Incredibly obvious tips to save you time

I don’t watch the television show Celebrity Apprentice, but I recently saw an advertisement for it that stunned me. In the commercial, show contestant and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is sitting at a computer attempting to type. I use the word “attempting” because it is obvious in the clip that Blagojevich has no idea where the keys are on the computer’s keyboard. A man who has held the highest elected office in his state cannot type (or at least couldn’t type at the time the video crews captured the scene). Forget his scandal, I cannot fathom how inefficient this one man made his state’s government simply because he can’t type. The hours he must have wasted just responding to e-mail!

After watching this advertisement, and then again after reading the article “80 Ways to Steal Valuable Minutes for Your Work Day,” I have been thinking about basic skills that increase productivity — skills that are so obvious and fundamental to my behavior that I don’t typically think about doing them. In fact, they’re so obvious that I really had a difficult time composing a list.

Eleven extremely obvious skills to save you time:

  1. Improve your typing speed.
  2. Improve the legibility of your handwriting.
  3. Write stuff down.
  4. Read the manuals on the software programs you use regularly.
  5. Read the instructions.
  6. Work while at work.
  7. Group like tasks together.
  8. Store items that are used most often in the most convenient places.
  9. When you’re finished using something, put it away.
  10. Learn and use people’s names.
  11. Use a shopping list.

I know that I’m missing even more obvious productivity skills, so please add to this list in the comments. What are the most basic of basic things each of us can do to save time?

86 Comments for “Incredibly obvious tips to save you time”

  1. posted by Sharon on

    @Sky – excellent tip to keep a list of important numbers in your wallet! When my baby was 3 months old we went to the grocery store and I accidentally locked my keys in the trunk after loading the groceries. Thankfully, I had not put the baby in the car yet, but in my sleep-deprived state had left my cell phone at home. My list of phone numbers in my wallet was a life saver as I had to call my husband at work for help.

  2. posted by Juliska on

    I, too, was told by my high school guidance counselor (30 years ago) not to take typing. When I protested that I would need to type papers in college, she said, “You can pay someone else to type them. Typing classes are vocational; the colleges don’t like to see them on your transcript.” I did not take a typing class until the last semester of my senior year, when the transcripts no longer mattered. I got to college with a basic knowledge of typing, but wasn’t fast enough to qualify for the “good” campus jobs in the college offices. Also, if I had been “someone else to type it for you,” I could have made a small fortune.

    Every job I’ve had since college required typing; I can touch-type now, but that skill came only after several years as a legal secretary, transcribing dication. Man, I wish I’d had the guts and brains to ignore that counselor!

    One of my best friends went to a private high school that required every student, male or female, to take typing, because–drumroll, please–they would need it in college! She graduated with a typing speed of 90 wpm, and never, ever, had trouble finding a good job.

    Oh, there was one, single male student in my high school typing class: He never lost an opportunity to remind us that he was only there because he was going to be a journalist.

  3. posted by Sooz on

    @April, it is both sexist and funny! And I’m in a position to point it out, because I learned to type on a manual typewriter, and then was one of the first to use the earliest word-processing equipment that was ever widely installed by large corporations. That was in the early 1970’s — and we called it typing, even though it was done on a computer keyboard. But again, only women did that task back then. I still remember the male executives standing in the doorway, piles of disordered paper in hand, hoping the “girls” in the word-processing dept. could “type” their document before deadline. (If you don’t think “girls” is sexist, you weren’t working in an office in the 1970’s.)

    I toiled for many years in the word-processing departments of law firms and such, and the men never touched a keyboard and everyone called it “typing”. Only when men began having to do their own typing (on a cool desktop computer!) did the term “keyboarding” arise, which I think is funny & very telling.

  4. Avatar of

    posted by georgetownsandi on

    I do the hardest thing on my ‘to do’ list (ok, that’s another simple thing – have a simple to do list) first thing in the morning before I let myself touch my computer and then reward myself with whatever I want (which usually does involve touching my computer and reading unclutterer, lol) I do get much more done this way.

