Three ways to save time by getting things done faster

We talk of saving time, as if it is money (which we also say). But what do we mean really? Often, what we mean is spending less time on things we don’t like or that are unimportant, so that we can spend more time on things we do like, or that are important.

In the bigger picture, that means thinking thinking systematically, and doing things systematically. There needs to be an understanding of what is important, and what isn’t, and a plan for working through those things. I wrote about my system for getting things done in 2018 – and the fundamentals of that are still in use today.

Working at speed

You can save time by looking at the big picture but the small picture matters too.

If you can take less time to (say) copy and paste text when you are working on a document, then you will finish that document a little more quickly than you otherwise might have.

I spent a large part of my corporate working life in the high-speed world of Internet journalism, and I can say without any doubt that saving a minute of two on repetitive tasks adds up, and cumulatively means you get through more work in any given period of time.

I am always looking for ways to get things done faster – and have made some joyous discoveries in the last couple of months.

Three ways to speed up your work

COPYING AND PASTING TEXT: This is a function everyone who works on a computer performs, all the time. I have watched with impatience as colleagues laboriously use drop-down menus to move text around. Keyboard shortcuts are better, I say. If you learn no other shortcuts, learn these, I say:

highlight text and hit control-c to copy text, or control-x to cut text
move cursor to where you want the text – control-v to paste text

(Note these apply to the Windows universe).

I recently discovered a little tool in this area that has made this time-saver even better. It’s called Pure Text (see cautionary note at the bottom of this post though) and it removes all text formatting from text that you copy to your clipboard. You then paste the clean text where you need it, without any need to reformat – no more Arial 10pt when what you wanted was Calibri 11pt.
I can thank Avinash Kaushlik for this – I owe him big time.

BROWSING: I run two computers that used to be Windows 7, and which have been upgraded to Windows 10. They are trustworthy but not speedy. I installed new RAM in both of them – but still something was making my Chrome browser glacially slow. Enter – again – Avinash with his recommendation of the Vivaldi browser. It’s based on Chrome, so it’s easy to understand – but it is zippy. It has revolutionised my web experience.

ORGANISING: I stumbled on Tiage Forte in one of my many “how to do things better” Google searches. He’s a productivity guru (though that is an oversimplification of everything he does). His PARA system proposes a radical approach to the way you organise your digital work, which I found just too much of a departure from the way I do things now.

But one principle has made a huge difference. He suggests having the same file structure across all platforms. I didn’t follow his suggested structure, but I implemented exactly the same set of folders and files in OneDrive, Google Drive and in OneNote. And boy has it made a difference! I am not spending time hunting for things because the logic is the same everywhere. It took a little time to reorganise all those platforms, but it has paid off.

So there you have it – three things that probably won’t change your life, but will save time, I promise.

Note about Pure Text
For Windows 10 users – the app is available in the Microsoft Store but you will find that when you install it, you see irritating error messages. Just keep saying ok to them – the app does eventually install itself and does work. I think that the best path might be to ignore the Windows store, and just do the manual installation, which worked fine the first time I used it.

Main picture: Fabrizio Verrecchia, Unsplash

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media).

Also read:
Filter, filter, filter – the key to email organisation
A tip for working with multiple tabs in a browser

Copyright: What it is, why it is important

Advert for my coaching businessOne of the trickiest things in online publishing is the question of copyright – especially with regard to photographs and other kinds of illustrations.

Collins Dictionary’s learner section has a simple way of defining copyright:

If someone has copyright on a piece of writing or music, it is illegal to reproduce or perform it without their permission.

Oxford (a premium version but here is the link) is a bit more complex:

The exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years, to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material.

In other words: someone, a real human being or beings, made something. It belongs to them and they have a right to be paid if you use it. Continue reading

Project management for beginners

A long time ago I did a four-day project management course at the Graduate School of Business in Cape Town. At the time I was on the staff at a large news website, and working with technical teams in various aspects of changing or launching websites. Project management was happening all around me.

These days, I am project managing the production of a book for a local publisher, and glad of the skills I have gained over the years.

Some projects are obviously much more complicated than others: the construction of an office block is a lot more work than the construction of a small garden shed. But the same principles underpin all of them.

