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Saving Time on Routine Tasks: Optimized Writing

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Saving Time on Routine Tasks: Optimized Writing

    Last time we looked at saving time on routine tasks, we found a few ways to optimize our reading process. Today, we’re covering the opposite side of the same coin with optimized writing. Technically, we’ll spend more time on optimizing your typing than writing, but in this day and age there’s really not much of a difference.

    Using your computer, by nature, involves writing. You no doubt write something at some point during every work day. You also no doubt write something for some purpose each day outside of work. Since so much of what we write each day is repetitive or has some kind of standard format, why don’t we optimize the process?

    Automatically Replace Short Snippets of Text with Longer Snippets of Text

    TextExpander on Mac OS X is one of the best pieces of software I’ve ever used. It’s a small and unobtrusive application that largely runs in the background, but TextExpander does more for my productivity than any massive suite of office applications. TextExpander simply replaces a short snippet of text with a bigger block of text.

    For instance, I could load it up with different email signatures and tell it that when I type sig1 or sig2 it needs to drop one of those signatures in. Or, if you’re a web developer who repeatedly uses pretty similar blocks of code in various projects, you can have it in your text editor within a few keystrokes – no hunting for it in that last project you did, or looking for the template folder you swore you had placed somewhere sensible.

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    There are endless possibilities when it comes to text substitution software, all of which are certain to save you anywhere from a few minutes a day to hours each week.

    Here is an alternative program for Windows users.

    For regular writers: idea files

    If you have ever written as a freelancer or staffer you know how hard it can be to come up with new ideas. You probably won’t be able to come up with a good one two hours before your article’s deadline.

    Writers waste more time by leaving idea generation until the last minute than any other cause, except for procrastination.

    You are much more likely to brainstorm enough ideas to keep you going for a while when your schedule is more relaxed. Also, even if you’re not specifically brainstorming ideas for articles, you may be struck with inspiration on the spot while reading or having an interesting discussion.

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    So that you can capture that spur-of-the-moment idea, or just so that you’re reminded to brainstorm a list when you’re running low, keep a document on your desktop or somewhere readily accessible and frequently seen. This is your idea file. You should never let it get any less than one or two full pages long. Extra points for smaller fonts and fewer line breaks.

    A text file is perfect for this job – bloatware Word documents take too long to load when dealing with something so elusive as a good idea!

    Since many ideas will come in the form of a draft title, remember to make some notes. A paragraph or two will do the trick.

    If you don’t have a paragraph or two of notes, you won’t be able to pick up on that train of thought again when you’ve got an article deadline approaching and the time spent maintaining a list of ideas will all be for nothing.

    Never, ever trust that your brain will remember anything about your ideas!

    Email templates

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    Regardless of whether you realize it (or believe it), 90% of your email that needs a response from you can be dealt with using a template.

    Sometimes the most customization that you’ll need to do will be dropping in a name; sometimes, you’ll need to do more extensive editing, but keeping a collection of email templates for the kinds of messages you receive most often is a smart productivity move.

    Many email clients provide easy ways to reply to messages with templates ready to go, but if your client doesn’t provide this kind of feature, it’s still faster to keep a folder of text documents containing templates than to type each message individually over and over and over again.

    Better yet, fire up TextExpander or the alternative of your choice and have complete templates dropped into your message by punching a few keys in the body text field. You can really use this software everywhere.

    Remember that less than 10% of email truly requires a reply; 90% of that 10% can be dealt with using templates. If you pull this off, you’ll only need to type original replies to 1% of your incoming email, saving you hours that were once wasted on back-and-forth, counter-intuitive and non-productive “communication.”

    For the record, you can extend your use of templates into instant messengers and text messages, especially if your use of those technologies is more professional than it is social. A good rule of thumb for instant messenger productivity is to never mix those worlds at the same time. You’ll spend the work day chatting.

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    Subversion for Writers

    Using Subversion as a writing tool is what some would call a geek chic thing to do, but more so, it’s a practical thing to do. How often have you needed to go back to an earlier revision of a document when you realized you deleted a huge chunk of important text? Or that you need to rewrite an entire section that was correct in its original form?

    Subversion is a piece of software that was intended for developers to manage revisions of code, but Strange Noises has a guide on using it to control revisions of your human language documents, too. Imagine how many hours of your time this system could have saved you, had you implemented this a year (or decade) ago!

    There you have it – four simple, but insanely useful and effective, methods that I use to save time when it comes to writing; all the way from memos to longer articles like this one.

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2021

    10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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    10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

    We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

    A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

    So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

    • honest
    • reliable
    • competent
    • kind and compassionate
    • capable of taking the blame
    • able to persevere
    • modest and humble
    • pacific and can control anger.

    The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

    1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

    All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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    But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

    2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

    How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

    I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

    “The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

    Abigail Van Buren

    3. How does this person take the blame?

    Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

    4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

    You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

    5. Read their emails.

    Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

    • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
    • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
    • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
    • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
    • Too many question marks can show anger
    • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

    6. Watch out for the show offs.

    Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

    7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

    A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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    Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

    8. Their empathy score is high.

    Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

    People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

    9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

    We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

    “One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

    Stendhal

     10. Avoid toxic people.

    These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

    • Envy or jealousy
    • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
    • Complaining about their own lack of success
    • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
    • Obsession with themselves and their problems

    Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

    Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

    Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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