50 ways to work faster

With recruitment freezes and freelance budgets slashed, those of us fortunate enough to still be in jobs are working harder than ever. With downtime now a distant memory, it’s vital to ensure that your PC isn’t getting in the way of getting your job done.

Here we provide 50 tips to help keep your hardware, software and you running at full tilt. We’ll cover everything from managing the tidal wave of information flooding into Outlook, to shaving minutes off intensive tasks such as video editing, to simply picking up the telephone.


OneNote is one of the unsung heroes of Microsoft Office. This incredibly useful application lets you take notes (handwritten, if you’re a tablet PC user) and save them to your PC. One of its most useful features is the way it integrates with Outlook’s calendar: click on any diary appointment and you’ll find a button to link meeting notes in the top right-hand corner. This means you can take notes about your meeting – including annotations of PowerPoint slides, audio and video clips – and keep them permanently linked to the appointment. This means you’ll never again need to waste time trying to hunt down meeting notes – simply search for the relevant calendar entry in Outlook and open the meeting notes from there. Be aware that Outlook may be set to archive appointments after a set period; check in your calendar settings.


Any company that claims its software can beat email overload is a liar. However, there is software, such as Xobni, that organises that deluge of information more efficiently. Xobni’s forté is mining relevant data about your correspondents, using a combination of data trapped in your inbox and social-networking sites. Hover over someone’s message and Xobni will display that person’s phone numbers, company and job title, saving you from having to create contacts. It also lists your recent email conversations with that person – with previews of conversations and attachments available instantly. So if you know someone sent you a spreadsheet last week, all you need do is tap their name into the Xobni search box.


Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics cardWhen you’re installing new device drivers, particularly for graphics cards, pay attention to the options available from the manufacturer’s driver-download page. Device manufacturers love to foist pointless software on you, which will sit in your System Tray and slow boot times for no good reason. Go to ATI’s site, for instance, and the driver download at the top of the list for Radeon cards is the ATI Catalyst Suite, weighing in at around 50MB. But right below it is the stripped-down driver-only download, which is half the size and installs only the lean, bare essentials.


To save a huge amount of time, reset associations for common files such as JPEG photos and RTF documents to a lean, quick-loading app rather than a heavyweight that’s grabbed the association. To do it, right-click a file of a given type, select “Open with…” and change the default application. Then, when you next want to view a photo, you won’t sit around for half a minute while Photoshop loads. Remember, Windows 7 and Vista have the right-click Preview option for quickly viewing files such as PNGs and TIFs.


If your company email runs on Outlook and Exchange Server, and you’re not one of those obsessives who delete messages within seconds of them darkening your inbox, you’re almost certainly sick of those “Inbox almost full” messages.

To avoid wasting time deleting them or, worse still, chasing emails that are bounced when your inbox is finally stuffed to the gills, make judicious use of Outlook’s Mailbox Cleanup tool (click Tools | Mailbox cleanup… in Outlook 2007). Clearing out your deleted items and purging items larger than, say, 500KB are the most effective ways of sweeping away the space-hogging clutter. But if you can’t be without one of those enormous attachments, move right along to tip number six…


If you’re dicing with your inbox limit, but have several large emails that you don’t want to delete, send them to your Archive folder. The ARCHIVE.PST file is usually stored locally, rather than on the server, so it doesn’t count against your Exchange Server quota. Likewise, you can simply drag and drop the emails into a local folder stored on your PC, then delete the original email from your inbox. Remember to include these folders in your backup regime, since you’ll no longer have copies of them on the server.


With Windows 7, it isn’t only open applications that earn a parking spot on the Taskbar. It’s now possible to affix your favourite apps to the foot of the screen, so they can be launched with a mere click of the mouse. Drag a program from the Start menu to the Taskbar to pin it there.


For long operations such as 3D rendering, you can speed up an app by changing its Windows task priority. This gives it more processor time, so it will complete a given operation faster. To do this, right-click on the taskbar (or hit Ctrl-Alt-Del) and select Start Task Manager. In the Applications tab, click the app, then right-click and select Go To Process. Right-click the process and select Set Priority | Above Normal. A warning about causing system instability will appear – for user apps, you can ignore it. This trick also works well if video or DVD playback is jerky.


There are dozens of different apps that will create PDFs from Word documents, but there’s no need to install and run dedicated software for the job: you can create PDFs direct from Word. Download the free PDF plug-in from Microsoft,
open the relevant document and choose Save as PDF or XPS (Microsoft’s own web publishing format) from the Save As menu. There are options to publish the PDF for print or web, the latter being a good choice if you wish to email the document without melting your mail server.


Quick Access ToolbarOffice 2007 may have eschewed menu customisation in favour of the Ribbon interface, but it’s still possible to create shortcuts for regularly used commands. In the top left of any Office app with the Ribbon interface, you’ll find the Quick Access Toolbar (which contains the Save, Undo and Redo icons by default). Click on the down arrow to the right of the toolbar and there’s an option to customise the buttons that appear here. So, for example, you can create a shortcut to insert a table, without first having to navigate to the Insert tab in Word or Excel.

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