely that use of applications like textExpander or PhraseExpress will not be allowed for security reasons or simply because it’s easier for local IT team. You could push the limit and try to install something on your own but it’s risky and there may be consequences.

So how to improve your productivity where you can’t use latest software, your are not a geek and can’t create macros? Start with exploring three options: keyboard shortcuts, templates, checklists.

Use keyboard

Easiest way to increase speed on your computer is to learn keyboard shortcuts. Rather than patiently navigate through different menus and options use key combinations to get your stuff done.
Most certainly you’ve heard about ctrl+C, ctrl+B combinations. There are hundreds more,  almost every application has them. You don’t need to learn all of them at once start small and build up as you go. Here is how to do  it:

  • Define your key applications. Figure out which programs you use the most, there is no point in spending time on learning a tool you use once in a while.
  • Check the list of shortcuts and print those you think will be most useful. Any time you do something check if there is a keyboard shortcut for it.
  • Keep the list in front. Pin in on the wall or tape to your monitor.
  • Refer to it as much as possible and try to memorise them.

Once you’ve learned the shortcuts and used them for couple weeks observe how smoother and faster your are at computer.

Use templates

Do you write standard letters or email communication? Do you have to print the same form everyday?
If you find yourself creating the same type of documents time and time again. Rather than re-type the same content each time and think what to put in it try creating a template for each type.
Create a folder with all your templates and put a link on your desktop for quick access. Then each time you need to send an email or some other document refer to that folder and use the template. Fill the blank with client specific information and your done.

Use checklists

Another way to deal with standardised and repeating tasks is to create a checklist to describe the stages of the process. They can save you a lot of time and reduce chances for mistakes. Couple ways in which checklists can help you increase productivity:

  • Don’t have to re-write sub tasks every time.  Being able to see all the sub-tasks makes it easy to complete the work 
  • Don’t have to think what needs to be done. Some tasks are complex and lengthy with lots of moving parts. Having to re-think every step of the process would be time consuming and very risky.  Think of plane mechanics, there are thousands of parts in engine so if each mechanic would have to remember what to do when servicing it would make it easier to forget about this or that element.
  • Easily deal with distractions. It’s not uncommon that someone interrupts our work. Having a checklist at hand makes it easy to know where you were and what to do next to complete the process.

Are you a non-geek? How do you improve your productivity?

Hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. I would appreciate your comments and opinions.

Weekly links 25 April

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Masters in Project Management|100+ Degree Programs Online
  2. How To Be Creative And Productive In Every Stage Of A Project
  3. 20 Must-See Business TED Talks
  4. What Were You Born To Do?
  5. Must Read Success Lessons from Stephen Covey
  6. Information (and knowledge) exists only in your head

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Copying vs. learning. How to improve your setup.

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I really enjoy listening to discussions about how other people stay productive, what tools do they use, what are their workflows like etc. This is good and interesting but the question is what do you do with it.

Recently I’ve caught myself trying to copy someone’s system it doesn’t matter whose workflows that was the important thing is the lesson learned.
I was feeling mine system was stuck  and not going anywhere so I thought this guy is very productive, you can see he’s doing a lot. It was super interesting and cool how with just couple of keyboard clicks he could do almost anything on a computer. I listened to that podcast couple more times, jotted down the tools he uses and the way he organises information. With in couple hours I had the major elements ready for action. Unfortunately this ended in total failure. I’ve used the system literally for couple more hours after setup and  give up.  It didn’t make sense to me, it was not way that I work.

The lesson for me was to learn from others not to copy their systems.
Over time I managed to develop my own workflow, settled on a number of tools that help me keep my productivity up. Switching to something completely new and throwing all this out the window is not the best solution. There is simply too much to change.

Now when I listen to podcasts like Pipeline or WorkAwesome I jot down interesting ideas, tools and approaches people take but always use my own judgement before implementing it.
I don’t make any drastic changes to my system, just incremental small bits an pieces here and there.
It saves me time in two ways, I don’t waste time on migrating to a new system and reverting back to previous. Secondly I can gain something just by adding something to existing setup.

It’s always interesting to listen how other people get things done and keep on top but always remember to filter that information through your own experiences and abilities before implementing. You might waste more time trying to copy someone’s setup.

