Most everyone uses a computer. But a few of us, well, we play a computer like an instrument.
If you're on a computer for 10+ hours per day, this blog is for you.
By "instrument" I mean we know the in's & out's of the device. We know how to eek out maximum performance from it. We're the people who others just look at in wonder when our keys fly across the keyboard.
If you've ever found it excruciatingly painful watching others use a computer because of how slow the person is, then you know what I'm talking about.
These are just my tips, but really, I'm writing this because I want to know about your tips. I want to know what saves you time and makes you more productive. So please post comments below.
Knowing how to play a computer like an instrument is a real, tangible skill. All these little tricks add up to big time savings - or more likely, to massive productivity gains.
Most everything here is geared towards Mac users, but many will have PC equivalents.
Keyboard Shortcuts: If you're not using these, then you might as well not bother with the rest of this post. Being a keyboard maverick and treating the mouse like the devil is a foundational step you need to learn first. I've written about the importance of keyboard shortcuts before. They're kinda like flossing - if you're not in the habit, it's hard to get in the habit, but once you do it, you wonder how anyone gets along without doing it, and you get kinda grossed out when others don't.
Text Expander: This tool allows me to save snippets of text, and reuse them anywhere on my computer. It's invaluable.
Mail Act-On: If you're a Mac Mail user, Act-On lets you get through your mail much faster. Instead of manually dragging each mail message into a folder, you can assign keyboard shortcuts to automatically place messages into folders. For example, I've set CTRL+V to put mail in my inbox into a non-inbox folder. I don't have to manually drag any email over, and I can select multiple messages at once. It's great.
Quicksilver: Quicksilver is sick. It's my constant companion on my mac. People often ask me "why not just use spotlight?"
Here are a few reasons:
1) I find it's usually faster.
2) It learns my most common searches.
3) It offers a cut & paste history of the last 20 items via a plugin, which I use constantly.
4) Quick resizing of images.
Update: There is a NEW APP called Alfred that I really like - it might replace Quicksilver for me.
If you really want to become a Quicksilver maverick, watch these videos:
Here's a video showing off not only Quicksilver, but many shortcuts I use:
iShowU: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a thousand pictures. This program is a screencast program. I use iShowU many times daily to clearly explain issues, problems, suggestions, ideas and more. I can then email or post these videos on Vimeo. In fact, here's a screencast I sent to 37 Signals about a problem I was having in Highrise. It's so much easier to show a video than to have to explain something with words.
Here's a video showing how I use iShowu:
Widemail: If you're a Mac Mail user who migrated over from Outlook, you might miss having the message reading pane on the right side instead of below the email. And with the Mac's wide screen, I find it's a much better use of screen real estate to have the reading pane on the right. Enter Widemail, a free plugin that allows for this (surprisingly, Mac doesn't have an option for a reading screen on the right. Below is a screenshot showing what mail looks like with Widemail installed (not not my mailbox, just one I randomly found on Google Images)
All Controls: The Mac, by default, doesn't let you tab between all control boxes, so you have to enable "all controls" in order to be able to really use the keyboard. For you keyboard mavericks out there, this'll be basic, but many of you probably didn't even know this setting existed:
And here's a video showing the difference between having this selected or not:
Witch: This plugin is a required add-on for any power users. It allows you to switch only only between applications (like ALT+TAB does) but between open windows within the same application.
Cinch: This little utility will automatically resize my active window to fit the entire screen. There's not much I miss about Windows, but the Mac's squirrly behavior in maximizing windows was one of them. Cinch fixes that for me.
Dropbox: This is a great tool to host files in a way that they're accessible across multiple computers. Many people know this, and if you've never heard of Dropbox, you can watch a video of how it works. But many who use Dropbox don't know about its public folder option. Check this video, and then here's the file I referenced in the video.
