101 Little Hacks to Help You Get Your Work Finished More Quickly

Monday, October 1, 2007 at 1:54pm by Site Administrator

No matter how much you love your job, chances are you’d still like to be able to get out of the office a little earlier each day. While your boss (or your entrepreneurial work ethic) may require you to stay chained to your chair up until 5:00 on the dot, there are ways you can finish your work more quickly, letting you shuffle around papers and pretend to look busy for the last half hour of the day in peace.

The 101 little hacks included in this article are all designed to shave seconds or minutes off your day. Taken together, these tiny tips can add up to make you a whole lot more productive.

General Computing Tips

Following is a list of simple tips you can use to cut down on aggravating word processing actions. Instead of constantly switching from typing to clicking, keep your hands centered on the keyboard for maximum productivity.

  1. Ctrl-S: Okay, we’re pretty sure everyone knows that Ctrl-S will save your open document, but do you really take the half second to do it every so often? Saving your work when you finish a paragraph or important thought will save you tremendous amounts of time if you accidentally click out of your unsaved document, your computer freezes, or there’s a networking problem that shuts down your system.
  2. Ctrl-H: The Find and Replace tool is a godsend when you’re forced to reformat an entire document or discover you’ve made a simple, but grave typographical error.
  3. F1 for Help: Typing in F1 will bring up the Microsoft Help assistant. Type in your question or a few keywords, and a list of options will appear. Don’t waste your time getting buried in all the different toolbars or looking up your problem on the Internet.
  4. Ctrl-0: This easy application adds an extra space between paragraphs and will save you the headache of trying to re-format your entire document.
  5. Ctrl-K: Add a hyperlink when you type Ctrl-K. Your document will look much neater than if you simple copy/pasted the Web address.
  6. Auto Hot Key: The Productivity Ninja recommends downloading the Auto Hot Key to increase your productivity when plug in your favorites: favorite documents, folders, Web pages, etc.
  7. Customize your toolbars: Click Tools, then Customize. Customizing your toolbars will allow you to view only the applications that you use most often and keep you from getting bogged down in the ones you don’t.
  8. Get rid of the Office Assistant: No matter which Office Assistant you have — the paperclip, the dog, or the cat — it’s way too easy to get distracted at all the extra information it spits out at you while it bounces across the page, wags its tail, or curls up in a ball and goes to sleep. Click here for a how-to on hiding the assistant.
  9. Winword.exe: This file allows you to control the startup of Microsoft Word. For detailed instructions, read the guide under the headindg: "How do I control what happens when I start Word?"
  10. Ctrl-A: The select all command lets you change the font style and size, margins, and other formatting settings with one click. Just make sure you save the document beforehand in case you accidentally delete everything.
  11. Make your printer the default print option: This tip might seem obvious, but if you’re in an office with several other printers, there’s a chance that your documents may end up printing across the room. Go ahead and make your printer the default setting to save you extra time each time you type in Ctrl-P.
  12. Ctrl-Z: Ctrl-Z lets you undo your last application, whether it was a formatting change or a sentence you typed. After a day of deleting each letter by hand, you’ll notice the difference.
  13. Don’t look for synonyms in the thesaurus: A faster way to look for synonyms is to right-click on the world you want to replace, and then select the Synonyms tab.
  14. Mail Merge: Use Mail Merge to set up a generic form for creating letters, envelopes, or labels.

Data Entry Time Savers for Excel

Plugging in numbers, names, and addresses can be unbearably tedious. These easy time savers will help your data entry assignments go a little bit faster.