  5. posted by Suzyn on

    @Sooz – I have found an interesting parallel in the corporate world of the 90s and 00s – it’s the “word processors” that learn things like keyboard shortcuts, whereas the “tech support” folks use the mouse for everything (with a whole lot of unnecessary clicking on random things, too – like they think they look busy and fast when I know they’re just clicking away…). I did my share of temp work both in secretarial and word processing depts, and the skills I learned – not just typing and keyboard shortcuts, but how to make Word act like a desktop publishing tool and make fancy Excel charts – have served me VERY well in my technical writing career.

  6. posted by Will on

    Learn the shortcut keys for the applications you use most. The mouse slows you down so much.

    Learn the basics of a scripting language like AutoHotKey. I write SQL code all day and the time I spent learning AutoHotKey has been dwarfed by the time I save every day by not having to type ad hoc queries in full every time.

    Learn to automate your work. The time you save allows you to focus on other problems.

    Don’t wait until something is perfect, work toward incremental improvement.

    Always improve process.

  7. posted by FutureCat on

    Not typing is a status thing for some managers. They’re *much* too important (in their own minds, anyway) to do anything that menial.

    I once was secretary to a boss like that. He didn’t even have a computer in his office (and this was only 10 years ago) – anything he wanted typed, right down to a short email, he’d dictate to me, then wait while I typed it up, then check it, make changes (he always changed his mind about what he’d said), wait again for me to make the corrections… He also refused to learn how to use the photocopier, but instead would bring the document to me, give me instructions on exactly how he wanted it copied (which normally took longer than the actual copying), and stand waiting while I copied it.

    Both things seemed to me to involve an incredible waste of his time, when if he’d just swallowed his pride and done them himself he could have freed up so much time.

  8. posted by Jane Campbell on

    12. Get your reading speed up over an 8th-grade level. I was 31 before I had the sense to do this. Mothers, tell your children . . .

  9. posted by Mikey's mom on

    @erin, no I thought you were probably in your thirties, maybe Blago is younger than I am, dunno. Yes, you are slightly less than .5MyAge Enjoy it!

  10. posted by JThompson on

    Memorize a handful of core recipes.
    Keep the items to make those recipes on hand in your pantry.

    Improve your reading. Read novels that you enjoy. Encourage your kids to read what they like (and yes, I find A Diary of a Wimpy Kid quite annoying). Yes, it may be fluff, escapism or just not literature. But your reading comprehension goes up the more you practice.

  11. posted by Sassy on

    I totally agree with chacha1.

    I have been interviewing people for a new position, and the number of people with poor or non-existant grammar astonishes me.

    I HATE text talk in emails and all my staff are aware that they will be severely reprimanded for using text talk in a business email.

    I did an 8 hour touch typing course when I was 17 and had just left school and have never regretted it. It also helped when I was working my way around England and I could get lots of office jobs doing typing and data entry.


  12. posted by kelly on

    @Laurie – Regarding handwriting, I bought this book years and years ago and it’s very helpful, full of worksheets and exercises. It’s something I keep meaning to go back to and do a refresher. Lord knows I need it again!

  13. posted by Lindsay on

    I guess I’m one of the younger ones here. My high school (class of 2004) stopped offering typing my freshman year because everyone already knew how to type. I’ve never been asked what my typing speed is, though I don’t do a lot of typing at work in E-learning development & animation.

    Most of my wasted time is time spent trying to compose e-mails in a way that is short without sounding curt or rude. I have a very blunt & to the point method of communication and it doesn’t sound very nice or polite in written form. Anybody have an useful reading suggestions for me on e-mail etiquette?

  14. posted by JThompson on

    Car maintenance. I suppose you could argue that a series of planned trips will not save you time over one large unscheduled fix.
    I am nonplussed when coworkers “can’t” get to work because of entirely avoidable problems with their transportation.

  15. posted by JThompson on

    If you live in snowy climate and you have a garage, park your car in it. Taking time to scrape frost, ice and snow off the car daily for five months of the year in your nice office clothing is silly if you have a better option.

  16. posted by JThompson on

    Remain in basic good shape. Can you walk down that trail with your kids? Can you move the heavy box down off the shelf? Can you shift most of the furniture to clean under it?
    Retaining basic independence means you do not have to wait for someone to help you.

  17. posted by JThompson on

    Great topic. Completely agree with Sue, basic math skills are absolutely a time saver.