Video of Dropbox in use:
Honorable Mentions: Other tools I love: PDF Pen, a way better pdf manipulation tool, Highrise and Basecamp by 37 Signals, Unfuddle for bugs & tickets, the Vimeo Desktop Uploader, Omnifocus for task management (syncs very well with the iPhone), Yammer, a business-grade Twitter client for internal company communication, SplashID for password management, WhatSize for freeing space up on a computer,GoToAssist for screen sharing & support, and Carbon Copy Cloner to make exact clones of your hard drive, which are bootable. Even if you back up using TimeMachine or similar, I'd still highly recommend cloning your drive once a month as a failsafe.
This is just my list; I'd love to see yours. Please provide comments below! What helps you play your computer like an instrument?
I've got a tip: The keyboard shortcut I use least frequently but is probably most effective is:
This closes all your open applications (giving you the opportunity to save unsaved work) and then automatically restarts your mac. Good for all the crazy multi-taskers with 10 applications running at any given moment.
I'm loving Keith Rarick's blog about InboxZero. As you can guess, I too have been a gmail shortcut fan for years, but I'd never tried his approach. I'm giving it a shot now. Check it out on his blog.
To create new keyboard shortcuts, I use Keyboard Maestro instead of Mail Q or whatever application specific enhancer exists. Single interface and you can use it for all applications and even bind applications together.
It's like Apple script and Automator and keyboard shortcuts bound together which actually works and is simple and intuitive. The guy who originally wrote Interarchie, Peter N. Lewis created Keyboard Maestro.
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Another tip--I use Yojimbo for recording notes, snippets of text, passwords, images. etc., tagging them, and sync'ing them across the computers I work on. Very convenient for recording info I need quick access to at home or at work. I find it to be well worth the price ($30 if I recall correctly). It has an iPad client, too.
Daniel--great blog post!
I'm with you on the try-to-keep-your-hands-on-the-keyboard tip, but if you've gotta reach for a mouse, it'll be much better if it is a Magic Trackpad instead ( http://www.apple.com/magictrackpad/ ), and learn how to configure the gestures to your liking (I find tap-to-click indispensable).
One of the many things I like about it is that when I'm away from my workstation and am instead using a laptop at home, all the gestures are the same.
I can't remember the last time I've used a mouse and don't plan on ever using one again (if I can help it!).
BTW since I originally wrote this blog, I've started absolutely relying on Rapportive (www.Rapportive.com) and its Highrise integration, as well as CloudApp: http://go.DanielOdio.com/cloudapp . I'll write a blog about Rapportive if anyone really wants to learn about it.
Here's a cool Finder protip:
Here's a cool one that Sue just showed me, about how to specify the search folder in Finder. Here's the video: http://drod.io/163f1i2e0C470I2x3O3A
Here's a quick step by step guide showing how I make video blogs and screencasts, and the tools I use to share them.
My main tools are:
PhotoBooth to record video, comes standard on any Mac
iShowU by ShinyWhiteBox for screencast capture
Vimeo (similar to YouTube) for uploading videos. Especially useful is their desktop uploader tool.
Here's a quick step by step guide showing how I make video blogs and screencasts, and the tools I use to share them. My main tools are: PhotoBooth to record video, comes standard on any Mac iShowU by ShinyWhiteBox for screencast capture Vimeo (similar to YouTube) for uploading videos. Especially useful is their desktop uploader tool.
Today I wanted to follow the instructions on "How to Make a Video Blog and Screencast" to learn to make a quick video blog or screencast. Only one problem - the guide there describes how to do it on a Mac, not on Windows.
Odio describes and demonstrates his basic process:
1 .PhotoBooth to record video, comes standard on any Mac 2. iShowU by ShinyWhiteBox for screencast capture 3. Vimeo (similar to YouTube) for uploading videos. Especially useful is their desktop uploader tool.
Unfortunately, PhotoBooth and iShowU aren't available on Windows. It took me a couple hours of research, but eventually I found a program that does both: Cyberlink Youcam. It's quite a good program, it's minimalistic and stays out of your way, but has enough power. Fast learning curve. Elegant. Auto-saves when you've hit stop, so you're already ready to go.