3 Free Ways to Save Hours on the Computer

Do you know how much time you spend at your computer?  If you’re anything like me, then you spend about 4 hours per day on average staring at your computer.  While it might not sound that high, think about it in terms of your life.: 4 hours is 1/6 of the day — that’s basically saying you spend 1/6 of your life with a computer. That’s a lot of time.  This scared me a bit, so I decided to try to optimize that time.  By making my interactions with my computer more efficient, saving a few seconds here and there, and extrapolated over long periods, my time savings becomes significant — save hours each week. Here are a few tips you can implement immediately:

SAVE HOURS TACTIC #1. 

MOUSE SPEED

A great, simple idea from Noah Kagan, Chief Sumo at Sumo.com (formerly, SumoMe), employee number 30 at Facebook, guy who brought Mint from 0 to 1 million customers, and all-around over-achiever: speed up your mouse.   The preset on every computer is set so that anyone (e.g., grandpa) can easily track the cursor.  Don’t be like the masses.  Your eyes can move much quicker than the standard cursor speed, and your brain can obviously process it, so speed up that cursor now. It’s easy and it’s free.


Walk-Through on MacOS (Sierra)


Test out what feels comfortable to you.  If you’re not at the fastest speed allowed, find what feels right and INCREASE it by about 10% (one notch on the slider on on a Mac).  I promise you’ll get used to it. Once you get used to this speed, adjust the speed upwards again, incrementally, until you reach the maximum.  The default rate on my computer was about 40%.  Before I increased my cursor speed, I spent around 30 minutes each day navigating with my trackpad. By increasing the speed by 150% (i.e., from 40% to 100%) to maximum, I’ve saved myself 10 minutes.  That’s ten minutes additional minutes each day I now have to devote to other things.  I’m not saying that I can leave 10 minutes early each day — rather I now have 10 additional minutes to devote to actual work.  That amounts to 70 minutes a week, 5 hours a month, or 60 hours a year — just by changing my cursor speed.  Thus, I gain an extra week of productivity each year as a result of this simple tweak.  Pretty incredible — you’ll save hours!

 

SAVE HOURS TACTIC #2.

QUICK-LAUNCH SOFTWARE

Another great way to save time is by using a quick launch program.  If you use a mac, you’re likely familiar with the Spotlight Search (if not, press ⌘ + spacebar now).  While the inclusion of Spotlight Search is nice, it’s poorly executed when compared to other programs.

For those that don’t know, quick launch software allows you to press a special keystroke command (e.g., ⌘ + spacebar) to bring up a universal search bar.  Put some text into the search, the quick-launch software returns a list of applicable documents, web pages, or other information (e.g., the calculator function is particularly useful).  This saves a ton of time when used properly.

Unfortunately, there are many problems with Spotlight, but the most glaring is that as the information is populated in the search results, the newer results push the one returned first down the list.  For instance, say you are searching for a recipe for slow-cooker deviled chicken you think you saved, but don’t remember where you saved it — or maybe you didn’t save it at all, but you maybe it’s in your web history — by performing a quick search for “deviled chicken” the link or file should show up if it’s on your computer. One big difference between Alfred, Quiksilver, Launchy on the one hand and Spotlight on the other is that the latter populates results at the top as they are found.  Thus, if you try to click while your computer is still searching, another result may be moved under your cursor and you’re taken somewhere you don’t want to go.  You then need to exit out and redo the Spotlight Search.  If you’ve used Spotlight, you know how frustrating this can be.  Alfred, Quicksilver, Launchy (for Windows) follow a different approach — results will still populate as they’re found, but they’ll be placed below.  You’ll never think you’re clicking one result and end up with another.  It is a source a constant frustration for power users and the reason I stay away from Spotlight.  What’s more, is that the “after-market” launch software have much better configurability.  For example, you can ask them to look only at specific files or folders, or perform various web searches.  If you’re going with Alfred, definitely look into the Powerpack option.  Though it costs £19 (~$24, at the time of writing), it includes some major benefits, including a snippet expander – a great time-saving tool discussed in more detail below.

 

SAVE HOURS TACTIC #3. 

USE A SNIPPET EXPANDER

If you spend 4 hours a day at your computer, how many times do you think you type the same things over and over again on any given day?  Whether it’s an address, telephone number, or the way you start your emails, chances are you probably type many of the same things daily.

A snippet expander takes a specified text abbreviation (a “snippet”) and converts it to a longer set of characters.  For instance, if you type your address often, you can set a snippet like @Home or @Work so that when these characters are typed consecutively, they expand to the address of your choice.  Or maybe you’re writing a research paper and want quick access to the basic form of citation. Or maybe you have multiple email address all with various signatures.  Or maybe it’s a canned-response you send repeatedly. Or whatever, you get the point.

Snippet expanders are included free in iOS (under General > Keyboards >  Text Replacement) and in Mac OS (System Preferences > Keyboard > Text).  I’m not sure about Windows —  though I know there are good, free solutions like WordExpander available to Windows users.  Personally, I use TextExpander from Smile Software.  This is a paid app that has increased functionality for me — though I’ve been using it for almost 15 years, well before it was ever included with MacOS. For those just beginning, the free software should suit all your needs.  And remember, if you opted to use Alfred for your quick launch software, do check out their Powerpack, which contains, inter alia, a robust snippet expander.

Still not convinced? Blog Work Smart and Be Remarkable! has a great article on being a TextExanpder power user.  Check it out here.

 

BONUS TIP: SAVE HOURS TACTIC #4.

ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS

Do you know how long it takes to get your train of thought back once interrupted?  According to this Fast Company article, it can take up to 25 minutes to get back on track after a distraction.  WOW! Think about that— each time an email notification comes in, a text message, a phone call, etc. — it could take you 25 minutes to get back to where you were.  In fact, according to a survey conducted by Microsoft, the average person spends 17 hours per week on average performing unproductive tasks (e.g., Facebook, watercooler talk, getting a cafecito) out of the 45-hour workweek.  That’s about 38% of your time at work.

What’s more, most people don’t even realize they’re being distracted. And yet, we live in a world of constant distractions.  That’s simply unacceptable.  If you want to be more productive, make your time count.  Turn off you Internet if you’re prone to browsing the web or Facebook stalking.  Turn off your email notifications, your ringer, everything.  Then focus on the task at hand.  This, of course, isn’t always possible — maybe a deal is closing and you need to coordinate, or you’re waiting for a call from your attorney, or client, or whatever.  There will be exceptions.  But you can make the most out of the times that don’t require this level of attention.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite the average American being at work for 8.8 hours every day, he or she is only productive for about 3 hours.  That’s insane.  If you were to simply eliminate all distractions for the ninety minutes twice a day, you’d be as productive as people working almost three times as long.  So you get to choose — increase your productivity or save hours.  Sounds good, right?

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