April 28, 2011

Bonus - How to save three seconds a day.

Here’s a weird thing about me.

Just about the most fun I have on is when I can find a way to save three seconds. I’m a creative professional with a growing business, plus six kids. Anytime I can find a way to squeeze even the tiniest bit of extra time out of my day is a worthy investment.
So I have crazy customized toolbars in Microsoft Word so that I can save time hunting for commands buried in menus. I put all my most recent files on Dropbox so that I can access everything anywhere, anytime. I use Simplenote to constantly update my To Do list when I’m waiting for streetcars.

Most importantly, I’m hyper organized.

I got a call from a former employer about a decade back that went something like this:  “Hey man. Just wanted to say thanks for keeping your files so organized. It’s been a year since you worked here and I was still able to find a file on your old computer in less than two minutes.”

Look at me, all blushing and stuff. Being organized to me means finding what I need when I need it, instead of digging through piles of unfiled stuff in hopes that I didn’t chuck it away in the recent past.

Whether you’re a photographer, a small business owner or a mom, you can use extra time in your day too. Here’s five things you can do with your computer right now. Do ‘em all and extra those seconds will start piling up before you know it.

Keep everything in one super folder.
Don’t waste your time with your system presets like “My Videos” and “My Documents.” Take total control by creating a deep, easy-to-follow structure in one folder that sits in the upper right hand corner of your desktop.  Mine’s called “01 Data” and opening it up shows a simple tree for things like “Creative Mercenary,’ “Frame One,” “Personal” and “Media.” Easy to find, easy to back up.

Create consistent sub folders.
If you peek into my work files, you’ll see they all have the same type of sub folders – “Finance,” “Scripting,” “Background.” That way I automatically know where to look for just about anything.

Keep Start Menus and toolbars simple.
When was the last time you pruned your Start Menu? When I was on Windows, I kept mine ultra simple – with apps divided into only four or five categories. I’m on a Mac these days and I only keep my dozen most important apps on it at any time – plus I use this trick I found on Lifehacker for giving me easy access to the rest of my apps. I also make smart use of the “Login Items” settings, so that my computer opens the same six critical programs every time I restart .

Create a “file it” folder.
I see it on the laptops of friends and it makes me cringe – too much junk on the desktop. And while it’s important to stay streamlined to save time (less stuff in a few categories helps), there are going to be times when you can’t deal with a file. My trick is to create a “file it” folder on the desktop and deal with it once a month. Takes me 15 minutes to empty it out and everything is ok with the world again.

Get a second screen
The fastest way to more productivity for me is more real estate. I’ve got a nice big 24” monitor in the home office for everyday work and use the iPad as a secondary screen when I’m on the road (you need the app Air Display). Being surrounded by screens lets me look for information lickity split – no clicking required.

Find some smart utilities.
I use loads of helpers to keep me organized and save time. I mentioned Dropbox and Simplenote. I also use on screen widgets for regular reference – like a dictionary and a what’s it called … uh, thesaurus. I’m also a big fan of “Spaces” on the Mac, which allows you to organize open windows into different virtual windows. I keep all my business stuff (like Word docs and Keynote presentations) in one window. All my web stuff appears in another. When I click on the Space, everything appears all neat and tidy.

And neat and tidy is just about the best way I stay organized.

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