Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Are you productive, or just busy?

Recent studies have compared the productivity of the average American to those relaxed, sophisticated Europeans who really know how to live. The research always shows the same thing: We just rush, rush, rush through everything we do, not taking time to enjoy anything.

When it comes to interacting with computers, many people feel they are wasting vast amounts of time at the computer with nothing to show for it. So who do you think conducted the newest productivity study? Microsoft, of course!

While the study was done with over 38,000 people in 200 countries, addressing worker productivity, I can't help but see parallels to our work with the computer.

Does this sound familiar? The Microsoft study found the top time-wasters were:

  • Unclear objectives
  • Lack of team communication
  • Ineffective meetings

For many, that is exactly what happens when you face your computer.

  • Unclear objectives = What am I trying to do?
  • Lack of communication = Why won't the computer let me?
  • Ineffective meetings = This was a big waste of time!

A client recently said "I'm thinking of all the things I'd rather be doing than sitting here fighting the computer." Well, "gather your wits about you," as my mother used to say, and make your computer time the best part of your day.

Start with a goal in mind, not mindlessly wandering the web until your eyes are tired. Believe that you can achieve something by knowing where to click and use the Help files, and stay focussed on the task until it's done. Then take a stretch break before you tackle the next task.

The spin from the Microsoft survey is that worker's claim their productivity is directly related to their computers: 55 percent worldwide, 61 percent in the U.S. That makes me happy because it proves my point that focussed time at the computer, when you know what you want to accomplish will result in satisfaction, getting the job done quicker, and leaving you with more time to enjoy the rest of life.

You can gain the computer skills needed to accomplish your goals, and the energy you put into learning will result in quicker projects, better tracking of your data, and the confidence to know you have mastered technology.

Microsoft's Johnny One Note - or Etch-A-Sketch?

Since the launch of Office 2003, Microsoft has had a clever product called OneNote. Using a notebook metaphor it is a program to grab all your notes and stuff them in one place, just like in a real binder.

If you collect random bits of information such as book reviews, recipes, computer tips, expense account fragments, and brilliant ideas, OneNote lets you organize your information into categories. It imports data in just about any format, you can type notes anywhere on the page, capture images, and even write on the screen if you have a tablet PC

It can be a wonderful tool for students with calendars, outlining, and with paper-intensive work for attorneys and researchers.

Learn more at

You can download an 80 MB free trial from Microsoft or buy the product at retail for around $85.

Once all your notes are all in one place, it's up to you to make something wonderful happen. In most testing I've observed with clients, OneNote becomes a jumble of junk. It's easy to find but still just a pile of notes, especially for the organizationally challenged among us.

I have tested OneNote and if you've used Lotus Notes you already know how it works. It's actually too much forced structure and too much clutter for me. I still prefer Jot+ Notes, a simple searchable free-form program you can download from KingStairs at It is a real work horse without getting in the way like clumsy Microsoft products.

Remember, there are thousands of good software providers. Microsoft isn't the only player. So support companies that provide affordable, bug-free, creative solutions.