Author Archives: emilerennily

Productivity Tips For Windows Users

We live in a world where “optimization” is constantly at the top of our consciousness.  There are all kinds of devices and programs that are designed specifically to help you be more productive and more efficient.  Ideally the systems we use operate with this in mind, but there are always a few things you can do to tweak them so that they work better for you.  Here are some great things you can do to increase your productivity within your Windows operating system.

1.        Configure Your Windows Updates Settings

You know how Windows updates your computer, then you get those horribly annoying pop-ups asking you to restart your computer?  Let’s face it– you probably waste more time clicking the “restart later” button than it would take to just restart your computer.   However, restarting when prompted could cause you to lose unsaved data.  To disable the pop-up, right click on “My Computer,” go to the “Automatic Updates” tab, and select the “Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them” option, and click okay when you’re done.

2.        Consolidate Your IM Services

How many instant messaging services do you have running on your computer right now?  Most likely, you’ve got a few.  Facebook chat, MSN, AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, Lync…. And on and on and on.  You can waste a lot of time simply finding the right service to you to chat with whomever you’re trying to connect with.  Luckily there is a service called Digsby, which you can download onto your computer.  It most likely supports all the IM clients you use, and allows you to manage all your email and social networking accounts right from the window.  It even has tabbed conversations, how cool is that!

3.        Learn Your Keyboard Shortcuts

It is amazing how much time keyboard shortcuts can save you.  You might think it’s not that big of a deal, and that you can use that brain space for something else, but just try it out.  You’ll be glad you did.  You can get a jumpstart on shortcuts by clicking here.

 4.        Reduce Your Auto-Starting Programs

As time goes on, your PC tends to get bogged down with auto-starting programs.  Even if you use these programs a lot, you probably don’t need them to be started every time you boot up your PC.  You can remove unnecessary programs from starting up automatically with an app like RevoUninstaller.  Such a program is great because not only does it help you uninstall, it will tell you whether or not the application is critical to the system, and make sure that it is safe to disable.

5.        Organize Your Programs and Folders in the Start Menu

Put you most visited programs in the Start Menu.  You can also change the number of frequently visited programs Windows automatically displays in the Start Menu to zero.  Do this by right clicking the Start button, making sure the radio box beside ‘Start Menu’ is selected, and click ‘customize.’  The setting will be under ‘programs.’  This will de-clutter your start menu and give you faster access to the programs you want and need to use most.  Happy computing!!!

Five Great Phone Apps To Boost Productivity

One of the best things about having a smart phone is that you can find an app for just about anything.  One of the worst things is that the world of applications is so large it can be overwhelming.  If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can waste a lot of time browsing for apps to do what you need to get done.  To avoid conterproductivity, here are five applications available  for Android and iPhone that will help boost your productivity and ability to organize your life!

1.       Dropbox

Dropbox is an online backup service that lets you access important files on your phone, on top of other things.  It’s one of the leading services in cloud computing and file sharing, and is incredibly versatile and compatible across devices.

2.        Evernote

Evernote is an organizational and note-taking solution.  It is free, it integrates perfectly with your online Evernote account, and is virtually hassle-free to operate. It allows you to take notes, save ideas, bookmark things you like, and search quickly through your account to find what you need.

3.        Bump

Bump is available for iPhone and Android and works across the two platforms.  It is an app that allows you to share information by literally bumping your phone against someone elses.  It can be used to transfer contacts, photos, and videos.  Very convenient for updating your phone lists.

4.        Google Latitude

This app, while not necessarily an organizational service, has great value for helping you keep “track” of your people.  It allows you to find your friends and family on a map, as well as share where you are with the people you choose.  You can check in to places to let your friends and family know you have arrived safely, and find friends who are near you.  An excellent app for families.

5.        Gcal

Google Calendar is a great app for your phone because of its versatility.  No matter what calendar you’re using on your desktop, Google allows you to sync and share that calendar on your phone, as well as sync up calendars that you need to share with others.  If you already use Google Calendar, you can import a shared calendar with someone who is using Outlook, Thunderbird, or iCal, making calendar sharing relatively easy, regardless of the platform.

