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Get a personal trainer at your computer

A trainer helping a woman lift weights

People get a trainer to help them at the gym – it’s hard to stick with new and/or uncomfortable actions. A trainer gives you the critical steps to learning how to do it right, and sticking with you until you build up good habits. And that’s just for a few hours a week. And yet you sit at your desk for dozens of hours every week without any guidance?

You’re likely not as good as a power user is at completing routine processes on your computer. You know there’s an easier or more automated way to do it, but you perceive you just are either “too busy” or “too used to this way” to learn another method. This isn’t specifically about learning how to use macros in Microsoft Word or other specialized tools. This is about a holistic view of what you actually do on your computer, and the applications and steps that you take.

Serious productivity improvements? That concept usually scares people. Go ahead, click away for some empty calories. But if you REALLY want to improve your efficiency at your desk, read on.

Years ago, one of our clients (a graphic designer) would create all of her invoices using QuarkXPress. Quark was a page layout program very popular in the 90s. Normally you would expect someone to use Quickbooks, Word or Excel to prepare an invoice, but this was an application she knew, and therefore for her it worked. It certainly wasn’t a convenient tool, however. Her invoices were beautiful, but they took forever to create.

We have a different client that prints out each email. It helps them focus and process them in a way to which they are accustomed. Another one makes list of all the people they want to network with, and then updates the list by hand every time they get a email from that prospect.

What links all of these people together is that they are all taking much longer to do these tasks than is necessary. Here’s your rule of thumb: If it’s repetitive, INVEST in simplifying it. Don’t build for the exceptions. Build for the highly repetitious actions.

Are you game? What do you have to lose?

Step 1: pull your IT person over and say “I’d like you to just watch me work for around 15-20 minutes and give me pointers on what I can do better using some software tools or shortcuts. Would you mind?

Step 2. Wait as they pick up their jaw from the floor.

Step 3: have them watch and take notes. Two ground rules: 1) Don’t ask for ANY feedback for 15-20 minutes, just do your work, and 2) don’t LET them give you feedback for 15-20 minutes (some will be in such pain that they will want to blurt out tips right away).

Step 4: narrate as you do your work. Examples:

“Now I am checking my mail” “Now I am copying all of the requests that I got in email and putting them into my entry system” “Now I am responding to these three people who submitted their resume to me” “Now I am responding to two direct reports who requested meetings with me later in the week.”

Tip: Let the person observing ask you “why are you doing that” so it reveals the goal and process behind your actions.

Step 5. They’re likely to have a bunch of ideas and suggestions for you. Resist the urge to say “I tried that, it didn’t work” or “that’s way too fancy for me” or “this way already works fine” – remember, if it’s REPETITIVE, invest in improving the process.

The suggestions they have will not feel natural – if they were natural, you would likely have done them by now. Go in with an open mind – you may be shocked at how much time savings these investments produce.

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