Time is money, as Benjamin Franklin once said. Your time is precious and we reckon we can help you save plenty of it with these 50 great tips.
You may think you can get around Windows pretty swiftly, and get the search results you want from Google, but unless you're using keyboard shortcuts instead of a cumbersome mouse-and-menus approach, chances are that you're not as fast as you could be. See also: Windows 7 Advisor
Plus, there are lots of hidden shortcuts to using Google and Gmail which can save minutes on the repetitive chore of finding information.
Whether you're sitting in front of a PC or on the move using a laptop, smartphone or tablet, you're bound to find some time savings among these gems. They may save only seconds, but add those up over a day, week or month and they start becoming significant.
We've collated all the best tips that the PC Advisor team use to on a daily basis to help save you hours and be more productive.
Since just about everyone uses Windows, we'll start here. Most of the tips below work with all versions back to XP, but some are reserved for Vista and Windows 7. It isn't just Windows, either - some shortcuts are universal and work in third-party applications.
1. Use keyboard 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. For example, pressing the Windows key and L will lock your machine, while Ctrl-Y lets you re-do the last action you undid using Ctrl-Z. You can use the Tab key to jump to the next field in a form and Shift-Tab to jump back to the previous field.
If you work with Excel, familiarise yourself with 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. Similarly, you can flip between open documents in Photoshop (and certain other programs) by holding Ctrl and tapping Tab. Look in an application's menus to see the keyboard shortcuts assigned to different commands.
2. Assign new keyboard shortcuts: If the default shortcut for one of your favourite 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…). This way you can create a shortcut for cropping an image which, for some reason has no default shortcut.
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 theandkeys.
3. Quickly navigate between windows: Use Alt-Tab to bring up an overlay in the centre of the screen showing all your open windows. Keep holding Alt and press Tab to toggle between applications, but you can also use the cursor keys to select an application to make live. In 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.
4. Use keys to open programs without a mouse: In Windows 7, press to open the Start menu. Afterward, you can start typing to search through programs in the All Programs menu. Press, and the top program in the search results will open. Press, and type wo to bring Microsoft Word to the top in the search results; press, and you’ll be typing in a new Word document.
5. Adjust your laptop's screen brightness: Windows doesn't make it easy to change your notebook's display brightness. At least not in the places you might expect: the Control Panel's 'Display' or 'Change Display Settings' panes. Instead, you can press the Windows key and X together. This brings up an overlay called Windows Mobility Center. Here, a slider lets you adjust screen brightness. It's very handy when you reinstall Windows and find the brightness control on the laptop's F-keys or cursor keys doesn't work due to the absence of the necessary driver.
6. Create desktop shortcuts: Save time navigating to the programs and folders you use most often by setting up desktop shortcuts. In Windows, simply right-click the item and choose Send To, Desktop (Create Shortcut). Be sure to save shortcuts rather than the folder itself to your desktop, or you'll be at greater risk of accidentally deleting that data.
7. Startup programs: If you've had your laptop or PC for more than a couple of days, then the chances are you've started to personalise it with some of your favourite programs. That's great, but believe it or not, they can be full of their own self-importance and set themselves to launch automatically on start up. After a while, this can make your computer take ages to boot into Windows. This is easily solvable: run msconfig (type it into Windows' search box and press Enter) and uncheck any unnecessary programs from the Startup tab. Be careful though as some programs must launch automatically for your computer to work properly.
8. Free up hard drive space: If your hard drive is nearly full, this will have a knock-on effect on your PC's performance. One way to prevent Windows slowing down, and therefore save time on everything you do on your PC, is to store any files you do not use regularly on an external drive. Microsoft office documents tend not to be too large, but if you store videos and other space-sucking media on your computer's hard drive, they can quickly fill it up.
9. Get a second monitor: Sometimes, you spend a lot of time minimising and maximising windows, or scrolling in documents because you can't fit them on a single screen. Windows has great multi-monitor support and with full HD displays being so cheap these days, you can add another entire desktop for under £100.
10. Create a PDF for sharing: It's easy to email a Word or Excel file to someone, but it's better to send them a PDF. Most computers have the necessary software installed for reading PDFs (if not, Adobe Reader is a small, free download). This should save you time as people won't need to ask for documents in specific formats if they can't, for example, view the Excel 2010 .xlsx file you just sent them.
The easiest way to create PDFs in any application is to install a PDF printer driver, such as Bullzip PDF printer. When you next print something, you'll see a new printer to choose: Bullzip. Select this instead of a physical printer and the file will be saved as a PDF.
Next page: Really useful tips for browsing and searching the web
We all spend a considerable amount of time on the internet, whether it's for work or pleasure. Here are a bunch of great tips which should save you time.
11. Save time typing website addresses: When typing a website address into your web browser you can add the 'www.' and '.com' parts without typing them. Simply type the main part of the address, for example 'google', then press Ctrl-Enter.