Taking A Break From The Digital World

The world we live in is highly digitized.  More than likely, your work involves some level of emailing, reading, documenting, or something else that requires you to use a computer.  Computers drive our free time as well… from reading online news articles, to using social media, to watching videos.  We are plugged in, whether we like it or not.  This constant access to information, via the web, email, etc. can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be overwhelming, overpowering… and cause us to waste a lot of time.  Here are some tips for giving yourself a break from the web.

  • Disconnect when you are done with your work.  That’s right—go offline.  This will force you to focus on work that needs to be done, and it will keep you from checking your email, Twitter account, Facebook profile, and other websites every five minutes.  Don’t worry, you can always reconnect, and the internet will still be there, waiting for you!  If you have it really bad, there are even applications that will allow you to “turn off” sites such as facebook for a certain amount of time.
  • Get away from your desk if you can.  This may give you the opportunity to refresh your brain. The change in environment can do wonders for you.  Is there a park near your office?  A coffee shop by where you work?  Sometimes even slipping away to a conference room for a while will help rejuvenate your interest and investment in the work at hand.
  • Make an Action Plan for Going Online.  If you’re working on a presentation, know what kind of research you’ll need to do.  Set aside a specific amount of time for reading and responding to emails.  Create a task list and stick to it.  The list can be very helpful in realizing how much you have accomplished and when you are getting off task.
  • Work On Your Priorities Offline.    Have an action plan for your offline work as well.  Maybe there is a report you have put off reading.  Set aside time for that.  Create a task list of things you might not normally get to because you’re online.  Your offline time is a great opportunity to knock them out.  Maybe you need to request off for vacation or schedule a doctor’s appointment, or have a conference with your coworkers for brainstorming.  There are tons of things you can get done without being on a computer!
  • Enjoy Your Time Offline!  Some of your best brainstorming ideas may come while you are offline.  Don’t be surprised—you’re giving your brain a chance to concentrate without distraction!  Use your break to do some creative problem solving, finish up writing, and lay out plans for your next projects.  You’ll be surprised what you can come up with and how quickly you can tackle it when you allow yourself a small break from the digital world!

A Basic Intro to Excel Formulas

Excel offers a slew of basic formulas you can use to make compiling data easier.  These formulas can be easily accessed in the “Formulas” tab and are a simple way to do everything from adding totals to formatting dates.  If you are new to Excel and just learning, or need a refresher on what to do, here are some common formulas you can use to create effective spreadsheets.

An Example: Adding Numbers In Different Cells

To add two cells together so the answer appears in a third cell:

  • Type an equal sign in the third cell (let’s call this cell C1).
  • Click on the first cell (let’s say A1) with the mouse pointer.
  • Type the plus sign (+) in the third cell.
  • Click on the second cell (let’s call this B1) with the mouse pointer.
  • Press the ENTER key on the keyboard.
  • The sum should be present in C1.
  • Even though you see the answer in C1, if you click on that cell you will see our formula in the formula bar above the work area.

You can also do this manually.  Either way, the formula should look like this =(A1+B1)

You can do this for any number of cells.  If you are working with more than two cells in a column or row, you can accomplish the same task by typing in a formula using a colon.  That formula looks like this =SUM(A1:A9) or =SUM(A1:D1)

There are several other formulas that operate the same way, and you can create them by substituting the following characters for the addition (+) sign.

  • – (minus sign)
Subtraction
Negation
3–1
–1
  • * (asterisk)
Multiplication 3*3
  • / (forward slash)
Division 3/3
  • % (percent sign)
Percent 20%
  • ^ (caret)
Exponentiation) 3^2

These are the most basic variants on common excel formulas.  As time goes on and you become more familiar with Excel, you will be able to manipulate data in several different and exciting ways.  Once you become accustomed to working with formulas, you’ll find out how much easier they make your work!

Still Using Windows XP?

You’re probably very comfortable with whatever version of Windows you’re using.  Once you’ve come to know and love your operating system, you might fear upgrading to a different version.   If you’re using Windows XP, you’ve probably become comfortable with it and are hesitant to change.  Here are a few good reasons to upgrade from Windows XP.

