I have recently moved to London and squeezing every last second of time out of the day is more and more important as it is very busy here. I have been working on a new version of my workflow that is more suited to my lifestyle here (compared with back in NZ), which I hope to blog about soon (as a teaser though, I have moved from MyLifeOrganized to Remember the Milk).
Lately I have been learning techniques to approach common tasks very quickly – the keyboard generally being the fastest way to do this.
My plan is to blog about techniques I’m using that are very beneficial as a core part of my day. The productivity tips though will be biased to what I do however, .NET development on Microsoft Windows Vista / Windows 7 so may not be applicable to everyone – but there may be some more general tricks in there, such as this post.
Below I’ll talk about one of the most common things you do while working at your computer which is launching applications (and then switching between them in a follow up blog post). If you get fast at this you will save plenty of time.
There are a few different techniques to efficiently launch applications, each one serves a slightly different purpose and I tend to flip between them. You may also have a preference for one particular style over the other.
Windows Start Menu
Starting with the obvious one, the start menu in Vista/Win7 is a big improvement over what windows XP has:
- Open it by hitting the windows key then:
- Type straight away for the application you are looking for, or
- Press the down arrow to navigate to an application (maybe one you have pinned to the top).
- Hit enter and you are away.
Of course typing cmd in here is a great way to get to the command prompt quickly.
Vista Quick Launch / Windows 7 Taskbar
In Vista, add an application to your quick launch bar, or in Windows 7, pin an application to your taskbar (by right clicking the application shortcut and choosing the option).
You can now open these applications by using Windows-Key and then the Number corresponding to it’s position in the list.
For instance, in my setup above I can do a google search by doing the following:
- Hit “windows key –> 1” which opens the chrome application above since it’s position is first. By default, Chrome puts the cursor into the url bar when it launches – Ctl-T may be needed to create a new tab first.
- Type in the google search and hit enter.
- Chrome then searches google by default.
- The up and down arrow keys can then be used within the google search results.
- Hit enter to open the result you want, or ctl-enter to open in a new tab.
- Ctl-Page Down/Page Up to cycle between tabs.
- Ctl-W to close tabs again.
This process would be similar in Firefox except you would first need to use Ctl-k to get the cursor initially into the search box.
Another application I have pinned to my Windows 7 taskbar is called Jumplist-Launcher. This is good for a sort of overflow of applications that you don’t want to all have pinned individually, but still want them available from the taskbar itself. If you want, the jumplist-launcher’s jumplist can be opened using the Alt-Win-Number shortcut (number being the position the jumplist laucher app is pinned on the taskbar).
You will find many more core windows keyboard shortcuts and tricks on my Windows Tricks page.
Launchy is a tool that I am starting to use more an more recently instead of the options above and can be fired open from anywhere using alt-space.
It’s very fast and brilliant for firing off any complex command that you might find yourself doing a lot during the day.
In it’s most basic form, it essentially does the same as the start menu. So if you only use it for opening applications it probably isn’t worth having something extra for.
However, it gets much more powerful than this very quickly through the use of it’s plugins. The first plugin that is most useful is the Weby plugin.
Some useful default entries in the Weby plugin:
These don’t mean much on their own, but the %1 part is where the Launchy parameter gets fed in.
The way you use the Google Weby entry for example to do a google search you would:
- Alt-enter to launch Launchy.
- Type “google” (this can be reduced to just ‘g’ over time after this bubbles to the top of the results based on usage).
- Hit tab, this puts Launchy into google parameter mode. (Note you can hit tab again to enter a second parameter which would be picked up by %2 if it appeared in the entries above).
- Type in your Google search, hit enter.
- Your default browser will fire up to Google with your search term entered. You can then navigate google using the keyboard as described before.
The Dictionary entry lets you search the definition for a word using “d->tab->wordtolookup->enter”, as well as the Maps entry to fire up a location based on a postcode for example you have just copied from somewhere else “m->tab->placename/postcode->enter” . I also recommend WordWeb however which is a quick offline dictionary that can use the ctl-alt-w shortcut on any highlighted word.
You may want to then add some of your own Weby entries that take you straight to that website that you visit often, possibly using parameters also if you need. I have set this up to Google calendar, London transport (tfl), a link to the remember the milk task entry page (http://www.rememberthemilk.com/services/ext/addtask.rtm) and one to google translate that takes in the phrase to translate as the parameter, this is below for your interest:
Google translate in this case will automatically detect your source language and convert to english. Fastest way I think for a translation, “alt-space->translate->como esta->enter”.
The Runner plugin is another that I use which makes Launchy very powerful, and can be used to run arbitrary programs and scripts. It’s setup is similar to the Weby plugin, except you point to an executable (.exe, .bat) on your computer, and then specify the arguments.
I have the following setup:
- Shortcuts to launch favourite folders by simply listing them in the runner app (anything you have in Runner will open in the default app, i.e explorer in this case).
- Shortcuts to launch certain websites in IE (some require this!) by specifying iexplore.exe as the program, and the url of the website as the argument. Another option for this scenario though is to use the IETab firefox plugin or equivalent.
- Shortcuts to development batch files to execute common tasks such as svn update / commit, database recreate. You can also put these batch files somewhere defined in the Launchy catalog, these are directories that are listed in Launchy to be indexed (you will need to add the *.cmd file type however).
- If you use TortoiseSvn, you can fire open it’s UI for these tasks with a .cmd file containing the following script (commit below can be substituted by other tortoise Svn commands such as revert and update):
- set path=%path%;C:\Program Files (x86)\Subversion\bin\tortoiseproc.exe /command:commit /path:"E:\svn\ProjectFolder\src"
In general, if you use an application a lot, find out what the keyboard shortcuts are for it, it will make your life easier. For example keyboard shotcuts for Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Reader or your favourite email client.
If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over and it just feels awkward every time you do it, take time out to find a better way as it will pay off quickly.
More productivity tips to come! Next up is application switching and window management.