  1. F2: F2 will let you edit a cell without having to double click on it. This is especially helpful when you editing a cell that contains a hyperlink, since clicking on the link will open your Internet browser on top of your Excel file.
  2. Ctrl-Page Up or Ctrl-Page Down: When your Excel file becomes a massive list of hundreds of contacts or data, using your mouse to scroll up and down takes way too long. Ctrl-Page Up and Ctrl-Page Down is a faster application that is more appropriate.
  3. Insert Row: If you’re working on a spreadsheet that needs to be in a particular vertical order, you may realize that you need to add an extra row somewhere in the middle. Right click the box in the left hand column that you wnat to be below the new row. Select Insert, and then select "Insert Entire Row."
  4. Ctrl-1: Ctrl-1 allows you to format the cells by font, alignment, number, and more.
  5. Ctrl-Semicolon: The Productivity Ninja reveals that typing Ctrl-Semicolon enters the date in the selected cell.
  6. Ctrl-Colon: Ctrl-Colon enters the current time in a selected cell.
  7. Ctrl-D: Instead of re-typing an entry over and over again, highlight the item you want to repeat and drag down to the appropriate cell. Lift your finger off the mouse and type Ctrl-D.
  8. Ctrl-Home: According to the Productivity Ninja, "Ctrl-Home selects A1 on the current worksheet."
  9. Insert Formulas: Follow the directions at ExcelTip.com to learn about inserting formulas, which will automatically compute mathematical and financial data.
  10. Auto Outline: Set up Auto Outline so that you don’t have to waste time agonizing over your own amateur designs.
  11. Ctrl-Tab: If you’re working on more than one spreadsheet, Ctrl-Tab allows you to swiftly move back and forth between each one.
  12. Ctrl-A: After typing in a function, Ctrl-A opens the Function Argument window
  13. Selecting a large range of cells: ExcelTip.com offers two options for quickly selecting a range of cells: either "select the first cell, press Shift, select another cell and then click the mouse" or "select the first cell, type the address of the last cell in the Name box, and then press Shift+Enter."

General E-mail Tricks

From Gmail to Outlook, these e-mail tricks will keep you better organized and more productive.

  1. Continue the e-mail chain: No, we do NOT mean send chain letters via e-mail. If you and a colleague or contact are sending e-mails back and forth about a particular subject, keep hitting Reply each time you write back. Beginning a fresh e-mail each time may cause confusion, and you won’t be able to easily file away confirmations and other important details.
  2. Flag important e-mails as urgent: Most e-mail servers provide the option of flagging a message as high priority or urgent. Doing so will increase your chances of receiving an answer much more quickly and allowing you to move on with your day.
  3. Voice-to-text mobile e-mail: Many cell phones like the Blackberry allow you to e-mail from your phone. Others technologies, like the Vlingo, feature voice-to-text capabilities, which types in whatever messages you literally tell it. This system cuts back on frustrating manual texting time.
  4. Create a filing system for e-mails: Organize your e-mails by moving them to folders in your account. Separate them according to priority or client.
  5. Be aware of other industry’s deadlines: Your industry’s timetable may be completely different from someone in another industry. For example, the media works on a different schedule than teachers and schools. If you need information from someone in an industry other than your own, educate yourself as to when the best time to contact them would be. That way, you won’t be waiting around for a response on a Friday afternoon, when everyone else has already left.
  6. Stay away from e-mail subscriptions: ITSecurity.com discourages subscribing to "dozens of free "tips" sites if you don’t have time to read the items." You’ll flood your inbox and lose time on frivolous sites.
  7. Use a spam filter: Clearing junkmail out of your inbox will let you focus on the important work-related duties you have ahead of you. Just make sure client e-mails aren’t being directed to the spam file.
  8. Break apart large attachments: Unless you want to freeze up your e-mail account (as well as the person’s you’re sending the file to), break up large attachments. The e-mail will transmit more quickly, allowing you to move on to something else.
  9. Spamproof your Gmail account: This article from Digital Inspiration guides readers through the process of spamproofing Gmail accounts.
  10. Program a custom e-mail reader: ITSecurity.com discusses the benefits of a custom e-mail reader, which "can come in handy for custom batch filtering, and even for auto-separating emails into folders."
  11. Sign up for a Gmail account: You have to be invited by an existing user to set up a Gmail account, but chances are you already know someone who has an account. "Reply" messages are saved as conversations, which saves you time when you need to find a particular thread quickly.

Microsoft Outlook Shortcuts

Most offices continue to support Microsoft Outlook for e-mail use. These items are valuable time savers for Outlook account holders.