  18. posted by trillie on

    Great tips. And so simple! You often read about “10 amazing techniques and tricks you didn’t know that are absolutely fantastic and that you should apply in your life to become fantastic, too” but these articles often forget that it’s the basics that have the most impact.

    Oh, and a funny anecdote concerning the “doesn’t know how to type” thing: The boss of a large company I used to work for had his secretary print his emails, he hand-wrote a reply on them, she scanned the page and emailed the scan back. There was a rumor that once, he reviewed a long document and wrote notes and revisions on every paper page, and his secretary had to scan all the pages and she sent them all back to everyone involved in the project, including all the people on the CC: list, and caused a major mail server breakdown. This was ten years ago. I remember thinking that as long as someone’s the boss, they can get away with stuff like this, because all problems caused will be defined as someone else’s problem.

  19. posted by LizA on

    Something really obvious maybe: take your time. We have a saying in my country that a person in a hurry is unlucky, and it is true. As soon as you start to hurry mistakes occure, things fall on the floor or are forgotten, knots appear out of no-where etc. So slowing down a bit is actually a huge time saver!

    Also shedule time for things like facebook. If you dedicate a certain amount of time for the internet, you will waste less time than if you just sneak in every now and then….

    I actually have a laptop and a netbook these days. I disconnected the laptop from the internet and boy have I started to use my time more rationally! This is true for other distractions too: Remove them/swtich them off whaterver.

  20. posted by Keith on

    While you are waiting at the grocery store arrange all the barcodes facing forward and group like items. All the time you use to do this is time the cashier doesn’t waste while checking you out and you weren’t doing anything anyway.

  21. posted by Mletta on

    In an age of electronic devices, texting, etc. I’m still amazed at how many people can’t type. It should be a requirement for college. (You wonder why kids are late and turn in papers full of spelling errors? And their excuse is: I can’t type!)

    And I totally disagree with those who say you shouldn’t let people know you can type.

    I taught myself to type when I had a very low-paying job inbetween high school and college at a management consulting firm (something akin to what an internship is today).

    I did it as a lark, because I was not required to type anything.

    It came in very handy because in college, everyone in our Journalism major had to pass a minimum 50WPM typing test. Or take a course.

    And fyi, because I could not only type, write and edit, I got a great part-time job at that same management consultant firm when I went to college. And later, when I graduated, a full-time job in the communications department!

    Over the years, as a professional writer and editor, typing fast has saved my ass many a time on deadline and in making changes prior to publishing.

    It’s also allowed me to work, in the early lean years, as an office temp, where I met some great people and got offered some great jobs.

    To this day, I still consider my ability to type quickly and accurately as one of my top skills.

    Give me a QWERTY keyboard on a phone (forget the touch pads) and I can post a story in minutes.

  22. posted by Betharu on

    Two things my mother insisted that my brother and I take in High School –

    1 – Typing
    2 – Latin

    The first is obvious – I often chuckle when I see my boss using the two finger method. In fact, she will often have me type up things because I am so much faster.

    The second helped me in school, particularly when taking a 2nd foreign language. It helped me in English – all those vocab words and definitions. And it definitely helped me on my SAT’s!

  23. posted by Andrea on

    Great post.
    I just started using roboform for storing all my passwords. If you are like me and have a lot of projects that involve passwords online, it comes really handy.

  24. posted by PW on

    I live in Chicago area, IL. There is nothing effecient about any government here. If they can hire a family/friend/$contributor to do the typing for them for $150,000 a yr. they do. If the taxpayers question it, they just say that they can’t do it themselves, they need that person. Then the next year they increase their salaries to $200,000. That is Chicago politics. That is why they will lay off firemen, policemen, teachers etc. well before they would lay off administrative staff because they are filled by friend,family, and campaign contributors. Sad to say, but that is how it works. Which is why I am moving to Indiana. Each household owes $80,000 to pay for pensions of all these wonderful people. I am out of here.

  25. posted by Jessiejack on

    Keith – what a great idea about the bar codes! I will try that next time to see if it makes a difference-that will keep me occupied so I don’t get annoyed about having to wait in line

  26. posted by Annette on

    I have to say that writing stuff down has really done wonders for me. I write everything I have to down in notepad and then I never have to try and think about what I’ve forgotten and what I’ve missed. I simply just go down the list rapid fire. I’ve been doing this so much lately with everything and I love it.

