Many of us spend more time with our computer , than we spend in bed every night. You’d think we’d all be pros at handling a computer, especially at work, where it’s one of our most essential tools. The problem is, most of us never learned how to use computers that way.
The beauty is, productivity is a mindset and you can teach yourself. You can identify sub-optimal habits, find better ways of doing things, and improve. Bit by bit you reduce friction, which conserves energy and time for the things that really matter.
This process can be tough. Maybe we can ease the transition from being an average computer user to becoming a seasoned pro who optimizes health and satisfaction.
Mind Your Body
Who decided sitting was the best position for working at a computer? The truth is, sitting can kill you. This headline made waves a few years ago and more recent studies confirm the correlation between sitting and mortality. Fortunately, you don’t have to sit all the time.
Likewise, staring at a screen for hours can cause eye strain, typing and using the mouse can give you repetitive strain injury, and bad posture can cause back and neck pains. We’ve covered the health aspects of using a computer in detail in previous articles. Briefly:
Design your workplace according to ergonomic criteria , including display position, office chair, and sitting posture.
Optimize room light and screen brightness. Use f.lux to auto-dim your display at night.
Do regular workouts to counterbalance the stress and lack of movement at your job.
When you work remotely or in a lonely cubicle, make an effort to socialize.
Difficulty: Depends. Some changes, like taking regular breaks, are fairly easy. Other, like switching to a standing desk, could be difficult, depending on your situation.
The following observation inspired this article. My colleagues at university spend the bulk of their time hacking letters into a computer keyboard. They write emails, grant applications, and research reports. They are academics with fancy titles and impressive CVs; in other words, very intelligent people. While they think and type for a living, only very few of them ever thought about learning to touch type.
Touch typing is the skill of accurately typing on a keyboard using all one’s fingers and without having to look at the keys. You can focus your attention on the screen, while your fingers do their magic. It’s faster, less interruptive, and more comfortable. And touch typing is easy to learn.
You can choose from a variety of desktop and online typing tutors; they all work very similarly. You start with only a few keys and with each lesson the number of keys and complexity of words increases. After the first couple of lessons, you’ll master all the keys. After a week of practicing for about half an hour a day, you’ll type slowly but surely. When you start to type faster than with your old hunt-and-peck technique, which should happen after around two weeks of daily practice, you should switch for good.
Difficulty: Easy, provided you can get yourself to practice a little bit every day.
This is my own weak spot. My reading speed is average at best and when I speed through a text, I feel like I retain very little information; definitely nothing in long term memory. You can test your reading speed here with a web app from STAPLES.
If you’re often pressed for time, however, you could look into the following tools to improve your reading speed:
- Chrome: Spreed, Sprint, or Read Fast, all mentioned in our piece on speed reading extensions.
- Android: Speed Reader, fast reader, or Sprint Reader, all covered in our speed reading on Android review.
- iOS: RapidReading ($0.99), Outread ($2.99; our Outread review), or one of these speed reading apps.
Speed reading does have benefits, but it can also be valuable to just take the time to read properly. What do you think?
Difficulty: Medium because the challenge is not only to read faster, but also to remember what you read.
Shortcuts for Repetitive Tasks
Now that we have the basics covered, let’s look at some more specific things. Other than sitting in front of your computer, typing, and reading all day, what else do you do all the time? Do you open the same sets of programs or websites every day? Do you repetitively perform certain operations?
I recommend you to observe your daily grind and start a list of things you wish could be automated or otherwise simplified. I bet someone already thought about it and either developed a tool or wrote an article on how to do it. If not, challenge us!
Meanwhile, here are some of the things we have covered before:
- Lean the shortcuts for the programs you use every day. Get started with our ultimate keyboard shortcut guide for Windows.
- Use the Windows Task Scheduler to automatically launch programs, delete files, or trigger computer to go to sleep or wake up.
- Auto-adapt Mac settings to your location.
- Automate your Windows backups and enable the Windows 8 Time Machine.
- Use Microsoft Office Mail Merge to create labels or name tags based on Excel spreadsheets.
- Combine ToDoist and IFTTT to automate emails, Facebook pots, reminders, and more.
Difficulty: All over the place. If you went to extremes, you could teach yourself programming and write your own apps to do stuff for you. Learning a few keyboard shortcuts, however, is super easy.
Productivity Isn’t Everything
Don’t be fooled. Not everything can or should be automated and going to extreme lengths to save a few minutes won’t make you more productive, but rather more frustrated. Sometimes, simple strategies and routines work better than a fancy app. Consider the long term benefits and choose wisely where you want to invest energy and improve.
We certainly didn’t cover every way in which you can improve your computer-related habits. What important aspects did we miss? Do let us know which tasks you have optimized and what tools you are using!
Image Credits: digital devices Via Shutterstock