By By PCWorld Staff and Contributors; illustration by Neil Stevens
PCWorldMay 20, 2012 6:00 pm PDT
Make Your Gmail Work for You
Your time is valuable. On the Gmail team, we work hard to offer a user experience that won’t bog you down. But we also want to share some tips for being even more productive with Gmail.
Focus on search, not folders: Google was built on search, and we’ve aimed to bring that same search experience to Gmail. Studies show that users save time when they search for an email instead of categorizing it into a folder. In Gmail, you can quickly find the exact message you want by typing keywords into the search box, or you can rely on the program’s search autocomplete to specify the attributes you want (try typing ‘from:[sender]’ or ‘has photos’).
Let Gmail do your filing for you: Instead of individually finding and filing messages, try a search in Gmail for a specific type of message (for example, all email messages ‘from:craigslist.org’). Then select Filter messages like this from the ‘More’ drop-down menu to set up a filter that will automatically label, archive, delete, or “star” similar types of incoming messages.
Use Priority Inbox: If you receive a lot of email, use Gmail’s Priority Inbox to automatically separate your important mail from the rest, based on various signals. We found that Priority Inbox users spend 43 percent more time reading important messages than unimportant ones, and that they spend 15 percent less time reading email overall than do Gmail users working without Priority Inbox.
Keep your contacts up-to-date: Nothing saps time like having to deal with bounced email messages or waiting for a reply to a message that you sent to an outdated email address. You can ensure that you have the latest and most accurate contact information by taking advantage of Gmail’s new profile integration with Google+, which automatically brings any information that your contacts share with you through Google+ into your Contacts list in Gmail.
–Alex Gawley, Gmail Product Manager
Create a Schedule for Your Distractions
Instead of reacting to various notifications–email alerts, incoming instant messages, Twitter messages, and other needy software on your machine–as they arrive, consider dedicating a few half-hour blocks of time during the day to distractions, and leave the rest for focused work. I use this strategy, which I first heard from Gina Trapani, when she was at Lifehacker.
To save time, the first thing I do after setting up a new PC or Mac is to disable all notifications for everything: pop-up windows, audible sounds, bouncing icons–all of it, for every application, including calendar appointments, email messages, and instant messages. Every time those notifications fire, they pull my attention from whatever I’m working on–and I can’t instantaneously refocus my attention on my task.
My approach won’t work for people whose jobs require them to respond immediately to every email or tweet. For most people, though, the vast majority of incoming messages can wait an hour or two for a response. Every few hours during my workday, I take a 20- to 30-minute break and use it to respond to email and instant messages. When I’m finished, I use whatever remains of my allotted break time to check in on my various social networks.
I apply even more scrutiny to notifications on my phone and tablet. You don’t need your phone beeping for every piece of spam you get throughout the night, so limit your phone to notifying you of just the interruption-worthy messages. On my phone and tablet, the only apps that I permit to send me modal alerts–which require interaction before I can do anything else with the device–are text messages and calendar appointments; everything else is pushed to the notifications list, where I can address it when I want to (or ignore it indefinitely). Computers should help you make better use of your time. Don’t let yours boss you around.
–Will Smith, Tested.com
Next: Tips for Facebook productivity, printer efficiency, and Android typing speed.
Be More Productive on Facebook
Facebook may be your go-to site for goofing off when you should be doing something productive instead, but you have plenty of options for improving your efficiency while you kill time there.
Keep to your keyboard: Instead of clicking the Like button, type L while viewing a photo to achieve the same result. Also, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate through an album.
Use Facebook to speed up your music navigation: If you use a streaming service like Spotify or Rdio, type an artist name and/or a song title into the Facebook search bar and then click the Play button on the song you want. The song will start streaming instantly, and you won’t have to leave the page you’re on.
Take advantage of the Activity Log: Facebook’s Activity Log will help you quickly find your past posts or remember the date when something happened. Click the Activity Log button under your Timeline cover photo, and use the filters at the top of the page to sort through all of your check-ins, Likes, comments, and other actions by date. (Don’t worry–only you can see your own Activity Log.)
