Musings of a twenty-something entrepreneur.
Jul
02

If you’re like me, you spend a ridiculous amount of time in front of a computer. Below are some principles for setting up your computer to ensure that you spend your time doing the important stuff.

The main goals of your computer setup are:

  1. Quick access to the files and programs you need
  2. Intuitive organization
  3. Scalable setup that can adapt as your needs change

With that in mind, here are 7 tips that will help you to make your computer to work for you. Any further suggestions, leave ’em in the comments.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Use Folders to Organize Your Bookmarks
  2. Tape a Motivational Note to Your Screen
  3. Use the Taskbar for Easy Program Access
  4. Have an Awesome Music Playlist
  5. Simplify Repetitive Actions
  6. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts
  7. Organize Your Documents Folder Properly.

1. Use Folders to Organize Your Bookmarks

Example of How to Setup Your BookMarks Bar (Split in two in order to fit)



You will come across lots of items of interest for your projects and personal enjoyment on the internet. But if you indulge every interest immediately, you will destroy your focus.

The key is to create folders and sub-folders to organize these links.  Folders give you quick access to items and allow for on-the-go organizing. I abbreviate the names in order to make them all fit. But I know, for example, that “E” means “Elance”, that “Arts” means articles, etc.

Here a few of folder examples that might be relevant for you:

  • Projects: Probably my most important folder, with subfolders for each project I’m working on. If I run across a related article, find a competitor, it immediately gets dragged into that folder.
  • Arts: Interesting articles that I like or want to read later
  • Blog Ideas: Things that I find interesting and potentially will write about
  • GP: Stands for “Guest Post”. When this blog matures a bit, this is a list of links to blogs I’d like to write a guest post on (which is a great way to help readers find you)
  • Tools: Links to useful tools. For instance: Google Site Traffic Estimator
  • Blogs: These are blogs I like. I have subfolders for each day of the week. Each day, I check the blogs listed under that day’s subfolder. This ensures that I don’t get overhwelmed each day trying to check every single blog I like and learn from.
  • Learn: I keep links here for things that I’m studying (currently: copywriting, second-language acquisition, lean startup tactics, etc.)
  • Design: Design is important on so many levels it deserves its own folder. Besides articles talking about good design, I also have a subfolder called “Designs I Like” which helps me keep tabs on examples of inspiring design.
  • Random: Some things don’t have categories. Its the internet, after all.
  • Net: Stands for “Networks”, and includes links to networks I belong to, such as thefunded.com, sandbox, triiibes. Makes it easy for me to remember to contribute to these networks.

2. Tape a Motivational Note to Your Screen

Mine says “Focus.” Taping a note to outside of your screen will get your attention and remind you of whatever you need to be reminded of. I’m a big fan of “Focus.”, but here are some alternatives:

  • “Breathe.” For those who freak out and get overwhelmed a lot.
  • “Do well, do good.” Reminds you to make things happen while being a good person
  • “$10,000 in Sales.” Maybe you’ve got a specific goal that you’re after; this is a good way to remind yourself.
  • “Smile”. Life is beautiful, don’t forget it.

Ok, you get the point. Just keep it short so it doesn’t become too big of a distraction. If you really like this, consider a tattoo.

3. Use the Task Bar for Easy Program Access

You use some programs more than others, and having them at the bottom of your screen can save you the time and tedium of having to look up each program every time you want to use it. Moreover, it keeps my mind on the task at hand and ensures that my flow isn’t interrupted everytime I need to start a new task. In Windows, you can add programs to the task bar just by dragging their icon there.

A few of the programs that I use most frequently and have on my taskbar: Notepad, Paint, iTunes, Chrome, Camtasia, Balsamiq, Photoshop, SimpleMind, Excel, Skype. Check out this previous post if you want to read about some of these programs.

4. Have an Awesome Music Playlist

I’m probably twice as productive when I’m listening to music. It keeps my energy up and helps maintain focus. As you probably know, music with lyrics usually isn’t good for this (unless those lyrics are in a language you don’t understand, e.g. Some Indian Music).

My favorite artist for “work” music is Pretty Lights. Its electronica without all the weird stuff; strong beat, light lyrics, full of energy. You can download their music for free here: http://www.prettylightsmusic.com/

Other good music genres are classical, reggae, foreign music, hip hop, and percussion. Mix and match, or find one that keeps you going.

I have a playlist called “Making it Happen”, and a brick wall couldn’t stop me when I’m sitting at my computer, bobbing my head and, yes that’s right, making it happen.

To get you started, you can listen to my playlist on 8tracks.com. Even better, send me yours and I’ll put it on my Resources page.