1. Better Applications!

This is a huge one.  Most of the programs that are being written by Microsoft, from games to utilities, are being written for the Vista/Windows 7 platform.   Upgrading your computer system will give you access to all the cool stuff you wish you had on your computer.

2.   Microsoft Support

You can no longer get free support from Microsoft for Windows XP.  If you need help, you’ll be shelling out some cash.  The only fixes you can get for free are security patches, and in a couple of years those will no longer be available.  All support for Windows XP is scheduled to end in 2014. 

3.  Security

Viruses are a big issues on Windows XP, though it is far more secure than it was. However, it’s still not as secure as Windows 7 or even Mac OS X Lion. If security is one of your top priorities — and it should be — think seriously about ditching XP for something new.

4. Upgrading is Not That Hard

The biggest hurdle that many people face when changing their Operating system would have to be their files. If you have a wealth of information on the computer it is highly advised that you backup all of your personal information on an external hard drive. Windows 7 does make a portion of this easy by allowing direct installation on top of the previous Windows installation, however programs like Microsoft Outlook or QuickBooks would need to have had been backed up manually. If you have taken all the appropriate measures, then you should be comfortable knowing that transitioning to Windows shall be a relatively harmless one.

5.  YOU CAN STILL USE WINDOWS XP MODE!!

Through Windows XP Mode, you can use XP and still get the benefits of Windows 7.   Windows XP Mode is one of the neatest things about Windows 7.   It allows you to run Windows XP in a virtual environment; the old XP programs think they’re on an XP computer, and work as normal. You don’t have to give up the things you love about Windows XP to get the many benefits of Windows 7, so don’t be afraid, and upgrade to a better OS!

Exploring Excel

Excel is one of the most useful programs you have in Windows, but for many, it is also the most intimidating.  It is a great resource for compiling and organizing data quickly and efficiently.  Our next few blogs are intended to help you explore the world of Microsoft Excel, from the basics and advancing to some pretty cool stuff.  To start off, let’s go over some basic cell formatting information.

Cells are the rectangular boxes that appear when you open an Excel worksheet.  They have reference numbers and letters based on what column and row they are in, which gives you an easy point of reference.  Columns run vertically and are listed by letter at the top of the screen, while rows run horizontally and are listed on the left-hand side of your screen.

Each cell in a worksheet can be formatted with many properties. The six tabs of the “Format Cells” window contain all of the formatting options. Multiple cells can be formatted in one step by first selecting the cells by highlighting the ones you wish to format.

To move cell contents, right-click in the selected cell and click Cut. To copy cell contents, click Copy. Then right-click in the new location and click Paste. To paste a group of cells, right-click in the cell where the top left cell of the group should be located, and click Paste. Remove the animated border around the original cell by pressing the ESC key, or start typing in a new cell.

To insert a new row in a spreadsheet, right-click on a row number, and click Insert. Excel always inserts the row ABOVE the row that was clicked on. To delete a row, right-click on the row number, and click Delete.  To insert a new column, right-click on a column letter and click Insert. Excel always inserts the column to the LEFT of the column that was clicked on. To delete a column, right-click on the column letter, and click Delete.

Each cell in a worksheet can be formatted with many properties. The six tabs of the “Format Cells” window contain all of the formatting options. Multiple cells can be formatted in one step by first selecting the cells.  The “Format Cells” window can be accessed in all versions of Excel from the right-click menu. In Excel 2007 and 2010, some formatting options are available on the Home Tab on the Font, Alignment, and Number groups. To see formatting options not displayed, click the little arrow in the lower right corner of the group and the “Format Cells” window displays.

From there, you can format the alignment, font, borders, and data from several different tabs.  You can determine many of the formatting styles for appearance in Excel the same way you would in Word or Powerpoint.  However, as Excel is built to work with numerical data, much of the formatting will deal with formulas you use to populate data in the cells.  We will be exploring data formatting—the most exciting part of Excel—in further posts.  Hopefully this basic introduction helps get you comfortable with Excel.  It’s not too different from other Microsoft applications and can do some very cool things!

Five Quick Internet Tips

We are all quite familiar with the internet by now.  However, there are always things to be aware of when surfing the web.  By knowing a few simple things, you can vastly improve your web-browsing experience.  From being aware of safety issues, to refining your search results, to using a few simple shortcuts, here are five things you can do to enhance your internet experience.

