5 Digital Workflow Tips I Had to Learn Myself

The goal is productivity so I won’t bog you down with a pointless introduction.

1. Speed up your mouse pointer for heaven’s sake

It’s grueling to watch you have to pick up your mouse three times just to get your pointer to that button. For love of all things good and holy, please save yourself the effort & clumsiness and increase your pointer speed.

General rule of thumb: you should be able to move your pointer from one corner to the diagonal corner in one finger/mouse stroke with room to spare. Try it now — start with your pointer in the upper left corner of the screen, and in one normal gesture see how close you get it to the lower right corner.

Your pointer (cursor) speed should be pretty high

Did you have to reposition your finger or mouse to finish the job? Or did it take a frantically fast movement? Or just barely make it? I have my pointer set to 80% speed, which means I could make it faster, but it’s pretty darn fast as is. I can get anywhere I want on my screen in one gesture, no exceptions. And I can still make single pixel transformations in Photoshop.

I can get my pointer anywhere I want on my screen in one gesture, no exceptions.

And while you’re at it, speed up your scroll speed. Having to scroll 2–3 times just to get anywhere because you’re scroll settings suck isn’t good either.

2. Reach pro level with your trackpad

In this era you’re going to end up needing (or wanting) to do work away from your desk. You may, for example, in the following circumstances:

On your bus commuteDuring a meetingAt the hotelOn the planeIn the cafeteriaOn your rocket voyage (gotta keep this relevant for the folks reading this 15 years from now)

Many people view their trackpad as an inferior method of input than their mouse. Truth be told, you can be just as productive or more so with your trackpad as wit a mouse. Sure, you can stay a fan of your Bluetooth mouse and bring it everywhere you bring your laptop, but frankly you’d be better off just choosing to own your trackpad.

In addition to the normal use a trackpad offers, many machines let you use multi-finger gestures to switch between apps and desktops, open your notifications and search, or show the desktop among other things. Check your OS and hardware and you might find something cool.

3. Set up your apps for single-display usage

Think back to that list of occasions when you’re working away from your desk, and factor in your own scenarios. How many of those times do you have a spare monitor? Probably none.

Many major apps have customizable panels that you can arrange yourself for optimal use. Take advantage of this and set up the panels you use in a way that allows you to work well with just one screen. In some apps (e.g. Adobe CC products) you can even save a workspace. So you can have one workspace for while you’re on the go and a different workspace for while you’re in the office.

My Photoshop setup above allows me access all my panels in one screen, and in Adobe apps you just tap “Tab” and they all disappear to show just the open project. Hit “Tab” again to go back to your open panels.

4. Utilize your pixels, damn it!

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen with great eyesight and a motivation for productivity who have their display resolution scaled way too big. You may have a QHD screen, but if it’s being scaled up by 300%, you may as well be using an old monitor with a low 1024x768 resolution.

My QHD laptop display settings

My laptop has a QHD display (3840x2160) and I have it scaled to 175%. For reference, scaling up to 200% would equate to a normal HD screen scaled to 100%. What that means is that I’m utilizing a 15" screen to display more than an HD TV. A second monitor is now almost pointless to me because I can house everything I’m using on one screen.

Everything is scaled up and you’re wasting space.

But isn’t everything really small if I do that? Yes, it’s smaller, but if you give yourself the chance to get used to it, you could improve your productivity and actually grow to like it better than before (my experience anyway). If you don’t know your settings, chances are you’re using factory settings and everything is scaled up and you’re wasting space.

5. Know more shortcuts, and make your own

Note: If you use a Mac substitute the “Option” key for “Alt”

Here’s a quick list of things you should be doing in a split-second keystroke instead of your mouse:

Opening your most frequent apps (Pin to taskbar, then Win+Number)Switching between apps (Alt+Tab)Closing apps (Alt+F4)Window management — sorry Mac users, you don’t have much here (Win+Arrow key)Saving files (Ctrl+S)Accessing frequent functions within your frequent apps (e.g. creating a new layer in Photoshop with Ctrl+Shift+N)Copying text (Ctrl+C)Pasting text (Ctrl+V)Making text bold (Ctrl+B)Making text italic (Ctrl+I)Opening the Start menu on a PC (Win)

Here are some that are specific to your web browser (they all use basically the same shortcuts):

Switching tabs (Ctrl+Tab, Ctrl+Shift+Tab, or Ctrl+Number)Opening the last closed tab (Ctrl+Shift+T)New tab (Ctrl+T)Close tab (Ctrl+W)Access history (Ctrl+H)Access downloads (Ctrl+J)Find on page (Ctrl+F)

These are truly just a few of the shortcuts I use every single day. Imagine performing all the actions multiple times daily without the pointer? What I can find subconsciously in a flash using fingers takes several seconds of conscious attention to move my mouse to and click on. Plus, a lot of these actions take multiple clicks or an extra right-click.

And one of my favorite features of Windows:

Press “Alt” within any app to unlock keyboard shortcut keys for each menu item. Then press the appropriate key for the menu you want to open to activate keyboard shortcuts for the items within the menu. Continue this path to active basically any menu function within any app.

The underlined letters show me what key to hit to activate that menu item after hitting “Alt”

For example:

Open Windows Explorer (Win+E)Press “Alt”. You should see letters appear underneath the ribbon menu items.Press “V”. This will open the View ribbon and activate shortcuts within it.Press “Y”. This opens the Options menu.Press “O”. Congratulations! You just opened the Windows Explorer options panel without using your pointer at all.

After you get the hang of this system, your fingers will start to memorize the path to the menu items you frequently use, and you’ll be saving time all over the place.

Assign your own shortcuts too

If there’s any function you use within apps a lot and there’s no good default shortcut, chances are there’s an option to assign custom shortcuts. If so, do so. You’ll save yourself time bigtime.

Now go be more productive!

These are my quick tips. I love discovering new ways to be faster at what I do myself, so please tweet at me if you have anything to share!

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I design cool apps and brands. Inspired by fruit. Learn more about me or check out my process. Thoughts are my own.

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