  27. posted by MAM on

    In addition to the many wonderful suggestions already posted, here’s my contribution. If there’s a store or building you visit regularly, always park in the same basic area of the parking lot. (Example, when I go to my regular grocery store I always park in the first row on the driveway entry side.) It saves time when you arrive because you don’t drive around looking for a “good spot,” and it saves time when you leave because you don’t have to remember where you parked. –Mary

  28. posted by s on

    I totally agree with Typing AND Latin. I’ve used both to great advantage for over 20 years!

    I don’t think that you want to hide your typing skills if that’s your qualification for a job. But, especially in the “olden days,” you might not have wanted to let others know that you could type if that might cause them to see you as “just the typist” (no matter how valuable that really is!) rather than seeing you for the other professional skills you bring to the team. It’s kind of a generational issue. These days, typing skills are critical to any professional, and our Admin professionals contribute many other skills, like file management, professional formatting, research capabilities, etc. I regret that I don’t use my secretary to her full potential because I do all my own typing (often better than she does), and I don’t assign her more challenging tasks often enough.

  29. posted by s on

    And Latin has helped on everything from college entrance exams to understanding context in a book or newspaper article to even figuring out how a word in a foreign language translates to English or the other Romance languages. My one semester of Latin also helps me to improve my spelling, all these years after I took it in high school.

  30. posted by Rae on

    Taking Latin in high school (and typing) was one of the best things I’ve ever done. This is a wonderful list and (mostly) fantastic comments! (It was a joke, April. Enough about sexism. Sheesh.) Thanks!

  31. posted by Chris on

    I refill pill minders for more than one family member late on Saturday nights. Any bottles running low are set aside and the refills are immediately called in to the pharmacy’s 24-hour refill service. Then I can pick them up first thing Monday and never run out of any important medications.

  32. posted by Jann Schott on

    If you use a purse, store similar items together. For instance, the purse I have, I store ‘medical’ items (band-aids, lip balm, pills in a small container) in one pocket, key rings in another pocket, etc. This saves me time in fishing around my purse trying to find something.

    Oh, and speaking of keyrings, I have a separate one for my club-cards. It has ONLY the club cards on that ring, along with a little screwdriver that has a philip’s head on one end & a flat tip on the other (for glasses!)…and speaking of those club cards, I put a piece of clear cellophane tape over each bar-code to keep it intact.

    As far as keeping passwords and such, for awhile I was using an index card box with the alphabetic tabs. Each time I’d create a new website registration, I’d fill out an index card…name of website on top, with user ID, password, email address, etc. on the card.

    Then I found “Splash ID” from which works on my Palm Treo & on the desktop. Password protected, and has really helped me stay organized! I even put my medication list in this, and refer to it whenever I have to fill out forms w/ other doctors.

  33. posted by Speedlinking – April 9, 2010 « Thoughts of Resurrection on

    [...] Unclutterer presents Incredibly obvious tips to save you time [...]

  34. posted by E on

    I know I’m late jumping on the bandwagon here…. I think everyone should know how to count change. Also be able to do quick math to calculate the change you’re due for a transaction. Then you can quickly check the clerk’s math (if the register doesn’t calculate for them), and make sure they’ve handed you the correct change.

  35. posted by Organization Links « The Wooden Spoon on

    [...] Incredibly Obvious Tips to Save You Time (Unclutterer) [...]

  36. Avatar of

    posted by Mrs.Mack on


    You’re not the only “young ‘un.” I’m 25 years old (class of ’03). ;)

    As for how to make your e-mails sound less rude, try reading them out loud to yourself. If that doesn’t work because you find yourself putting inflection into your voice where you know it isn’t easily read, have the computer read it back to you. I’m not sure on a PC, but all Macs have a speech function (under System Preferences) that will read things back to you in various voices (monotone, to a tune, etc., where there won’t be your assumed inflection).


    That wasn’t very kind of you to say that about April. You implied that all of the comments were fantastic except for hers—but she had some good tips to share, regardless of her stance on the keyboarding thing.

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