1.  Use Different Search Engines

Google is by far the most popular search engine.  However, the algorithms Google uses to predict what you want may actually prevent you from finding what you need.  Diversify your search by using different sites, such as Yahoo, Ask, and Bing.  Each search engine comes with its own benefits, and you may get better results just by trying your query on a different website.

2.  Be Aware of Your Browser

Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox are four examples of popular web browsers.  Just like search engines, each browser has its advantages.  If you use Microsoft Office to manage your email and calendar, there are definite advantages to using Internet Explorer.  Same goes with Google Chrome, if you use Gmail and Google calendar.  Each browser can offer you different things as far as add-ons, speed, and privacy.

3.  Know Your Shortcuts

Here is a quick breakdown of different keyboard shortcuts that will make your browsing go more smoothly:

  • Ctrl-T: Open a new tab in your browser
  • Ctrl-N: Open a new window
  • Ctrl-W: Close the current tab
  • F5: Refresh the current page
  • Ctrl-L: Highlight the URL bar
  • Ctrl and +: Zoom in
  • Ctrl and -: Zoom out
  • Ctrl-0: Return to the default zoom level

4.   Know How To Clear Your Browser History

Clearing your web browser’s cache will save space and time in the long run, and help prevent against viruses and other nasty things nesting in your computer.  How to do this differs for each browser, but typically you can go to the “Tools” menu and click “internet options,” “delete browser history,” “delete cookies,” or “clear cache.”  If you see any of these, you are on the right track.  Automatic settings will usually prevent you from deleting anything you might need, such as downloads, settings, and bookmarks.

5.  Be Aware of Safety Issues

This is really a whole topic in and of itself.    You can protect your personal information by installing anti-virus software, anti-spyware, having a personal firewall,  updating your operating system regularly, and by securing your WiFi.  When it comes to internet browsing, don’t click on pop-ups, never send personal information to a website you don’t fully trust or that doesn’t have authentication, and don’t open any questionable emails.  Use strong passwords with eight to ten characters consisting of numbers and letters, and do not keep those passwords stored on your computer.  If in doubt, don’t check it out!!! Leave any links, pop-ups, or websites alone if they seem fishy.

Ten Tips For Writing an Effective Email

We’re all busy, and we’ve all received long, ambiguous and rambling emails. Most of us have also been guilty of writing such emails while requesting someone else’s time.  Whether personal or business, the ability to compose efficient and effective email is very useful – both in terms of productivity and responsiveness.  Here are some tips for writing more effective emails.

1. Keep It Short

This benefits you and the person on the receiving end of your email, particularly if that person is busy like you.  Cut out any unnecessary words, address the most essential parts of your inquiry, and use paragraphing liberally to break the email up into short, sweet, easily read parts.

2. Keep It Sweet

Greet your recipient by name, and sign off with your name.  Always use greetings, introductions, and sign-offs.  Opening and closing your correspondence appropriately reflects respect and consideration for the recipient of your email.

3. Re-read Once

You can go back and edit typos in a blog post or article, but you only get one chance with emails. It’s important that your meaning and expression is clear, especially when making pitches or networking with other people.  Also, remember that spell checking is not enough. Typos and mistakes that form other valid words (e.g., lose and loose) will not be corrected by the spell checker. Proofreading is key.

4. Use The Subject Line To Your Advantage

The subject line is the advertisement for your email.  It often determines whether we even open a message or not.  Make your subject succinct and to the point without being vague.  Be short, sweet, and specific.  For example, a subject line that says “Meeting” may not clearly outline what your email is about.  Try something slightly more to the point, such as “Follow Up to Friday’s Meeting,” or “Agenda For This Friday’s Meeting.”  The recipient will know what to expect when they open your message.

5.  Avoid attachments

Unless you are sending a document that the recipient has requested or needs, don’t attach too many things to your email.  Almost all images and documents can be copied and pasted directly into the email itself, saving the time of downloading, saving, and opening an attachment.