12. Use App Tabs in Firefox: If you have certain websites which you visit on a regular basis, you can create App Tabs in Firefox to permanently keep them open. Click on the desired tab and choose 'Pin as app tab' – it moves to the far left and takes up less space.
13. 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.
14. Pin key pages: Get to your favourite sites straight from the Windows 7 taskbar without having to open Internet Explorer. Just click the icon to the left of the web address in the One Box, or the tab for the website, or the website's icon on the New Tab page, and then drag it to the taskbar. When a site is pinned it shows up as its own thumbnail, with a Jump List. Some sites also have thumbnail preview controls, others have icon overlays providing live information such as the number of new messages in your inbox.
15. Get a better web browser: Our recent group test of the six most popular web browsers found Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox to lead the pack. If you often find your browser is slow to load your favourite sites, try downloading and installing an alternative tool. You may find some sites are optimised for particular browsers, and it won't hurt to install more than one on your machine.
16. Get faster broadband: If you're still using a slow dialup or 3G broadband connection - or even if you have an entry-level home broadband package - you could be losing precious time from your online working day. The difference in page-load times may only be seconds, but all those seconds quickly add up. Check whether you're getting the broadband speed you're paying for at speedtest.pcadvisor.co.uk, then see if you could get a better deal at Broadband Genie.
17. Enable your browser's bookmark bar: There are a small number of websites which you visit regularly, probably: BBC News, Sky Player, PC Advisor (we hope!), Twitter… you get the picture.Instead of typing out the same web address over and over, bookmark or 'favourite' the pages so they're always there at the top of your browser. This way you can get to the page you want in one swift click. Show your bookmark bar in Google Chrome by pressing Ctrl-Shift-B. In Firefox, click the Firefox button at the top, then Options, then check Bookmarks Toolbar. For IE9, simply click the start at the top-right corner of the browser.
For hardcore web surfers, use two different web browsers, one with a bookmark bar full of work websites and another full of personal ones. Do that and your internet productivity will rocket. Don't forget to bookmark PCAdvisor.co.uk - it's an excellent read!
18. Use your browser's autofill and password manager: As long as you're the only user of your PC (or you have separate user accounts with passwords), you can save a lot of time by letting your browser remember your details - address, email, phone number and even partial credit card details (never save the security code on the back). When you're buying things online, these details can be entered automatically. The same goes for usernames and passwords for website logins.
19. Turn your browser into a productivity tool: Use 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.
20. Write a to-do list: By working smarter and becoming more productive, you can save time in the long run. Writing a to-do list will prevent those thumb-wiggling moments as you wonder what to do next, and stop you starting one thing only to become distracted by another. We like Remember The Milk as it's online, but countless other free utilities are available. If you have lots of different duties to remember at work which have other information attached (such as a job's status and cost) try using an Excel spreadsheet and using different colours to highlight cells.
21. Edit PDFs for free: 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 download the document again as a PDF or text file.
Next page: Search use Google like a pro with our power-searching tips
Power search using Google
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.
22. Convert weights and measures: to convert five pounds of weight into kilograms, simply pop '5lbs to kg' into Google's search bar, and the search giant will make the conversion for you. Searches for similar queries such as '5in to mm' and even '£5 to $' work in the same way, although the currency conversion should be used only as a guide.
23. Ditch the calculator: As with weights and measures, Google will do maths for you. Simply type '4.2 * 7' and hit Enter to get the answer. It even understands plain English (type 'million' instead of 1000000) and can handle fractions. For more advanced sums, try entering 2*8+(sqrt 27)^3= and see what happens.
24. 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 (‘EasyJet 8871’, for example) into the Google search bar. Google will provide your flight information, with an update on whether the plane is on time.
25. Watch the weather: To check the weather before you go, type weather and your destination (‘weather London’, say). Google will supply the relevant area’s four-day forecast. It may appear before you’ve finished typing if you have Google Instant enabled: this predicts your query and displays results as you type.
26. Find films fast: To get movie times at local cinemas, type films followed by your postcode 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 postcode to narrow your search to a single film.
27. Search any site: If you're Googling for information, and you are sure a certain site will have that info, use Google's site search to cut out a couple of clicks. Type in 'site:PCAdvisor.co.uk', or similar, followed by a space, and then the search term. Try 'site:PCAdvisor.co.uk time-saving tips' to see what we mean.
28. Search for an exact phrase: Finding something specific is much easier if you wrap your search in quotes. It's useful for finding something (song lyrics or a poem, say) when a general web search isn't working for you.
29. Exclude words from search results: Similarly, you can exclude certain words from results by preceding the word in your search query by a dash (e.g. jaguar -car to see results about the animal, not the four-wheeled saloon).
30. Fill in the blanks: When you can't remember an exact phrase or cliché, use a wildcard search to find it. For example 'Don't look a * in the mouth'.
