“Hey Miss ‘Doesn’t Find Me Sexually Attractive Anymore’, I Just Tripled My Productivity!”
The sub-title of this post is taken from a classic episode of The Simpsons where Homer turns (more) obese and starts working from home. He soon realises that he doesn’t have to enter Y-E-S into his computer to confirm a repetitive command, but instead he can just hit ‘Y’ and get the same result, thus tripling his productivity.
Whilst the sketch was obviously created for comedic value, there is a surprising amount of truth to be found in Homer’s discover and an important message we can take away about saving large amounts of time by making small changes. If you think about it, if Homer’s only job was to confirm computer commands all day, what would have taken him 9 hours would now take him closer to 3. With this in mind, here are 5 simple ways in which I save lots of ‘small amounts’ of time each day, mainly using my computer.
A large number of computer programs allow for macros to be used, but I save most of my time on MS Word and MS Excel. Macros are basically a saved list of commands that will run in sequence when you press an assigned button. They are pretty simple to set up – just start recording your macro, go through all your processes manually, and then stop recording when you’ve finished the sequence. You can then assign the macro to a new button in your program and whenever you press it the macro sequence runs, saving you from having to go through all the steps manually each time. I once had a table of data that I had to format each day before emailing on to another department. I set up a 15-step macro to handle all the formatting steps, and estimated that it saved me approx 45 minutes each day (that’s almost half a day per working week!)
Bookmarking web addresses has been possible ever since the first web browsers were developed. It’s surprising how few people use them these days though, preferring instead to Google what they are looking for each time, or type the URL in manually. I realised after a bit of monitoring that around 90% of my internet activity was spent on just 10-15 websites. I therefore set up bookmarks to these websites and I reckon I save loads of time now, not to mention frustration I used to get from spelling my desired site incorrectly time after time. I bet if you had a little think about it, you’d realise you too spend most of your time on the same few websites. Why not set up bookmarks for your most used and see how much time you save.
I’ve also now set up a secondary bookmark folder where I save all the interesting things I come across when browsing around the net. I rarely use this bookmark folder, but when I do try to trace something I recall seeing or reading, it can save me hours.
No one daily activity takes up quite so much of my time as sorting through emails, and I suspect this is the same for many other people too. Unfortunately, short of cloning yourself, there will always be a certain amount of emails you have to respond to manually. However, there are a few tricks to save you time and effort when it comes to your email chores.
1.) If it doesn’t require a personal response, automate it. Perhaps someone has signed up to your news letter or has downloaded your ebook? You can often send automated thank you emails that still sound personal and appreciative. Addressing them by the name they entered in the ‘name’ field of the sign-up form is a simple way to make your auto emails more engaging.
2.) Auto-update your contacts. I’ve set up a system whereby if I don’t respond to an email within 24hrs, an auto email is sent in reply stating that I have received the message and I will respond personally as soon as I can. If I have not replied within 4 days (very rare) another email is sent apologising and assuring them I will respond as soon as I get a chance. This system took a little bit of getting used to, but I’ve lost count now of how many times it has saved my bacon, and how many times people have told me they appreciate keeping them updated. Most of them know it’s an automated system, but this doesn’t seem to matter to be honest.
3.) For many people the emails they receive tend to fall into the same categories. For example, they might be a request for product information, a sales pitch email, a call back request etc. Over time I created a number of email templates that pretty much cover about 70% of the emails I receive. I use these templates all the time now, and with little tweaks here and there they look perfectly custom each time. Whist this is not strictly auto-responding, it sure feels like it sometimes with regards to the amount of time it saves me.
It’s hard to get into the habit of using keyboard shortcuts due the fact many people like to stick to what they know, even if switching would save them lots of time. This is an odd phenomenon because often when people do start using shortcuts they wonder why they didn’t adopt ages ago. I think it’s a security thing – people don’t want to risk doing something new when they know what they currently do works just fine. However, by taking the plunge and learning a few simple keyboard shortcuts, you can more than ‘triple your productivity’. Here are my favourites:
- Ctrl+C = Copy
- Ctrl+V = Paste
- Ctrl+Z = Undo (I use this a lot!)
- Ctrl+S = Save
- Ctrl+F = Find
- Alt+Tab = Switch between windows
I apologise if this seems patronising, it’s just that so few people actually use them, despite knowing they exist. There is even a shortcut to bookmark a web page (Ctrl+D) – two birds with one stone I say!
Remote Control Kettle
This one was inspired by the Homer school of logic, but I defend it fiercely whenever friends laugh at me for it. I’ve got my kettle hooked up to a ‘Radiplug’, which is a radio controlled plug that can be activated as far as 20m away. This means that if I’m in my office at home and fancy a cup of tea or coffee, I can turn the kettle on in my kitchen downstairs remotely, thus giving me a few more minutes work time while it boils. Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!
Using the techniques in this post and a few other small time-savers, I’ve estimated that I save a full working day (8hrs) per week. Now the hard bit is deciding if I use this extra time to chill out with a beer or get more work done…hmmm…what would Homer do?
Duncan is MD of a surf-clothing company based in the UK that sells items such as flip flops and Roxy bag designs. He’s a massive Simpsons fan and wishes one day to have the productive genius of Homer…the Greek scholar, not the cartoon character.