Project management is a big field, and I absolutely do not pretend to be an expert. However, there are some fundamentals that might be a useful starting point for anyone who is about to take on project management for the first time

THE FUNDAMENTALS

1. There are three key strands in any project: time, money and scope (the size of the project, and how many features it has). They all add up to quality (or lack of it). A project manager needs to keep an eye on all three elements, and understand which of them takes priority in any given project. If it doesn’t matter when the garden shed is finished and ready for occupation by the wheelbarrows, then you can take a relaxed view when the client decides they want the garden shed to be a double-storey. If budget is the most important factor, then you must keep the scope rigidly in check so as not to increase the cost. Project management is essentially a balancing act aimed at an end result that is a quality-driven as possible.

2. Relationships are key. Conflict or poor communication can derail a project faster than any other factor, so the project manager needs to make sure that all parties are equally respected, valued and kept informed of all the things that affect them. The person who is expected to lay the foundation for the garden shed needs to know what day it must happen – and should feel that they are an integral part of creating the whole.

3. Keeping track of all the elements is next on the list. Whether it’s a complex spreadsheet or a battered notebook, there must be one central place where all the strands are held together, and a calendar (physical or digital) with all the milestones noted. All this documentation needs to be maintained and changed as things go along.

4. Understand that something will go wrong. Add in time to allow for things going wrong. If you think it will take two weeks, assume that it will actually take three weeks. Seriously – there is no getting around this. Unexpected things will happen, and your plan will change.

Filter, filter, filter – the key to email organisation

Picture of full inbox, empty outbox (email)

Picture: pxhere.com

Organising your email is probably one of the most written-about topics there is.

There’s a reason for that: unlike snail mail, email is cheap and instant – so people send lots of it. It’s also a way to keep tabs on things, and to record important conversations, and so on. But mostly it is a way to have a world of trivia appear on your computer screen, all day and every day.

Many approaches to email self-help focus on how to control the emails that have landed in your inbox. A good article that covers much ground in sorting out email overload problems is this one: Email overload: here are 6 approaches I’ve found useful for managing my inbox. (And read my tips on how to write good emails.)

THE FIRST STEP

That article touches on an important step to take before you start dealing with the avalanche: get the system itself to do most of the work. You can use almost any email system to take an incoming mail and put it in a place, or a folder, where you deal with it if and when you want. And you can sort the important messages (from your boss, or clients) from the unimportant (newsletters that you want to scan at some point). Continue reading

A tip for working with multiple tabs in a browser

Last week, I wrote about my system for getting things done.

This week, I thought I would share a tip for keeping a lid on PC chaos – specifically, how to stop browser tabs from multiplying to the point of madness.

It is apparently possible to have 9 600 tabs open in a Chrome browser. That’s too many!

Message saying too many tabs open

Picture: davidak, Flickr

When your job involves looking at multiple sites or using multiple browser-based tools, it’s easy to end up with so many tabs that you can no longer see what they are. That means you may end up clicking many, many times to find what you want.

This is my system.

I know that there are certain sites I will use often. I open them in the same order every day, and keep them in the same place. So email is always in the top left hand corner. Then Twitter and Facebook pages manager. As I open sites relating to a piece of work (writing a blog post for instance) I open them all to the right of those first three. And when I am finished that piece of work, I close all those tabs and start again.

As simple as that.

 

Five tips for a happy email life

Scrolling idly through Facebook (in a way in which I had sworn I would not do), an article about the best way to end off an email surfaced.

The article is long, and too detailed… so I will tell you the punchline: the recommendation is to end emails with the word “Best”, followed by your name. It is said to be one of “the safest possible choices, inoffensive, and almost universally appropriate.”

Hmmm.

My own favourite – “Regards” – is either hateful, or nice but too formal, according to these experts. Continue reading

Journalism “legals”: when is something in the public interest?

keys on keyboard

Picture: Pixabay

A Mediaonline article published this week does an excellent job of laying out some of the legal considerations governing the publication of sensitive material in South Africa.
The article carries interviews with the people involved in looking at the legal ramifications of Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keeper, (one of whom is my sister Gill Moodie) and notes that while something may ordinarily be dangerous to publish, the factor of “public interest” can come into play and make publication justifiable:

The next step is to ensure that what the journalist/author intends to publish is of public interest. This is vital because it can be used as a defence in a number of instances. De Klerk explains, “The law protects privacy for example, but privacy can be overridden if there is an overriding public interest present”.

In other words, you could argue that you published something defamatory or illegal because you believed it was in the public interest.

But what is “public interest”? Continue reading