P.S. I think the reason music helps focus is because it provides a continuoum of sound and mood. Once you get into flow (check this from Wikipedia) , the music helps keep you there. When your mind strays for a second, the music makes it easy to hop back into where you before because you’ve got the music as a mood-stabilizer. This is just armchair philosophy/psychology on my part, but interesting enough to mention to you.


5. Simplify Repetitive Actions

Some things you have to do over and over again. For instance, sending files back and forth between project partners. There’s usually a way to simplify repetitive tasks, here are a few examples:

  • Get Dropbox! Dropbox is a shared folder that automatically updates the file on someone else’s folder when you change it. Seriously, get Dropbox.
  • Excel Macros: I’ll cover this at some point in the future, but creating macros in Excel is pretty straightforward. If you find yourself repeatedly having to do a certain series of steps, macros can save you time
  • Get ExcellentAnalytics: If you’re job involves tracking website visits from Google Analytics, Excellent Analytics is an awesome tool that pulls data from Analytics and puts it in an excel file. Create a custom dashboard, or integrate stats with other reports with just the click of a button.

These are just a few examples, but the internet is full of useful tools designed to make your life easier. Find them and use them.

6. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the things I found in the consulting world is that using a computer mouse is amateur. Consultants are geeks like that- they’ll literally make fun of you for it. But there’s a reason, and I’m sure there’s a pie chart out there that explains why. (Kidding again; they’ll also make fun of you for using a pie chart, since it only conveys information along one dimension.)

Using the keyboard will save you TONS of time, especially in programs like Excel. My next post will be a file that you can download and print out that lists the most common/helpful shortcuts for key programs. It will be for advanced users, so if you don’t already know what happens when you press the “Alt” and “Tab” keys at the same time, then you really need to buck up and get with the program.

7. Organize Your Documents Folders Properly

This is key. If you don’t have your folders organized right, you’re going to create a giant mess in your documents folder. Its going to slow you down, frustrate the hell out of you, and you’ll lose documents. I made this #7, but only because I wanted to reward those that are still with me with the most important of tips. Its so important that you’ve probably figured it out already, but maybe this tips will help you a bit anyways.

Similar to organizing bookmarks, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. But the following tips should give you some guidance:

  • If you’ve got a “real” job, have a separate folder at the VERY top level of your documents folder. The other folder here should be called “Personal”. You don’t want to have your computer screen projected and everyone to see all the other stuff you’re working on.
  • Have a “Projects” folder with a folder for each project you have. Inside the “Projects” folder should be an “Old Projects” folder where you put old files to keep it uncluttered.
  • Once any folder has more than 10 or so individual files, its time to create subfolders. Common subfolder titles: “Design”, “Images”, “Business Plan”, “Research”, etc.
  • Have two downloads folders. One should be called “Browser Downloads”, and thats for all the random documents and setup files you download during the day. Put “Browser Downloads” under “Downloads”. “Downloads” includes media and other download files that you will use more often, and keeps them separated from all the other items you download, use, and then never want to see again.
  • In Windows, you can drag folders to the ”Favorites” section, which saves a tremendous amount of time when accessing common folders. This is particularly useful for folders that exist at different levels of the folder hierarchy. Especially if you’ve separated your folders into Work and Personal, this gives you quick access to the common ones without having to do so much navigation.


    Use the "Favorites" in Windows to Save Time

What tips do you have?

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About jesse:

"I move Onward, the only direction. Can't be scared to fail- searching perfection... Loiterers should be arrested!" -Jay Z Find out more about me at www.JesseMaddox.com

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5 Responses to “Productivity 101: How to Make Your Computer Work for You”

 
  1. Great post! I already use many of these strategies, but I did pick up a couple new ones, thanks! A couple of points:

    – In using the taskbar for easy program access, I have such a large number of different programs I use in web development, from programming utilities to web browsers to image/video editing, etc, that I finally gave up on just having a few shortcuts down there… Now I use folders there too just like I use folders for bookmarks. Here’s how: You can’t do it with the quick launch bar, but if you put a folder into the Links shortcut bar, then your applications into those folders, it will create a popup menu for groups of applications. Make a folder for image/video applications, a folder for system utilities, a folder for communication programs, etc.

    – Your link to ExcellentAnalytics in #5 is broken. Might wanna fix that. Nice slip in of the dropbox referral, I’d sign up to get you more space except I already use dropbox so =)

  2. Jesse says:

    Thanks for the comment!

    – Good point re: folders in the launch bar. I’m just about out of space, so if i pick up any new tools that will be usefl.

    – ExcellentAnalytics link fixed, and haha yeah, I had a dropbox referral code. Now updated with a full disclosure note, not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.

    Cheers!

  3. […] I said that I would post a link to a keyboard shortcuts file, and here it is. Frankly, I’ve been working a lot on more […]

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