• Advice

5 tricks to make your computer, and you, more efficient

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

As a freelancer, there’s a good chance that your computer is the most essential tool of your trade. As such, you can realise huge benefits by ensuring you’re making the most of it.

However, speaking as someone who’s helped freelancers with their tech for over 15 years, I can confidently say that many could achieve far more work and experience far less frustration. It just takes some willingness to learn, and a little effort.

It’s easy to become “stuck in your ways” when it comes to technology. One only need look at how tribal computer users can be regarding their choice of Windows or Mac! This rigid thinking can hold you back from learning new tricks, and investigating whether you are really doing things as efficiently as possible.

The five suggestions in this article all have the potential to transform the way you work. Why not put aside a little time to give them some consideration?

Simple upgrades

These days, even the cheapest computers can handle web browsing, word processing, and email without missing a beat. However, the increase in “snappiness” you gain from using a more powerful machine is considerable. It genuinely makes working far more pleasurable.

There are a couple of inexpensive upgrades that can transform even the most budget of budget laptops. The first is swapping a traditional hard disk drive with a solid state disk (SSD). This upgrade can cost as little as around $50. It will drastically reduce how much time your computer takes to start up. Applications will also open noticeably faster.

Similarly, a RAM upgrade — which will cost you roughly the same — will give your computer more ability to multitask without slowing down. This is really noticeable when flicking between different applications.

Note that some of the more sleek and modern Mac and Windows laptops now come as sealed units. This means such hardware upgrades are off limits. A quick Google should reveal what’s feasible for your computer.

Sync your Files

Services like Dropbox, OneDrive, and iCloud have now been around for years. The chances are you already use one or more of them.

However, time and time again I see clients not making as much use of these services as they could.

Regardless of your workflow, there are ways to sync files to make your life easier. You can use iCloud to gain instant laptop access to photos taken on your phone, or store files in OneDrive so that you can grab the same versions at any time on your office PC, home laptop, or even your iPad.

Keep this in mind if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’ve not got the information you want on the device you have to hand. Invariably there’s a pretty easy way to tweak things to your way of working. And if you already subscribe to something like iCloud or Office 365, the functionality’s probably just sitting there waiting to be used.

Stop typing so much

Do you find yourself typing the same things over and over again? Whether it’s something simple like “I look forward to hearing from you” or something far longer, most people do.

If this resonates, it’s worth looking into using a text expander utility. These programs allow you to input the chunks of text you type all the time – just once — and then expand them at any time (and in any application) just by pressing a few keys.

Using tools like this can really transform your workflow, especially if you send out lots of similar communications. Creating long emails in seconds just by putting together some building blocks of text is a real game changer.

Tweak your settings

Often, I see people “working around“ certain things on their computers, just because they’ve become used to working in a particular way. I fall into the same trap sometimes.

Every now and then it’s worth stepping back and thinking about the things that are slowing you down. Is there a certain task that always feels convoluted or clunky? If so, jump onto Google and do some research. The chances are there will be a workaround, a keyboard shortcut, or an alternative way of doing things.

Similarly, if you’ve been putting up with an error message, or a certain point where things always slow down, make the time to try to get the situation resolved.

It’s easy to ignore something on the basis that you “don’t have time for it.” But you’re probably looking at 10 minutes spent troubleshooting something ONCE. If the issue loses you a couple of minutes every single day, this is a time investment you break even on VERY quickly.

Up your screen capture game

My final tip is one of those things you won’t understand until you try it, and that’s to install and familiarise yourself with a really good screenshot tool. Examples include Skitch, which is Mac only, and Greenshot, an equivalent tool for Windows.

Many people have become more accustomed to taking and sharing screenshots on phones recently. Doing the same with your computer is similarly useful, especially once you remember a keyboard shortcut that allows you to quickly grab a screenshot of a small snippet of the screen.

This comes in handy for manipulating images, posting things to social media, sharing what you’re seeing with somebody else, and all kinds of other things. You don’t feel you need this functionality until you have it, then suddenly you use it dozens of times each day!

If, like most people, you are spending more and more time looking at a screen, it makes sense to ensure you use the right tools and make the best of that time. These tips should genuinely help your freelance productivity – and perhaps even free up some time to step away from the laptop!

Ben has been a freelancer for over a decade, doing everything from IT consultancy to freelance writing and project management. His latest project is - a website dedicated to helping aspiring freelancers meet their goals.