Customize your newsfeed: To filter friends out of your News Feed promptly, type acquaintances into the Facebook search bar. On the resulting page, click see all suggestions. Facebook will show you a list of people whom you might no longer want updates from, and allow you to remove them easily. To streamline your News Feed further, try the free third-party browser plug-in Social Fixer. It adds a bunch of great tools that give you more control over what appears when you visit Facebook so you can strip out posts you don’t care about, hide posts you’ve already read, and highlight new comments.
–Brittany Darwell, Lead Writer, Inside Facebook
Adjust Your Printer to Print Faster
Some printers are slow no matter what you do to accelerate their performance, but try these tips to speed up the printing process.
Keep your printer turned on: Printers enter sleep mode when they’re not in use, so they’ll wake up faster when needed. But before they can print again, all printers need time to prepare themselves (by priming their printheads, checking their nozzles, warming up their fusers, and so on) after any long lapse in printing activity; however, powering the printer all the way off forces it to do even more work before it’s ready to print your document. In my experience, inkjet printers seem to take longer to prepare than laser printers do, though some color lasers need extra time as well.
Print in draft mode: If you don’t need your printout to look especially pretty, using your printer’s draft mode will generate output more quickly and–as a bonus–use less ink. The names that vendors give this feature vary; look for a setting in your printer driver called ‘draft’, ‘fast’, ‘eco’ (as in “ecological”), or something similar.
Print using black or grayscale mode: If you print in a single color instead of four, you’ll save at least a little time because the other colors won’t need to mark the page. This mode is especially important if you use a color laser printer, since the toner cartridges in such printers rotate and take turns laying color onto the drum. In our tests, we’ve had to sit and listen as the cartridges slowly rotate; it takes a while. Changing the printer to use just black mode has consistently sped up the process.
Print two pages per sheet: Pulling paper through a printer takes time, but you can cut that time in half by telling your printer to print two pages per sheet. The pages will be smaller, but readable in most cases. Check your driver for a feature called ‘n-up’, ‘multiple page’, or something similar.
Keep file sizes small: Photos and complex graphics significantly increase the size of your document file and, consequently, the time it will take for the printer to digest the file and generate your pages.
–Melissa Riofrio, PCWorld
Type Faster With a Third-Party Android Keyboard
Using a third-party keyboard is a great way to get more out of your Android phone. Such keyboards provide different features than the stock keyboard that comes on most Android phones, and they can help you send text messages or compose email messages more quickly.
Work faster with Swype: If speed is your main concern, I recommend the Swype keyboard. Swype, which comes installed on most Samsung phones, lets you slide your finger across keys to form words. The process takes some getting used to; but once you’re acclimated, you’ll be cranking out messages in a jiffy. If your phone didn’t come with Swype preinstalled, download the general Android beta from Swype’s website.
Get spelling help with SwiftKey: If the autocorrect feature on your Android device hinders you more than it helps, give the SwiftKey keyboard a try. SwiftKey analyzes the words you use most frequently in your text messages, email, and social media accounts, and predicts the words you’ll type based on how you’ve constructed similar sentences in the past. This approach can save you tons of time. The latest version of the keyboard, SwiftKey 3, makes typing even faster than its predecessors did, by removing the need to use the spacebar. You can type entire sentences without putting spaces between the words, and SwiftKey will intelligently insert spaces as needed. Priced at $4, SwiftKey is available from both the Amazon App Store and the Google Play market.
–Armando Rodriguez, PCWorld
Next: Keyboard shortcuts, Google search speed-ups, photo tips.
Learn to Love Your Keyboard
Nothing saves me as much computing time as keyboard shortcuts. Think of them as gesture controls for your PC. Here are my top three keyboard tricks for saving time (and starving my mouse of attention).