  1. Ctrl-Enter: This action can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Make sure you’re absolutely finished formatting, adding attachments, and writing your message before wandering over to these keys.
  2. Delete Messages: Scroll up and down with the arrow keys to mark message for deletion. Type Ctrl-D instead of constantly clicking your mouse.
  3. Escape: If your Outlook window is open, hitting the Escape key will only exit out of your current operation, so you don’t have to worry about losing any other documents.
  4. Ctrl-S: This universal Microsft saving tool will transmit your message into the drafts folder with two simple key strokes.
  5. Ctrl-Q: Highlight a particular message as Read or Unread, whether you’re in your inbox or one of your folders.
  6. Ctrl-Shift: Hit Ctrl-Shift to find items in your Inbox, Contacts list, or Folders.
  7. Ctrl-Shift-C: Add a new contact item in your address book wiht this command.
  8. Ctrl-F: Forward the highlighted message by typing Ctrl-F.

Organization Ideas

Keep your to do lists in order and your thoughts organized with these ingenious ideas. You’ll improve your focus, energy, and productivity levels immediately.

  1. Microsoft One Note: This software allows you to organize notes and research from any computer included in the network location. The fast search feature will "find anything in your notes in mere seconds, even across multiple sections, section groups, and notebooks."
  2. Journyx Timesheet: This time tracking software will help you better organize employee time sheets, payroll schedules and client invoices.
  3. Keep your office or cubicle tidy: File away loose papers, set up a "To Do" tray for items that need your immediate attention, and throw away items that you no longer need. Minimizing the mess on your desk will help you focus and tackle your work more quickly. Check out these simple steps for organizing your desk space.
  4. Invest in a scanner: Scanners allow you to cleverly transition your filing system to your computer. To avoid bloating your hard drive with too many documents, save "folders" onto a disk or USB port. You’ll free up tons of space in your filing cabinet and can print out hard copies whenever you want.
  5. Have a shelf, drawer, or container for everything: Whether it’s the mail, your pens, extra cartridges, or paperclips, have a specific place for everything in your office. And no, we don’t mean a certain corner on your desk. Buy an extra shelving system or nifty Tupperware containers if you need more space. Just don’t throw it all on your desk, where it can distract and irritate you.
  6. Color Code your file folders: Colored file folders are available at OfficeDepot.com. Organize your files by color for clients, projects, payroll, etc.
  7. Take inventory of your office supplies regularly: Nothing will slow you down more than having to run to Kinko’s to print out a proposal just because you forgot to order more paper. Avoid such catastrophes by taking inventory of your office supplies regularly. Skimping on major items like paper, ink cartridges, and pens because of price will cost you way more in the long run if you end up losing clients because of your shortcomings.
  8. Visit CableOrganizer.com: Tangled up wires and cables are an eyesore as well as a safety hazard. Organize your unwieldy cords to tidy up your office space.
  9. Maintain a thorough contacts list: Constantly update your contacts list with potential clients, vendors, and other important people. You’ll save yourself a lot of time keeping names, phone numbers, emails, and addresses all in one place. Keep one version saved on your computer or network and a hard copy in a binder to float around your office.
  10. Take a few minutes to prepare for every meeting you attend: Even if you’re not the one giving the presentation, organizing your emails, calendars, and even your thoughts before a meeting is a smart move. Remebering to bring along the appropriate documents and references, such as your planner, will save you from inconveniently darting back and forth to your phone or office to doublecheck details.
  11. FreeMind free mind mapping software: Download this free software kit to manage your daily duties, calendars, and more.
  12. Label everything: No folder or shelf should go without a label. You can find label templates at Avery.com or invest in a labelmaker. If you have to flip through the contents of every single folder in your cabinet to find anything, you’re wasting way too much time.
  13. Keep your employees organized. Keep your employees busy with assignments, encourage them to keep their own filing cabinets and deadlines, and maintain a strict payroll schedule. Asking them to turn in timesheets and proposals at the appropriate time will save you from putting in extra overtime hours.
  14. Think ergonomics: This article urges readers to "think ergonomics" by evaluating your physical comfort in your office. What are the key elements to think about? "Be sure you are working in sufficient lighting conditions," make sure your chair is comfortable and supports your back, and "if your wrist hurts from using the computer mouse, get yourself a mouse pad with cushioning." If your body is comfortable at work, you’ll naturally be more productive.
  15. Box: This free online file storage program lets you quickly share, rework, and organize files with clients, vendors, and colleagues, which saves your Inbox from clogging up with large attachments.
  16. Clean up before leaving at the end of the day: Spend the last couple of minutes of each workday throwing away discarded papers, deleting e-mails, and putting supplies back in your desk or on their shelves. When you come back to the office at 8a.m., you’ll be in a brighter mood when you see your organized space.

