I don't normally write a lot about technology here, except maybe to say how much I love that it has brought me together with so many great people. It's not as sexy as writing about ampersands or as charming as writing about cats, so I guess I just forget that it's something I enjoy talking about.
(Also, I've seen what happens when a person gets categorized as a "computer geek," and I have zero interest in fixing your Internet connection while you eat my piece of rhubarb pie at Thanksgiving.)
That said, here are five little tech-related tips I use regularly to save time and minimize frustration:
1. Learn to love your basic text editor.
The first thing I do with any new Windows machine is put Notepad front and center—on the desktop, pinned to the task bar, pinned to the Start menu, etc. I open Notepad maybe twenty times an hour. I just started a Tumblr blog dedicated to my love of Notepad. (On a Mac, I either use TextEdit or one of the distraction-free text editors I talk about later.)
Need to jot down a quick note? It opens in the blink of an eye and doesn't have any distracting options to slow you down. Need to write some HTML or CSS? Boom. Free option that doesn't put you in a time-out when you refuse to close a div tag exactly when it wants you to close a div tag.
But my best and favorite use of Notepad: copying and pasting. If you've ever used Microsoft Publisher, you know that copying text from an email and pasting that into Publisher sometimes results in a text box catastrophe. Like every line of the email gets pasted as a separate text box because I needed another reason to gouge out my own eyes. But wait! There's a workaround. Almost every time I'm copying text that was generated by someone else and pasting it into something I have or will format to be super pretty, I use Notepad as my middleman. Copy from the original location. Paste to Notepad. Copy from Notepad (which has now stripped all the formatting) and paste into Publisher or InDesign or Photoshop or your pants. Problem solved. (Note: Yes, some programs offer a "paste text only" option, but I work with too much text and too many programs to be slowed down by that unreliable alternative.)
Of all the tricks I teach to my coworkers, that is the one that most consistently gets the "OH MY GOSH, YOU HAVE JUST SAVED MY LIFE FROM A BURNING BUILDING. PLEASE ACCEPT MY IMAGINARY CASH MONIES AS A THANK YOU" response.
2. Use Gmail and use it well.
Google has already put together a fantastic series on how to master Gmail, but the one tip in particular that revolutionized my online experience was this one: firstname.lastname@example.org is the same as email@example.com is the same as firstname.lastname@example.org is the same as email@example.com. All of these email addresses are mine, and I can use those "tags" in a variety of ways.
My top two uses for those tagged email addresses? Twitter and shady online retailers. Not every website will allow you to sign up with an email address that has a plus sign in the middle, but Twitter is one that does. I have 50+ Twitter accounts, and 40+ of them direct to my main Gmail address plus a unique tag. Yes, now you know the secret. Go forth and conquer.
As for the shady online retailers, using the tagged email address, when possible, allows me to then set up a filter to catch retailers who sell my email address without my permission. (My dad used to do something similar to that when signing up for magazine subscriptions and the like; he'd give a different middle initial to companies he didn't trust and then watch to see if that middle initial showed up elsewhere.)
3. Write blog posts anywhere but your browser.
I have been blogging for a decade now, and it took me until two years ago to break this habit. Regardless of whether you are the type of person who writes the post and publishes it immediately or the type of person who writes a draft and then edits it for the next seven days before publishing it, stop writing your blog post in your browser. One day, your browser will crash or your Internet connection will punish you for laughing at that helpless kitten or Jack Bauer will "borrow" your computer to prevent the world from exploding. If you type in your browser, I guarantee you that you will one day lose some brilliant words that you didn't want to lose, and you will be heartbroken and furious and full of angst.
Using something offline (like Notepad!) can be a step in the right direction, since your computer probably crashes less than your Internet/browser. I'd recommend taking that one step further and finding a distraction-free text editor (like WriteMonkey for Windows; WriteRoom or Byword for Mac) that auto-save your work periodically; some of them even integrate with smart phones by synching across DropBox or iCloud. You can copy and paste your work into your blogging platform when you're nearing the end then to do a final preview and any last-minute edits. If the Internet still decides to "eat" your post, you will shrug and hum a little tune and refill your coffee and try again.
4. iPhone users: embrace your custom shortcuts.
"Vlog" and "vlogging" are words that I needed to type a lot in August, even though I failed pretty miserably at VEDA. Apple insisted that I meant "blog" and "blogging," and no amount of cursing at my iPhone would change that. Then, by some miracle, I remembered that there is a Shortcuts dictionary under Settings » General » Keyboard, where you can add words and phrases and unicorn magic.
My favorite implementations so far: having abbreviations like "brb" and "btw" expand to "be right back" and "by the way"; using shortcuts like "etiger" and "epoop" and "eheart" to trigger the tiger and poop and heart emoticons from that add-on keyboard that I am sometimes too lazy to access; adding "shh" and "vlog" and "goofbutton" so I don't have to HULK SMASH my phone for correcting words and non-words I commonly use; having my stupid-fat-fingers-keep-hitting-the-wrong-button faces :$ and ;$ automatically correct to the real smiley faces of :) and ;).
5. Stop fretting over video file types.
This probably won't apply to many people, but because of projects like Mad Libs Monday, I am all too familiar with the wide variety of file types generated by people's cell phones, digital cameras, and camcorders. iMovie and other programs will accept 90% of them, but for the 10% of files that won't work with your software, use Zamzar. It is free. It does a very nice job of converting video files without needing to install any software whatsoever. It hasn't generated mass amounts of spam to my email that I can tell. The end.
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So those are just five of the things that save me oodles of time on a weekly basis. I hope this was useful to at least one person. I'd offer to answer follow-up questions, but being an unhelpful jerk is another way to save oodles of time.
(Kidding. Ask questions. Hum a little tune. Refill your coffee.)