in #hack ~ read.

How to use computers efficiently // my productivity toolkit

The feeling of being held back when performing tasks on a computer really annoys me. Instead, i want my efficiency to be solely defined by my own performance, not technical limitations. Over the years, i adopted some habits and tools that heavily boost my productivity and allow me to better leverage the power offered by computers and the internet.

Here comes a list of general tools and hacks, that most people could make use of. Though i mainly use OSX, most of the tips also work on Linux and Windows.


1. Use the keyboard

If you can do an often-used action with your keyboard, do so! You’ll be quicker than by mouse. Even if you’re not a typing superstar. That is because your fingers can physically navigate and find the correct buttons quickly, whereas when using the mouse, you have to carefully aim and adjust using vision. And there is just so much more actions that one could map to dozens of keys than just two, right?

Don’t get me wrong, you need to use the mouse, and in many cases, like when scrolling, the mouse is a much more suitable tool. Multi-touch gestures even leverage this and you should definitely configure them! But please, don’t copy and paste with your mouse! That’s just a waste of time.

Here are a couple of things i always do with the keyboard:

  • Fire up applications (CMD+Space / SUPER on Windows or GNOME) – just type the first few letters of the application name. Also good for searching local files
  • Switch between applications (CMD/CTRL+TAB)
  • Close applications/windows (CMD+Q / ALT+F4, CMD/CTRL+W)
  • Open/close browser tabs (CMD/CTRL+T, CMD/CTRL+W)
  • Save files (CMD/CTRL+S); adding SHIFT often lets you save a copy
  • Of course, copy, cut and paste (CMD/CTRL+C/X/V)
  • Navigate Text — You’ll be surprised, what magic the modifiers (CMD,CTRL,ALT,SHIFT) can do in conjunction with the arrow or backspace keys, just try it!

If you want to learn more shortcuts, install the Cheatsheet App. It shows you a context-sensitive overlay of available shortcuts when you hold down the CMD key.


2. Use a password manager

This kind of goes against the previous tip, but: Don’t type when there’s no need to! Typing the same usernames and passwords over and over again is not only a waste of time, but also a privacy risk. I’m quite sure you don’t remember a strong, long, random and unique password for each site. A password manager can bring you both convenience and security. If you don’t use one already, get one!

I recommend using one with an offline password database like Enpass. You can still sync your offline encrypted database with your smartphone using Dropbox for example. But you don’t throw all your passwords into a centralized silo of highly sensitive data like LastPass.


3. Use text snippets

Apart from passwords, there are lots of other phrases that you end up typing more than once per day. Those should be set up as snippets in a tool like aText or TextExpander (AutoKey / AutoHotKey on Linux / Mac resp.)

Some abbreviations i commonly use:

  • mail# // my email address
  • tel# // my phone number
  • visa# // my credit card number (also have a visadate# and visacheck#)

I chose # as a trigger character to decrease the odds of accidentally triggering a snippet. This gives me a magic return key right next to the real but less powerful return key on my german keyboard. ;)

If you find yourself writing lots of similar emails, you should consider adding some longer text snippets to your repertoire.


4. Use a proper text editor

Not just for programmers: A proper tool to handle text data can save you lots of time when writing, doing research, gathering information from websites, etc…

I have always an instance of SublimeText open and use it for basically everything that involves writing or transforming text. Its most loved feature (and the one that i would never ever want to miss again) is the ability to handle multiple selections. This basically allows you to control several cursors at a time. If you don’t know it, try! If you don’t know it and you’re a programmer — congrats, your productivity just went up by 400%!

By the way, this is not Microsoft Office. If you’re missing formatting options, but value the power of a plain text editor like SublimeText — get into Markdown.


Extra tip for Mac users

Windows and Linux desktops have been allowing it since long: Maximize a window by dragging it to the top. Drag it to the left or right edge to make it fill either half of the screen.

Apple implemented a similar, but less convenient feature in El Capitan. If you want the real deal: Better Snap Tool brings you the mouse-based behaviour described above, at 3$.

A keyboard-shortcut based (and therefore even more efficient) method is provided by the free and open-source tool Spectacle. My configuration is shown on the left.


A note on browser tabs

Don’t keep tabs open hoping that you could easily find them later! This won’t work, as it clutters up your tab bar and thus results in the opposite. Instead, just close the tab (unless there is unsaved data in there) and launch it up again when needed using the following method:

Open up a new tab (CMD/CTRL+T) and start typing part of the url or the title of the page. Most browsers are by default configured to make suggestions from your browsing history when you type something into the url bar. Use the arrow keys and return to select the searched page. This way, you find stuff much quicker than by manually scanning the tab bar.

Pro tip: CMD/CTRL+SHIFT+T brings back your recently closed tabs on most major browsers.


What are your productivity hacks?

Already a pro? I’m keen to know how you get the most out of your computer! Leave a comment!