Weekly links 18th of April

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. How to Better Control Your Time by Designing Your Ideal Week
  2. Top 10 Ways to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
  3. How to Maintain Forward Movement
  4. Productivity and “The Art of War”: Applying Sun Tzu’s Teachings to Business
  5. 100 Different Evernote Uses
  6. 100 MORE Evernote Uses

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Organise synthesise and share information with Diigo.com

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If you’re a blogger, researcher, writer or simply enjoy browsing a web and finding useful information you might find Diigo.com one of the most useful online tools for data gathering.

What is it?

Diigo is a cross between social bookmarking, research and collaboration tool. It provides wide array if features to help you organise, synthetize  and share information on the internet.

Here is list of key features.

  • bookmarking – pages are booked marked and organized using tags, list and quick description synopsis.
  • annotating – comments and notes can be added to selected elements of the page and shared with other users.
  • highlighting – interesting sections, quotes can be highlighted using  different colours.
  • read it later – save pages to read later, with iPhone client you can read offline on the go.
  • collaboration – find friends and people with similar interests, add them you your network and share links, comments, ideas.
  • sharing – links, notes and highlights can be easily shared via email, twitter or reports summarising captured content.
  • public or private – links can be shared with Diigo community or made private for your view only.

How I use it?

I was never a user of any social bookmarking services. I dabbled with Delicious for a while but it didn’t go anywhere. However with Diigo.com it’s a very different story. Although at first glace it looks like just another variation of Delicious, it really more than. Here is how I use it:

Research & data gathering
When I’m researching a topic on the web I use highlighter to mark interesting quotes and sentences.Then I book mark the page in my library adding tags and list name. Let say I’m doing a research about Diigo, best practices and use scenarios etc. In order to keep everything in one place I create an ad hoc list and save everything there. Once I’m happy with collected material I go back to my library select relevant list and allpages and highlighted sections are clearly displayed there. For more permanent backup and storage I send the full content of the list to my Evernote account. This way I have a record of my research, interesting sections including links to pages titles etc.

Blog post writing
Having couple dozen of RSS feeds in my Google reader means that I have plenty of sources of interesting productivity articles about different tools, methods, tips & tricks. Diigo allows me to connect with my blog and quickly use annotations highlight  and help me to write. This is particularly useful for my weekly links post. All I have to do is simply tick articles that I want to include in the post and click send to blog.

Information sharing bookmarking service
Sharing information using Diigo is super easy. First of all I can decide if the bookmark is public or private. Secondly as I’m adding tags and saving it I can sent a link to people I have connected with on Diigo, tweet it or simply type the email address and they will get a link to that site. If some piece of information is important I can bookmark and annotate with Diigo and then send to Evernote for permanent storage.

Why it’s great

First of all it’s very easy to use. After initial setup I was able to brows through the features, configure my profile and settings. What’s more important is the breath of features provided and ability to use them straight away. As the developers provide toolbars for every major browser I was able to start bookmarking, highlighting and annotating in no time.

Diigo being a simply bookmarking service would be good but where it truly shines is the whole area of annotating the web. Adding notes, highlights, building lists, summarizing the important are great features that put this service way ahead of others.

As this is online service it’s accessible anywhere you have access to internet. Also each mobile platform (Androind, iOS) has it’s own client and I must say using Diigo on a device like an iPad must be fantastic.

Lastly I’m always wary of being locked in a proprietary format with no way if exporting information. This was one of the main reasons why I didn’t use any online bookmarking service. Having all links in my browser was the safest option. Fortunately Diiggo is not locking me in. There are multiple options of exporting data your have created. Everything starting from bookmarks to annotations and highlights can be exported in text friendly format.

[Note: All opinions are my own, I’m not affiliated with Diigo in anyway nor received any compensation for this post. I’m very happy user of the service and wanted to share my experiences.]

Weekly Links 4th April

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. 4 Creative ways to Start Your Day « Leadership Freak
  2. The right side of inertia: a backup workflow story
  3. Recipes | chrisbrogan.com
  4. Collabtive: Project Management Simplified
  5. What gets in the way of delegating? | GTD Times

 

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.