6. Identify Yourself Clearly

Don’t assume the recipient knows who you are.  When contacting someone new or unfamiliar, always include your name, occupation, and any other important identification information in the first few sentences.  Usually a work email address will include your name, but if not, make sure you sign your email.  If you are sending an email to a new or casual acquaintance, it always helps to jog the memory with something like “it was nice meeting you in the elevator yesterday,” so that they have an idea of who you are.

7.  Make It Easy To Be Found

In your signature, include appropriate URLs for your website, blog, portfolio or product. Make sure the links are functional so they can read more about you in one-click.

8.  Use Simple English

When the writing is too formal or uses irrelevant technical lingo, it is difficult for laymen to understand. Plus, you come off sounding like a legal document or spammer. Neither is good.  Write like you talk, using conversational English.  Be authentic and realistic.  Trying to sound too professional will come across as just that—too professional. Use your real voice – it’s more endearing and approachable.

9. Respond Promptly

If you want to appear professional and courteous, make yourself available to your online correspondents. Even if your reply is, “Sorry, I’m too busy to help you now,” at least your correspondent won’t be waiting in vain for your reply.

10. Minimize Questions

Ask questions that matter, and limit the number of questions and favors you ask in an email (one or two max). The more questions you ask, the less likely you are to get a response, and the less likely all your questions will be answered. Also, ask specific questions instead of open-ended ones.  You can send additional questions in separate emails; the key is to keep your message from overwhelming the recipient so you get the response you need.

Ten Tips for Managing your Email Inbox

It is amazing how quickly your inbox can become glutted with emails.  Staying on top of your inbox can be a very daunting task, but with a few tools and an effective system, you can stay organized and in charge of your inbox.  Here are a few things you can do to keep your emails under control.

1.       Save Attachments to Your Emails

To save space in your inbox, you can save email attachments to a folder or to your desktop.  This will help clear out space in your inbox, and help you organize and store the documents you need.

2.        Regularly Empty Your Sent Items and Deleted Items Folders

This will also help you in saving storage space if you only have a limited amount of room in your mail server.

3.        Unsubscribe from Newsletters and Notifications

If you do not read the newsletter or notifications that you are subscribed to, there is usually an unsubscribe button in the email that you can click on to discontinue the service.   If it is not useful to you, remove yourself from the mailing list.  It will save you having to sort through your inbox for the messages you really want to read.

4.        Do Not Reply to Spam

Most email servers have automatic Spam filters in place already.  If spam makes it to your inbox, delete it right away.  Most of the time, there will even be an option to “mark this message as spam.”  By doing so, you can prevent your inbox from being glutted with unwanted messages.  If you opened spam without realizing what it would be, do not respond to it.  Simply delete it or mark it as such.

5.        Save Old Emails to a CD or Thumb Drive

Hesistant to delete old emails in case you need them again?  Move them to a folder and save it on an external device, or simply to your desktop or hard drive.  This will allow you to keep what you need without having to visually sort through them while checking for new email.

6.        Set Priorities

Want to make sure you don’t miss an email from your boss or your best friend?  You can create rules to set certain email addresses as high priority, so that they are highlighted in your inbox as they come in.

7.        Keep it Simple

Many times people over complicate their e-mail by creating dozens of different folders to help organize their e-mails. Find a simple folder system that works for you deepending on your needs.  If there is no way of getting around your need for folders in e-mail, use the rules to automatically filter your messages into the folders. This saves hundreds of hours you may be spending thinking about and organizing each of the e-mails you receive.

8.       Answer Emails As You Read Them

Many people make the mistake of reading all of their emails at once, and then going back and replying to them, or flagging them to be replied to later.  By addressing each email as you read it, you can prevent yourself from forgetting to reply to important messages.  If you do not have time to respond, flag or star the email so that it stands out from the rest.   Once you’ve responded, you can delete or archive the message as appropriate.

9.      Don’t Use Your Email As a To-Do List

Often times, a person’s inbox is full because they are using it as a calendar or to-do list. Do not use your e-mail for this as it will needlessly cause things to pile up. Have a separate program or text document that keeps a list of things you need to do or that keep track of your calendar of events.