Memorize the shortcuts you use most commonly: The shortcuts at your command should go far beyond Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V. Think about the actions that you frequently repeat in your favorite applications. For example, if you work with Excel, acclimate yourself to switching between worksheets by holding down Ctrl and tapping Page Up or Page Down. With a little practice, you’ll find that using these shortcuts becomes second nature.
Assign new keyboard shortcuts: If the default shortcut for one of your favorite actions is unduly complicated (or doesn’t exist at all), make your own. For example, Photoshop has its own keyboard shortcut mapper (Edit, Keyboard shortcuts). Windows 7 lets you map keys to program shortcuts, too; right-click the program shortcut, select the Shortcut tab, choose the Shortcut key box, and assign your own keyboard shortcut to open the program when you tap that key in conjunction with the Ctrl and Alt keys.
Stop relying on your mouse: Put it down and don’t let yourself even think about it; instead, keep your hands on the keyboard, and give yourself a chance to operate your computer at something closer to the speed of thought.
–Ryan Block, Gdgt.com
Work With Windows Shortcuts
Most Windows users know about using Ctrl-C to copy, Ctrl-V to paste, and Ctrl-Z to undo. But other Windows keyboard shortcuts can be just as helpful.
Control your tabs: In a browser, press Ctrl-T to open a new tab. Use Ctrl-Tab to switch between open tabs; if you close a tab by accident, press Ctrl-Shift-T to reopen it–a lifesaver in some situations.
Quickly navigate between windows: Use Alt-Tab to bring up an overlay in the center of the screen showing all your open windows and letting you choose which to pull to the front. For Windows Vista and later, Flip 3D turns open windows into a virtual stack that you can flip through. To activate Flip 3D, press Windows-Tab. For additional control, use Windows-Left arrow or Windows-Right arrow to snap your window to the left or right side of the screen, Windows-Up arrow to maximize the window, or Windows-Down arrow to minimize it.
Use keys to open programs mouselessly: In Windows 7, press Windows to open the Start menu. Afterward, you can start typing to search through programs in the All Programs menu. Press Enter, and the top program in the search results will open. Press Windows, and type wo to bring Microsoft Word to the top in the search results; press Enter, and you’ll be typing in a new Word document.
–Michelle Mastin, PCWorld
Accelerate Google Searches
You can reduce the amount of time you spend surfing the Web by using advanced Google search strings to find the specific data you’re looking for.
Find films fast: To get movie times at local theaters, type movies followed by your zip code into the Google search bar; Google will display a list of what’s playing at every nearby cinema. For greater specificity, type movie title followed by your zip code to narrow your search to a single film.
Follow your flight: To see your flight status without having to hunt through your airline’s website, type the name of your airline and your flight number (JetBlue 846, for example) into the Google search bar. Google will provide your flight information, with an update on whether the plane is on time.
Watch the weather: To check the weather before you go, type weather and your destination (‘weather Las Vegas’, say). Google will supply the relevant area’s four-day forecast. Now there’s no excuse not to be prepared!
–Alex Wawro, PCWorld
Save Time While Shooting Photos
Learn to use burst mode, and then learn to love it: Some of the hardest things to capture with a camera can be the most memorable: a smiling baby, a pet doing something awesome, or the moment-of-impact shot of your kid getting his first Little League hit. Instead of relying on an impossibly well-timed shutter finger, set your camera to its continuous-shooting (or “burst”) mode and start snapping rapid-fire images. Not only will you have a better chance of nabbing the perfect shot, but also you will have many pictures to choose from.
Edit as you go, but not after every shot: “Chimping”–the habit of immediately checking out every image you snap on a camera’s LCD screen–is frowned upon in serious photography circles, and it’ll cause you to miss a lot of good shots. Once you’re done shooting an event, however, take a few minutes to review your batch of pics on the camera itself and delete the ones that you know you won’t use. Doing so will save you time importing photographs to your PC, but proceed with caution: If you’re not sure whether a picture is a keeper, it’s best to refrain from deleting it until you see it on a bigger screen.
–Tim Moynihan, PCWorld
Next: Tips for using Office more effectively, and more.