Prioritizing Hints

Sometimes all you need to get you going is a little perspective. Consider these hints that will encourage you to conduct simple prioritizing checks throughout the day.

  1. Stop procrastinating: Procrastinating will make you succumb to a lazy mindset which won’t get you out the door any faster. The Better Life Forum suggests "replacing [procrastination] with a positive habit— the Do It Now habit" in order to "kick procrastination’s butt."
  2. Make several small lists each day: If you give yourself a 3-page list of things you need to do by 5 p.m., you’ll easily become overwhelmed. Chances are your list will have to be rewritten several times by then anyway. Start with a short list for the morning, and then re-evaluate your priorities in the early afternoon, and then again before you go home. This schedule will save you lots of time and frustration.
  3. Take care of your Most Important Task in the morning: Another helpful hint from the Better Life Forum is to complete your most important task as soon as you get to work, even before checking e-mail. The author writes, "no matter what happens after that, I’ve done something very productive today."
  4. Set personal deadlines: Your boss or clients have probably already put deadlines on your assignments, but give yourself very specific deadlines that fall before your time is officially up. For instance, if your boss needs a proposal from you by 5 p.m. Thursday, try to finish it by 10 a.m. that morning. You’ll be surprised at how much more productive you’ll be.
  5. Check in with your supervisor: If you’re having trouble prioritizing your work, consult your supervisor to gain a little perspective. Ask which project you need to complete first, second, and last. That way, you’ll feel more confident that you’re not wasting time on something that’s not as significant as another item.
  6. Sort your mail: Lifeorganizers.com: suggests pre-sorting your mail in "To-File," "To-Read," and "To-Contact" categories. Tackle the contact pile first. Take the "To-Read" with you to doctor’s appointments or other meetings where you might have to wait around.
  7. The Printable CEO: Freelancer David Seah has created the Printable CEO series, which includes task tracking and time tracking tools and calendars. Stay motivated with these resources and watch our productivity soar.
  8. Learn to say No: Lifeorganizers.com maintains that learning to say no is an effective method for prioritizing your duties. Within reason, remembering that "saying "No" sometimes is the only way you can "Yes" to what you really value."
  9. Tackle assignments that worry your first: It may be in our nature to put off assignments that worry us or fill us with dread, but TimeManagement.info suggests that "if you have a task that is weighing heavily on your mind, you may not be able to accomplish much until you complete it. When you prioritize, be sure to put these tasks near the top of your list."
  10. Keep a calendar: Whether it’s a wall calendar in your cubicle, a planner you tote everwhere, or an online calendar like Spongecell, calendars will keep you aware of looming deadlines. Seeing the order in which your projects are due will naturally help you prioritize better.
  11. Prioritize by location: This article logically deduces that "if your daily tasks involve traveling, then it is only right to prioritize your tasks by location." Don’t waste time and gas driving all over town when "grouping weekly tasks by location can save you a lot of time."
  12. Consider people constraints: Adam McFarland, writer for ezinearticles.com, advises organizing your priorities by evaluating people constraings. For example: "if you know that your manager can’t finish his proposal without your part, that’s more important than the thing that you always do on Wednesday that could just as well be done on Thursday."
  13. Remember the Milk: Use this free, attractive online to do list to help you keep track of all your priorities.
  14. Document your use of time: The Harvard Manage Mentor has a plan for documenting your use of time in order to expertly gauge and amend your work ethic.
  15. Create a short to do list for the following day: Right before you leave the office at the end of the day, create a very short to do list of items that MUST be completed the next day. When you walk in the following morning, you’ll be able to remember where to pick up exactly where you left off.

Internet Shortcuts: Firefox

These shortcuts will cut back on needless clicking and excessive research time. Most of the following tips are for the browser Firefox, so go ahead and set up Firefox as your default browser. Firefox tends to run more quickly than Internet Explorer, regardless of the type of connection you have.