Next page: Top tips to make email work for you - including Gmail
If you receive a lot of email, it can become overwhelming and it's easy to waste time dealing with it all. Here are some tips on managing email, and using it in different ways.
31. Make email work for you: For a tool that's supposed to make life more efficient, email can be a major time sink. Close your email program for all but a small portion of each hour during which you delete or file everything that doesn't require a response, and set aside time each day to reply to email, disciplining yourself not to respond outside of this time. If someone needs a quick response, call them.
32. Go mobile with mail: You shouldn't let mobile email tie you to work at all hours, but if used judiciously it can save you time in the office. Check and triage email on your way to- and from work, deleting or filing anything that doesn't require a response. Then when you are in the office, you can concentrate on, well, doing your job!
33. Use webmail as a to-do list: A Gmail account makes for a perfect to-do list. Whenever you check your mail email account, forward on anything that requires action to a Gmail account. You can now forget those jobs, and get on with other things. Check your Gmail each morning for a ready-made to-do list.
34. Sync your email accounts: Don't waste time checking multiple email accounts for new mail several times a day. Gmail lets you sync multiple addresses to a single account. Simply log into your account and click the gear icon at the top left to access Settings. Choose the 'Accounts and Import' tab, then select 'Add a POP3 mail account you own' under 'Check email from other accounts (using POP3). Enter your email address and click Next step, then enter your password and choose Add account.
35. Manage all your messages in a single place: Most smartphones and tablets have an app that lets you manage your text messages, social media feeds and call logs in a single place. Sony Ericsson smartphones include Timescape, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab has Social Hub, for example.
Use Gmail like a pro
Gmail is one of the most popular webmail services, and it's well worth using it, not least because - with the tips below - it can be much faster than what you're currently using.
36. Search. Don't use folders: 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’).
37. 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:Freecycle’). 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.
38. 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. Google's own research 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.
39. 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.
Next page: Use your smartphone more efficiently
Smartphone interfaces are getting better and better, but it can still take longer to accomplish tasks on one compared with a PC or laptop. Here are our top tips on using them more efficiently.
40. Quickly access apps in Android: You can quickly access your most used apps on some Smartphones without unlocking the device. This can either be done via the security section of the settings menu or the apps mirror the ones in the app tray on the home screen.
41. Sony NFC Xperia SmartTags: These keyring-type devices can change settings like sound, connectivity and launch apps by touching them on a smartphone. They mean you can have different settings for places like home, the office or the car.
42. Save time while browsing: Enable ‘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.
43. Save time and your data allowance: Bookmark your favourite website sections rather than the home pages (e.g. pcadvisor.co.uk/news rather than pcadvisor.co.uk). You won't have to wait for a page to load only to click a link to go to the page you really wanted.
44. Answer only important calls: Many phones let you choose a ring tone for a particular contact, so you know who's calling even without looking at the phone's screen. Some even allow per-contact text message alerts. On the iPhone, for example, find someone in the Contacts app, tap Edit at the top then scroll down until you see ringtone and text tone. Both will be set to Default, but you can tap each and choose a tone just for them.
45. Use your iPhone faster: When reading a long web page, Facebook Timeline or Twitter feed, tap the status bar to jump back to the top of the page without scrolling. The Mail and Messages apps automatically convert numbers and times/dates to links. Tap these to call phone numbers or add dates to your calendar.
46. Share iPhone photos faster: After taking a photo on an iPhone or iPod touch with iOS 5 or later, swipe right to see it and continue swiping to review older images and videos. To attach more than one photo to an email, open the Photos app, tap the sharing icon at the top-right and select up to five photos. Then tap Share at the bottom and choose Email.
We realise that not everyone uses Windows. Mac OS X is a slick operating system, but there are still ways to use it faster and save time:
47. Sleep and wake your Mac:To quickly put your Mac to sleep, just press Shift-Cmd-Eject. You can also just switch off the screen with Shift-Ctrl-Eject. To restart it, use Ctrl-Cmd-Eject, or to effect a full shutdown use Ctrl-Alt-Cmd-Eject.
48. See your Library folder: Since Lion 10.7, OS X now hides the user's Library directory where all user preferences and application support data is stored. To quickly see this folder again, click on Go from the Finder's top menu with the Alt key held down, and you will see the ~/Library directory listed between Home and Computer.
49. Show the Desktop with one click: Hold down Cmd+Alt and click anywhere on the Desktop. Every open application will be hidden so you can see the Desktop and - more importantly - access shortcuts without having to minimise each application separately.
50. Use Find Any File: Spotlight is great for searching for files if you know a phrase or word they contain, but not all files are included in Spotlight's search. Install Find Any File and you'll quickly locate what you need even if the file is hidden or inside a bundle or package. You can also search for files based on name, size or date.