Computer Hacks to Make You More Productive

Computers help us do a lot of things faster (like contact a whole group of students at once by email or automate our billing processes) but I’m convinced most of us could save even more time on these tasks by incorporating some new tools and strategies into our workflow.

1. Learn to text from your computer

Typing on a computer is waaaaay faster than phone typing and makes responding to text messages from parents a breeze.

In Windows 10 you can send texts with Cortana (probably pre-installed on your computer) or an app like PushBullet.

(For my Mac friends, I believe you can send iMessages to other iPhone users without any special setup. This tutorial explains how to send SMS messages to non-iPhone users as well.)

Update 7/27: Mac users – scroll down to the bottom to find even more Mac equivalents shared by reader Regina.

2. Set up a text expander

Credit: PhraseExpress

I’ve talked about using canned email responses before, but text expansion takes text systematizing to a whole new level.

Text expansion software lets you create hotkey combinations (sort of like little codes) for your most commonly-typed phrases so you don’t have to type them out manually.

For instance, if I type “.add” + Spacebar on my computer, my text expansion software automatically replaces that snippet of text with my full address.

I have snippets that input the date (in various formats, depending on the application), email sign-offs (when one signature just isn’t enough), professional bios, even entire emails!

There are several text expanders out there. I use PhraseExpress. It’s ugly and there’s a learning curve, but it’s really powerful when you get into the advanced macros. 😊

If you want to test the text expansion waters, try starting with Auto Text Expander for Google Chrome. It only works in Chrome and it has limited capabilities, but it’ll give you a taste of how much time you can save with text expansion.

3. Learn these four keyboard shortcuts

I’m assuming you already know Ctrl + A (select all),  Ctrl + C (copy), Ctrl + V (paste), Ctrl + F (find on page), and Ctrl + P (print). If not, master those first then add these to your repertoire of keyboard shortcuts:

Win – Hit the Windows key then start typing a program or file name to launch or search for it

Win + T – Cycle between taskbar items. Use Space or Enter to open

Win + D – Minimize all windows to view to desktop

Ctrl + Shift + V (or Alt + E + S in Microsoft Office products) – Paste text without formatting (SO useful when you’re copying info from one document or email to another and you don’t want that funky formatting!)

4. Use a Second Monitor or Split-Screen

I almost always work between two monitors. I use my laptop screen as my “active” screen (the one I work from) and the second monitor as a reference screen (to display my calendar, reference material, to-do list, etc.).

If you have a second monitor handy, setting it up is as easy. Just plug in the monitor and adjust the Windows Display Settings. (It might work even without changing the settings.)

Alternative: Use Split-Screen

When I’m away from my office and don’t have access to a second monitor, I use split screens to display two windows at once.

To do this in Windows, just use the keyboard shortcut Win + Left Arrow (or whatever direction you want) and the window will snap to that side of the screen.

When two windows are displayed side by side, you can adjust the width of both columns simultaneously by clicking and dragging the border between the two windows.

5. Use Virtual Desktops

Using virtual desktops is like working in multiple universes within one computer. Let me explain.

Say I’m working on my website one morning and have a bunch of browser tabs and programs open for that project.

Then, I want to switch gears to prep for a coaching session. I don’t want to lose my place on the website project, but I also don’t want the clutter and distraction of all those windows when I’m talking to a teacher.

Instead of shutting everything down, I just hit Win + Ctrl + D to open a new virtual desktop.

I can start fresh with only coaching-related windows visible and when the session ends I can switch back to the other desktop to pick up where I left off.

Here’s how to use virtual desktops in Windows 10.

Pro Tip: This is also great if you are in the middle of a project when the workday ends and you don’t want to think about it until the next day, but you still want to be able to use your computer to watch Netflix in the evening. 😊

Bonus productivity points if you use keyboard shortcuts to use virtual desktops!

Win + Tab – View all virtual desktops

Win + Ctrl + D – Add new virtual desktop

Windows + Ctrl + Left/Right Switch to the virtual desktop on the left or right.

You can also manage virtual desktops by clicking the Task View button on the task bar.


Bonus Tip: Customize Desktop Wallpaper

It’s subtle, but seeing my business logo and name every time I open my computer makes me feel like a professional. It also reminds me that I’m “at work” and I should treat my time accordingly!

What productivity tricks and tools do you use?


Mac Productivity Hacks

Thanks for sharing these, Regina!

1. If you use Gmail, you can use the BETA version of Auto Text Expander. It’ll start tracking your writing style, see what you write often, and start suggesting them to you. You hit the “tab” button to expand to the full sentence…or you keep writing, if it’s not correct.

2. Command + Space Bar – launch/search for an application or file name. Also compatible if you click on the magnifying glass icon at the top right of the taskbar, next to Username on Mac.
Command + Tab – cycle between applications that are open.
F3 + Click Anywhere Blank – Quickly change windows from one browser/application to the other without maximizing/minimizing everything
Command + F3 – Instantly show desktop.
3. Split-Screen on Mac is really cool. Have both screens you want loaded, and click + HOLD the maximize button (the one that expands the window.) It’ll let you drag it either on the left side or right side, and automatically clears the blank side for you to add another window. Swaggy!
4. Virtual desktops are accessible by pressing the F3 button. You can add or close as many virtual desktops just like Windows, and easily navigate between them by swiping four fingers left and right on your trackpad. Voila!
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