Get More Out of Your Day
Here are a few of my favorite Office tips.
Keep a record of your surfing: It’s easy to come across great information when you surf the Web; but remembering it–and finding it again later–can be a lot more difficult. OneNote simplifies these tasks by letting you save screen clippings from your surfing session. To insert a screen clipping in OneNote, open the Insert tab in the tool bar at the top, and click Screen Clipping. When you select any region of the screen, the image will drop into OneNote, complete with a referral URL in case you want to pay a return visit to the site later.
The power of Ignore: If you find yourself stuck in an email thread that seems to go on forever or that isn’t relevant to you in the first place, take advantage of the Ignore feature in Outlook. Ignore deletes not only the messages you’ve already received, but any future messages in the same conversation. To ignore an email conversation in Outlook, right-click a conversation in the message list, and in the drop-down menu that appears, click Ignore.
Tell and show: Why take the trouble of traveling to give a presentation when you can handle the whole thing remotely? To share a PowerPoint presentation with a remote audience, click Slide Show in the tool bar at the top, and then click Broadcast Slide Show. When the dialog box appears, click Start Broadcast, and a unique URL will appear. Copy and send that URL to remote attendees, and voilà! Participants listening on the phone can open the link and see your slideshow in their Web browsers.
Visualize your numbers: Figures presented in a row or column in Excel can be useful, but an avalanche of data can easily overwhelm the viewer. To help people see patterns and trends at a glance, I like to use Sparklines in Excel–embedded word-size graphics. To create Sparklines in Excel, select an empty cell that you want to insert Sparklines in. Open the Insert tab in the toolbar at the top, and click Sparklines. Then click the type of Sparkline that you want to create. In the Data box, type the range of the cells containing the data that you want to base the Sparklines on, and click OK.
–Jevon Fark, Office Team, Microsoft
Activate ‘Quick Controls’ in your Android browser: Save time while browsing the Internet on your Android device by enabling ‘Quick Controls’ in the stock Android browser. First confirm that you’re using Android version 3.1 (Honeycomb) or later; then open your browser settings menu, tap Labs and enable Quick Controls for faster browsing. This will eliminate the address and status bars from the top of your display, giving you more screen space for browsing the Web. To access browser settings, perform a search, or open a new page, simply place your thumb on the left or right edge of the screen, and a circular menu will pop up with full navigation options.
Edit PDFs with Google Docs: You can save time by using Google Docs instead of a more-expensive PDF editor to alter a PDF document. First, upload your document to Google Docs; then check the Convert text from PDF and image files to Google documents box, which converts a PDF document into an editable rich-text document (this works best if the PDF is mostly text). You can then edit it online and redownload the document as a PDF or text file.
Automate an image or piece of text in Outlook: Got a favorite catchphrase? Take advantage of Outlook’s Quick Parts feature to save time when you send oft-repeated bits of text. Select the text or image that you wish to save for reuse in your Outlook messages, open the Quick Parts menu and select Save Selection To Quick Part Gallery. Christen your new Quick Part, and thenceforth you’ll be able to reuse it whenever you like by selecting ‘Insert’ from the Quick Parts menu.
Use DropBox to set up an online backup: Create a free (2GB) DropBox account, and link it with your desktop’s Photo directory. DropBox will automatically upload everything in that directory to cloud storage–a very useful backup.
Forward calls to yourself via Google Voice: Sign up for a free account with Google Voice and link it with your home, office, and mobile phone numbers so that you can forward calls to whichever phone is appropriate based on your location, thereby reducing the amount of time you spend checking messages. You can also record calls, send them straight to voicemail, or even shut down your phone entirely during certain hours to let you focus on the task at hand.
Create a custom alarm or timer with Timer Tab: Turn your browser into a productivity tool with the free Timer Tab app. Simply open a new tab in your browser of choice and navigate to timer-tab.com, where you can set up a custom alarm or timer to keep you on track while you’re working. Set the timer for 25 minutes and focus on work for the full time period; then take 5 minutes to relax and browse the Web.