BEFORE YOU can make great use of your computer, your phone and your tablet, switch them off. Not completely, just switch off everything about them that distracts you. Email: off. Facebook: definitely off. Email is more than a boon to us, it is impossible to do our businesses without yet it isn’t as important as we think. The world won’t end if we don’t respond to that incoming message bleep immediately. We just act as if it will.
You’re not going to undo the way we have all been programmed to react to bleeps and notifications so switch them off. However, while you can just switch off Facebook and stop thinking about it, email takes a bit more effort. No matter how busy you are, there will still be some people who you must respond to immediately.
Gmail lets you have a separate inbox for important emails: set it to only notify you when something arrives there. Apple Mail has an even better feature: you can specify that certain people are VIP and then only get the bleep when they send you a message.
Time saving technology tips
With the distractions out of the way, there is so much more you could be using this technology for. There is life- and career-transforming software, utilities and extras you can buy but look at what you’ve already got first.
Start with your web browser. Every single one of them has the same thing at the top: an area called an address bar. You click in it, delete whatever’s already there and start typing a website name or something that you’re searching for. Never click again. Instead, hold down the Ctrl key on your PC or your Command key on your Mac and tap the letter L. The moment you do that, you are in that address bar and everything is selected: type anything at all and it will replace what’s already there.
The time it saves physically clicking and deleting is minimal but the way it lets you concentrate on what you want to do is highly beneficial. You will get so fast at moving around websites that you’ll think about selling your mouse.
It’s the same in email. Without taking your hands off the keyboard you can reply to people, forward messages and archive them. Or even delete a few. It’s the same in Word too: you can select text, copy it, move it around, change every last detail of it and save it out into new documents without once lifting your hands away from the keys.
Do watch out for RSI. But also whatever software you use the most, take a minute to Google its name and the phrase “keyboard shortcuts”. You will be dizzy at the list you find. Hundreds upon hundreds of ways to do things without your mouse. Try a couple, practise them until they’re habitual, and you won’t go back.
I had a thing where a producer who rejected a script of mine left his company. I found out who replaced him, got out the old script and sent it over. Total time: under a minute. And that was despite the script being so old I couldn’t remember the name or where I’d put it. But I could remember a character from it so I searched for that and Mac OS X found it instantly. Windows from version 7 upwards can do the same thing: they search within your documents.
This is another thing to Google because it varies too much between systems. But if you need to find a script featuring a character called Bert, that you wrote between 2007 and 2012, which you once sent as an attachment to the Acme Broadcasting Company, you can tell your computer exactly that and it will find exactly that script.
You can do all of this right now on the computer you own. But you can do more. My freelance business was transformed by my switching to OmniFocus, a To Do manager that is both very powerful and happens to suit me down to the ground. Recently I’ve been converted to the same company’s OmniOutliner for roughing out complex projects.
When I have that itch of a new idea I know could be great if I can just get hold of it somehow, I’ll now do a Mind Map of it (for more on this, if you're a member, have a look at the ecourse I've written for FEU freelances 'Creative Productivity' ). Just throw down ideas in any order, in any way and then later start shuffling them around. It’s exactly like the way I first sorted out the mud in my head when I was truly overwhelmed by the volume of work I had to do. Especially since I now do this on my iPad, it feels like I’m laying everything out in front of me and I am able to physically push it around.
I use an app called Mind Node for that and I recommend it but there are many equivalents for every type of computer or tablet or even phone that you can get.
TextExpander is useful: I actually like typing – I’m such a writer – but that utility lets me repeat often-used text like bios or complicated text like Amazon links. I never have to remember that “http://amzn.to/1dO1nue” takes you to one of my books, I just press a couple of keys and TextExpander pops out that lot. TextExpander is Mac- and iOS-only but there’s an equivalent called Breevy.
I’ve never used that. I’ll never use everything and if you tried, you’d have no time to do your real work. But my computer, iPad and phone are so useful that I do exploit them every way I can.
There’s a bit of the boy with a new toy in me sometimes but all I want from technology, all I want from other people, all I really want from me is more time to write. The only way I get better at writing is to do it and productivity is about clearing time for the reason I am a creative freelance in the first place.
If you want to learn more about becoming more organised and productive, sign in to the FEU ecourse Creative Productivity. It's free to members and you can dip into it whenever you want - on the train, before meetings or when you've got a quiet hour or two to work through the whole course or specific modules.