  1. Ctrl-D: Bookmark a page with this simple two-touch application.
  2. Ctrl-T: Ctrl-T opens up a new tab instead of a whole new window. You can easily jump back and forth between tabs without worrying about slowing your computer down.
  3. Use the Spacebar to scroll down the page: If you’re wanting to skip several spaces down a Web page, tap the spacebar to find what you’re looking for super fast.
  4. Increase or Decrease text size: You can easily alter the text size by pressing Ctrl+ to make it larger or Ctrl- to make it smaller.
  5. Alt-Home: Alt-Home will bring you directly back to the home page without having to click back a hundred times or remember the Web address. If you’ve set Google as your default home page, you can get back to your search ASAP.
  6. Modified Tab Browsing: Custom design your Firefox settings with this tip from CNET. The "preferences allow you to control how tabs respond to certain types of events, "giving you total control over how your Internet operates.
  7. Ctrl-P: You probably knew that Ctrl-P allows you to print on command if you’re logged into Word or Excel, but this super time saver is also a direct print action in Firefox.
  8. Alt: This one key command highlights the File bar on your menu. Click the arrows to navigate across the list.
  9. End: If you search for contacts or company information on the Web on a regular basis, you probably know that the bottom of the page is the first place you should check. Hitting End on your keyboard will take you right to the bottom of page without having to go to your mouse.
  10. Greasemonkey: Customize "the way Web pages look and function" to save you a whole lot of time and energy reconfiguring your browser each time you get online.
  11. Ctrl-S: No matter where your mouse hovers on the open Web site, hitting Ctrl-S will prompt you to save the page in your documents file.
  12. Narrow your search: Narrow down your search just enough to eliminate completely irrelevant hits. Include a location, date, or publication to accompany the principle keyword. Don’t, however, hinder your search by adding tiny little details that will limit your results.
  13. Just Google it: If you haven’t caught on by now, Googling something or someone is the fastest way to gain information. Don’t waste time with MSN or any other search engines.
  14. Make sure your source is a reliable one: Sites that end in .com, .edu or .gov are generally suitable sources. There are, however, a lot of shady sites on the Web, so to save yourself from re-writing a fraudulent article or proposal, make sure you can verify your source.

Helpful Hacks for Connecting With Clients and Colleagues

These communication time savers will help you nurture your relationships with clients and coworkers without neglecting your other duties.

  1. Constantly check in with clients: Whether it’s a simple e-mail once a week or a quick phone call every few days, constantly checking in with your clients will actually save you time over the long run. Handling little tasks as they come up means that you won’t have to deal with huge problem later on because you weren’t attentive enough.
  2. Consider chatting online: AIM has long been popular with kids and college students, but it’s also acceptable for connecting with clients and work colleagues. Sending a quick instant message is even faster than e-mail, so what’s holding you back?
  3. Schedule low priority meetings towards the end of the day: Early morning meetings are only a smart idea if you’re trying to review for a presentation later that day, or if both parties have appointments directly following your timeslot. Otherwise, it’s too easy to let the meeting needlessly drone on and on, wasting your time. Schedule low priority meetings in the late afternoon: no one is going to want to sit around and chat when they could be on their way home.
  4. Hire a secretary. This tip may sound more like a hit to your overall profits than a time saving hack, but hiring a secretary or receptionist to screen your calls will keep you away from telemarketers, co-dependent colleagues, and even your clingy, unemployed brother-in-law.
  5. Download Highrise: This free CRM tool lets you easily keep track of client communication history, so that you always know "who said what when!"
  6. Send out project updates often: By contacting your client with a simple project update once a week, you’ll automatically cut down on the number of times they call you. ProjectStat.us lets you sign up for a free account and post your progress on any number on assignments. Invite clients to check in through this program, instead of dropping by your office or picking up the phone.
  7. Consider hosting a forum on your Web site. You can limit the users who participate in each forum. For example, only allow the client, the vendor, and a select group from your own office participate. You want to encourage discussion, but you also need to respect confidentiality agreements.
  8. E-mail to-do lists to your employees: Instead of meeting with each one of your employees each day, e-mail them with short to-do lists. They can ask questions if they need more guidance, but spending your entire day delegating won’t help you get any of your work done.
  9. Invest in a mobile e-mail device: An all-in-one phone, text, and e-mail device like a BlackBerry or the iPhone will keep you connected all the time. Catching up on your e-mails while you wait at the dentist’s office will save you major time once you get back to the office.
  10. Maintain an office message board and calendar: Post important functions, funraisers, universal office deadlines, employee birthdays, and other items that affect your entire office on a centrally located message board or calendar. Encourage everyone else in the office to check it each day and contribute to it if appropriate. This will save you from passing out flyers, typing up e-mail updates, or walking around the office repeating the same message to every employee.