10.   Set a Schedule for Managing Your Inbox, and Delete Away

Depending on your workload and what your inbox looks like, decide how often you should prune your email.  This might be once a week or once a day, but staying on top of your email will prevent you from getting bogged down.  Once you have a system of folders and filters in place, email maintenance should only take a matter of minutes.

Ten Things To Know About Your Mouse

Your computer mouse is pretty much standard equipment.  We often overlook it, and don’t realize there are many things we can do to optimize our computer experience by giving it a little attention.  Here are a few tips to utilize and care for your mouse.

1.  Understand Right Click vs. Left Click

  • Left clicking allows you to select an item, double-clicking will allow you to open files and folders.
  • Right clicking usually causes a menu of options related to the selection to pop up.  If you right click an image,  a web page, a document, or your desktop, you can epect to find a quick menu of actions for what you are working with.

2.  Take Advantage of Your Scroll Wheel

  • The scroll wheel allows you to move up and down your computer screen without having to constantly click the down arrow button.
  • The mouse wheel can also be used as a button. Pressing down on the wheel will act like a third mouse button. This can be used to open a web page in a tab by clicking the wheel on any link and can also be used to close a tab by clicking the wheel on any open tab.
  • Quickly Zoom in and Out on a web page, word document, excel spreadsheet, etc. by holding down the Ctrl key and scrolling up to zoom in and down to zoom out.
  • Move forward and backwards while browsing the Internet by holding down the Shift key and scrolling up and down. Scrolling down goes back and scrolling up goes forward.

3.  The Click-And-Drag is your Friend!

  • Often times, if you are trying to move a file, or several files from one folder to another, a menu window will pop up, and you will be prompted to go to a file folder and select the documents or images you wish to move.  It can take a long time to navigate the folder system this way.  Luckily, you can also move files by clicking them, holding down the button, and simply dragging them into the folder of your choice.  It’s a huge time saver for moving documents, as well as downloading images to the web, if you are a blogger or if you share things via social media.

4.  Remember Ctrl+Click

  • Holding the Ctrl key down when you are clicking allows you to choose several files at once.  If you are trying to move multiple files, this allows you to do a bulk move instead of moving each file individually.  You can also click and drag to highlight many files at once to move them from one folder to the next.

5.  Are you a Lefty?

  • If you are left handed and want to change your mouse settings, you can switch the left click button to right click, and so on… To change what your mouse buttons do go to the control panel, open the mouse icon, and here you can change all the settings for the mouse.

6.  Use the Snap To Feature in Windows

  • Take full advantage of the Windows mouse Snap To feature, which will automatically move your mouse to buttons that appear in a dialog box. For example, if you delete a file or close a window you may get a prompt asking you if you are sure you want to perform the task. With the Snap To feature enabled, the mouse cursor automatically moves to the Ok button, so all you will have to do is click the mouse button if you agree. This saves you the time of having to move the mouse cursor over to the Ok button and then click Ok. To enable this feature open the Mouse properties under the Windows Control Panel and check the Snap To check box under the Pointer Options tab.

7.  Customize your Mouse

  • If you have a mouse with more than two buttons, installing the included mouse software will allow you to customize the mouse even more. For example, if you don’t use the side buttons to move back and forth in a web page change it to something you do more often, such as switching between open windows or opening the calculator.

8.  Move your Mouse with your Keyboard

  • If for some reason you find yourself without a mouse, you can enable Windows to use  the arrows on the number pad as a mouse.  Go to the Control Panel and open up Accessibiity Options, then click the Mouse tab. Check the Use MouseKeys box, then click Settings to edit the speed of the cursor, etc.

9. Select With Double and Triple Click

  • Any word can be easily selected by double-clicking the word. If you want to highlight the whole paragraph, click the mouse button three times on any text in the paragraph.

10.  Know How to Care for Your Mouse

  • Older mechanical mouses (the kind with the rollerballs) need to be disassembles and cleaned regularly, as the trackball can pick up quite a bit of dirt.  A dirty trackball leads to jumpy, frustrating navigation.  You can clean lint, dirt, etc from the inside of the mouse and the trackball using a piece of scotch tape or tweezers.  Refrain from using alcohol.  If you have an optical mouse, gently rub it with a lint-free cloth, and use a cotton swab to clean the optical lens.