Our mission here at Switched entails more than simply bringing you the latest tech and social networking news. We don't even stop at just helping you to become a smarter, better consumer of technology. We want to make sure that you use the power we bestow to enhance
your life, not just watch videos of dancing fools
and women covered in mud
. So, as a spring cleaning gift for you, here are a few tips to increase your productivity
and reclaim a little lost time for more leisurely activities -- like, perhaps, reading Switched.
Two monitors are better than one.
Anyone who writes code for a living or works in the financial industry can tell you that it would take them twice the time to do their job with one monitor. Trust us, it can help you, too. If you've already got one monitor for your desktop, buy a second one of the same size. Or, if you have a laptop, use the attached screen in concert with an external monitor. Students will appreciate being able to glance at research on one screen while writing papers on the other, comparison shoppers can line up specs side by side and serious multitaskers will wonder how they survived without the added visual space.
Learn your keyboard shortcuts.
The mouse is fine for most tasks, but a lot of things can be accomplished more quickly with the keyboard. Rather than move the mouse up to the 'New Tab' button in your browser, hit 'Ctrl' and 't.' 'Ctrl' and 'c' will copy, and 'Ctrl' and 'v' paste, both a lot faster than right-clicking for the context menu. Of course, that's just scratching the surface. Here are a few helpful cheat sheets for some of the more popular apps out there:
Vi / Vim
(for the true geeks among you)
Added aside: You know you've gotten the hang of it when you spill coffee on yourself in real life, and instinctively try to hit 'Ctrl Z' without a keyboard. Happens all the time.
Sync your contacts and calendar.
This is sadly much more difficult than it needs to be and can get quite messy if your contacts are not well organized. Still, if you get it right, it's well worth the hassle. Having your phone numbers stored only on your cell phone, your e-mail addresses saved only in your Web
-mail account and your schedule accessible solely via PC does you no good. To be honest, it can get confusing and frustrating. Here are a few guides to ensure that, no matter where you are, you have the same information at your fingertips:
Yahoo! Calendar on the iPhone
As soon as you turn on your PC, there is immediately something to distract you from the task at hand. Instant messages, e-mail and Twitter alerts, and, the reality that the entire Internet is really just one big distraction. Thankfully, you can tune it all out with single-use Web apps, background hiders, site blockers and simple full-screen text editors. Create single-purpose Web apps in Firefox
by using Prism
, or in Chrome
using the "create application shortcut" option in the page menu. Here are a few other links to help you banish those diversions, and actually get work done:
Internet and Website Blockers
(OS X and Windows)
(Firefox w/ Greasemonkey)
(Firefox w/ Greasemonkey)
Minimalist Text Editors
(Windows, OS X, and Linux)
(Windows and Linux)
Desktop Hiders and Application Isolators
(Linux - part of the Compiz Config Manager)
Buy an external mouse for your laptop.
Your laptop's touch pad is fine for light usage, but when you've really got to buckle down and get to work, it can quickly become a hindrance. Buy a USB mouse to use at home or when stationary for prolonged periods of time. Trust us, your fingers and wrists will thank you.
Get a password manager.
This doubles as good security advice. Having good browsing habits involves creating a different, complex password for each account. Trying to remember them all, though, is nearly impossible, so manage your Web-based data more easily and safely with a good password manager
and some randomly generated passwords. Here are a couple of options to get you started:
Use virtual desktops.
Using virtual desktops makes it much easier to manage all your open windows. You can keep your IMs confined to one desktop and your browser to another, thus removing the need to continually click on the taskbar to switch apps. Both Linux
and OS X
have them included by default (Apple calls them Spaces). Windows
lacks this capability, but that can easily be amended with an app like Windows Pager
. Combine this tip with multiple monitors, and enjoy as much desktop space as you can handle.
Take advantage of widgets.
If you constantly switch to Outlook to check for messages, or launch the task manager to see what program is chewing up your precious RAM
, you're just wasting time. With the power of widgets, you can get such information at a mere glance. Windows and OS X both include widget apps by default (Windows Gadgets
, respectively), but you can also use Google Desktop Gadgets
or Yahoo! Widgets
for the same effect. Geekier, text-obsessed types should check out Conky
(Linux), Geek Tool
(OS X), or Samurize
(Windows) to get the same information without all the superfluous eye candy.
Use a notification tool.
Similar to widgets, notification tools reduce the need to switch windows and check on apps that might not need immediate attention. Programs like Growl
, Growl for Windows
, and the in-built Ubuntu
notification system discreetly alert you to completed downloads, incoming instant messages, and e-mails -- all through small pop-up windows. The notifications give you a quick glance at information that may or may not be important, and lets you decide into which of those category it falls. You can then either take action, or ignore it and continue working diligently.
Set up an organizational system.
As your files and e-mails pile up, they can quickly become overwhelming. Finding that PowerPoint
presentation you threw together six months ago or that e-mail from your mother can be difficult if you haven't settled on a filing process. Gmail's
labels can be used to separate work e-mails from school-related messages by means of simple color codes. Also, learn to make the folder structure work to your benefit. For example, create a "school" folder within your "documents" folder. From there, create a folder for each class, and, within each, save all the documents related to the class with descriptive file names (i.e. "Nancy_Sommers_Reading_3-12-10" for a Nancy Sommers article that you need to read by by March 12th).
A few of these might seem like common sense to some, but good productivity tips are always worth repeating. Even following just a few of these might help you finish your work more quickly... and with greater focus.