2017 Update: I've created a "living document" version of these hacks so you can share your pro-tips, too. Head on over here to see the latest!
Three years ago, I wrote a blog post on being hyper-efficient on a computer -- or to put it another way, being so good on a computer that you play it like a virtuoso on a musical instrument. So much has changed in my daily workflow that I realized it was time for me to update that post.
The first order of business is that you can't improve what you can't measure. So if you're serious about being able to use a computer with the speed and zeal of Dash outrunning a flying saucer, first you need to find out how fast (or slow) you are today. Go over and take my GeekSpeed challenge. See if you can break the 1 minute mark.
If you can't, then here are some of the things to focus on to make the 8+ hours per day you spend in front of your computer much, much more productive:
- CloudApp: This is, by far, my #1 productivity & efficiency tool. I wrote a special blog about how massive the efficiency gains are that it provides. I use it literally 50x daily. It's also a bit hard to explain exactly what it does until you start using it. But suffice it to say that it only took me 2 seconds to take this screenshot, upload it to a cloud-based location, create a URL of it to share with you, and copy that URL into my clipboard for easy pasting: http://drod.io/image/1N0b1I1v2l0X. Imagine being able to share anything on your screen with anyone (over email, over chat, etc.) in a spit second. For example, here's the screenshot I took & uploaded so quickly:
2. TextExpander: I still use this multiple times daily. If you find yourself re-typing the same text multiple times per day, then you need this utility.
3. Alfred: Oh Alfred, how I love thee. Alfred has replaced Quicksilver. Zoom around on your computer, quickly opening applications, Finder windows, and much more with this utility just by pressing CTRL+spacebar. Here's the result of me pressing that key combo + typing "pho..." to open the Photoshop app:
4. iShowU HD: This HD update to iShowU lets me quickly take screencasts of my desktop screen and it compresses them to a very usable size for email.
5. SaneLater: I recently talked about how I use this to reduce my email clutter. While we're on the topic of email overload, I've recently become a huge convert of the Inbox Zero philosophy. You have to be good with Gmail shortcut keys to really take advantage of it (but then, you should be anyway if you want to be playing a computer like an instrument). I've also really been enjoying AwayFind, which was first suggested to me by @Percevalve and which texts me when emails come in from people I have on a watch list.
6. Rapportive: I've also written copiously about how much I love Rapportive, as well as Boomerang and other tools that make email much more efficient. I also recently discovered Gmail POP3 Checker by Daniel Slaughter (donate to him! I did) which lets me check other Gmail inboxes at intervals as short as 3 minutes -- great if you're having other Gmail inboxes flow into one master inbox (like I do).
7. HelloSign: I recently learned about this new service from the great guys over at HelloFax, which lets me sign documents right in Gmail. They've thought of lots of great little tweaks, like making your sig transparent (so you don't have to), and opening Word .doc documents as PDFs, then letting you sign the PDF right in the Gmail interface, and then re-attaching it with the original file name plus a "-signed" suffix. Here's a screenshot of it in action:
8. Dropbox: This one's become pretty mainstream. If you're not using it yet, check it out. And especially check out the ability to turn any document stored on dropbox into a public link.
10. iCopy: How many things can you copy & paste on your Mac at once? One. How many can I copy & paste? 600. That's right, I have a copy & paste history that's 600 items long. This is another tool I use 50x per day.
Honorable Mentions: Here are som other tools I love: PDF Pen, a way better pdf manipulation tool, Highrise and Basecamp by 37 Signals, Pivotal Tracker for life project management, 1Password for password management, WhatSize for freeing space up on a computer, JoinMe for screen sharing & support, and Carbon Copy Cloner to make exact clones of your hard drive, which are bootable. Even if you back up using TimeMachine or similar, I'd still highly recommend cloning your drive once a month as a failsafe (and then use something like CrashPlan for cloud-based backups).
Whew! Hope that helps. What do you use to enable you to play your computer like an instrument? I'd love to know in the comments below.