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17 Comments »

  1. Wow – great list!

    Thanks – I have book marked it and will be regularly revisiting!

    Maybe add – get a digital pen for converting your writing to text and then you have a complete list! :)

    Comment by Brad — October 9, 2007 @ 10:49 am

  2. Why do you assume that everyone uses Microsoft Office? Here at work, we’ve all switched to Open Office. Not only is it easier to use, but it cost us nothing to setup and install. The $12400 that was saved went right into our pockets: every employee got an Open Office bonus of $250 in their paycheck last August, with an additional $1650 used to refurnish the office kitchen.

    Comment by What is Open Office? — October 9, 2007 @ 11:14 am

  3. Great! Thanks!

    Comment by Ben Marbury — October 9, 2007 @ 11:26 pm

  4. I tried your keyboard shortcuts. They didn’t work. Could it be because I, like 10% of all computer users, DO NOT USE WINDOWS??!!?!?!?! But you just assumed we all do, didn’t you?

    (Platform bias annoys me so so much.)

    Comment by Travis — October 10, 2007 @ 2:22 am

  5. Nice list, but you forgot the most handy timesaver of them all! Pressing F4 will repeat your last action (in Word & Excel, I think). So if you’ve inserted a row, press F4 and it will repeat. The same goes for formatting etc.

    Comment by Marnus — October 10, 2007 @ 8:04 am

  6. Great list of tips. Quite a few were new to me.

    Comment by Tejvan Pettinger — October 10, 2007 @ 9:49 am

  7. Seems to me like a list of 10 padded out to 101 with a lot of trivial fluff.

    “Just Google it”? Ctrl-Z? Come on.

    Comment by Harry Frank — October 13, 2007 @ 9:54 pm

  8. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for such an extensive list. All these tips will certainly help to save time to remain focused on more important issues. I originally found your link on a post at http://www.chrisg.com/quick-links/ and have shared your post with my readers at OnlineMasteryGold

    Comment by Gaida — October 14, 2007 @ 4:32 am

  9. Absolutly loved your list. Can see it saving me so much time. What a gift of knowledge ! Couldn’t let go until i read this page in entirety :)

    Comment by Sharon — October 14, 2007 @ 10:57 am

  10. What a wonderful list and yes I also saved to favs too.

    Maybe you will do a post for us Open Office users. :)

    Comment by Jordan — October 15, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

  11. One more shortcut that works almost universally and can save you a lot of time:

    CTRL-W
    closes the current document in most applications. Together with drag-and-drop document opening, CTRL-S for saving and CTRL-P for printing I hardly ever have to use the file menu that way.

    Comment by Torsten Liebig — October 15, 2007 @ 9:31 pm

  12. This appears to be a very useful site for those not especially aware of computer keyboard functions

    Comment by Eric — October 15, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

  13. The information on this site was very helpful. Thank you for providing it to us newbies.The CTRL+ has been the most helpful I can see what I am reading.

    Comment by Statnow — October 16, 2007 @ 12:33 am

  14. awesome hacks man. lots of good stuff here.

    Comment by syahid ali — October 20, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  15. These are not really hacks…

    Comment by M — October 23, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

  16. #21 can be made even easier. If you type something in a cell and then move your mouse to the lower-right-hand corner of that cell until the mouse curson changes to a plus sign, then you can drag either across or down to duplicate automatically. It will also continue a number sequence! (i.e. if you highlight cells containing “2″ “4″ “6″ it will continue down with “8″ “10″ “12″.

    Comment by Jeremy — November 8, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

  17. What an incredible resource! I consider myself fairly computer savvy, but you have taught me several things! Thank you!

    Comment by Clem Gigliotti Jr — February 23, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

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