Does technology ever make you feel a bit helpless? Do you wish you understood more about your computer but struggle knowing where to start?
If so, this article is for you. I’m going to tell you exactly how to improve your computer skills.
What Qualifies ME to Advise on This?
I’ve been helping people with tech professionally since 1998. In that time I’ve assisted thousands of individuals with their technical problems.
Over time, you start to recognise patterns and trends. Most of all, you notice the things that people often don’t do that would make their lives much easier.
With all that in mind, the points on this page are all rather straightforward. But if you follow them all, you will make your digital life immeasurably better. Do you want your computer to be a partner, rather than an adversary? If so, read on!
1. Investigate the Things that Slow you Down
Is there something on your PC that keeps slowing you down? Something where you keep thinking, “I must fix that / learn about that one day.”
Do it today!
Software problems are usually fixable; Convoluted procedures can usually be streamlined or made quicker by learning a keyboard shortcut or an alternative method. And the answers are almost always just a Google search away.
Computers are a bit like cars – you get used to certain rattles and quirks. But the chances are that you don’t actually have to.
Spend a little time working out the things that keep causing you to stall. Do some Google searching, read some “how-tos” and watch some YouTube videos. The reduced frustration and extra time you will gain is like an upgrade.
2. Learn the Products you Use
There’s an acronym that’s widely used in the tech community known as “RTFM.” If you don’t know what it means, you can look it up. It’s a bit rude.
It’s wise to properly learn the products you use. There are statistics out there relating to the tiny proportion of the functionality people typically use in software like Microsoft Word. As such, it doesn’t take much learning to elevate yourself to “power user” status.
Learning products has also become way easier than it used to be. There are millions of tutorial videos out there, and well as courses, guides and blog posts, and they’re almost always free.
The “onboarding” effort companies make when you buy new software nowadays has really levelled up too, with lots of tutorials and help available. If you’re paying for something, it makes sense to ensure you make the most of it.
So find out what all the buttons do.
3. Don’t expect an Old Computer to Behave Like a New One
One particularly frustrating conversation I must have had a thousand times relates to how much life you can expect to get out of a computer.
Yes, I know, there are people out there who have happily used the same computer for a decade. Fair play if that applies to you.
But I personally see a business computer as having a realistic live-span of three years – or five if you’re lucky.
There are so many reasons for this, among them:
- Hardware warranties are usually for one year, with the option to extend them to three. The manufacturer won’t help you if something breaks after this period.
- Technology moves on fast. In three years, even the most “high-end” computer won’t be high-end any more.
- Eventually, you reach the point when newer software won’t work on older hardware.
I know people will probably be keen to debate me on this, but my position is clear! That out-of-date, out-of-warranty laptop will serve you well – until the day it doesn’t.
If that happens to be the day of a really important client deadline, don’t expect any interest from the manufacturer, or much sympathy from your local computer person.
Even $2000 on a computer works out to less the two bucks per day over a three-year lifespan. Don’t skimp on your tech.
4. Have a Backup Plan
This leads on rather nicely from the point above! You need a backup plan.
Obviously I refer (partly) here to taking regular backups. I personally like to have both a local backup on an external device, and my crucial data “in the cloud” somewhere.
But having a backup plan goes beyond this. Professional businesses have plans for disaster recovery and business continuity. Even if you’re an individual work from home freelancer, it’s a good idea to have one yourself.
Personally, I have a spare Macbook sitting in my home office. It’s several years old, but could still seem to some like quite an extravagant thing to have just sitting there.
But I’ll tell you why it’s there. Between my wife and I there have been three occasions over the last ten years where a laptop has died with deadlines fast approaching. Unless you have “on site” response, which not all companies offer, a hardware failure means sending a machine in for repair.
On every occasion, this has meant literally rushing out the door to buy something to get the work done.
Once you’ve done that a few times, you soon realise that having an adequately-specified spare in a drawer isn’t actually that much of a luxury.
5. Keep Trying New Software to Improve your Computer Skills
There’s so much great software out there and lots of it can really speed up your work and make you better at what you do.
Yet it’s easy to get stuck in a rut using the same apps – day in and day out.
Try to mix it up a bit to improve your computer skills. You could start with my own round-up of the best apps for freelancers. Just choose something you think could help you and spend 20 minutes giving it a go.
With almost all software available with some form of tree trial these days, the greatest risk is wasting a little time before uninstalling. But it’s more likely you’ll find something that could streamline your processes and make your life easier.
6. Organise your Files and Emails
What does your Windows or Mac desktop look like?
Don’t feel guilty if it’s covered in random files. Many people “organise” their digital lives like that. But it’s easy to do it better.
With paper files, you don’t just scatter all of them over the top of a single desk. That would be chaos, and it’s why filing cabinets exist! Yet many people don’t apply the same thinking to their electronic files.
You don’t need a hugely sophisticated folder and subfolder tree. In truth, since the in-built search facilities in both MacOS and Windows have become more refined and effective, I’ve personally become more inclined to just have one folder per client or project.
The important thing is that you have a good degree of organisation. If you often find yourself wasting time remembering where you put something, then you don’t have that degree of organisation. It’s as simple as that!
7. Use a Text Expander
Most of us have to type the same things over and over. This can mean anything from “Best Regards” to long paragraphs of information that we send to multiple people.
If you frequently type the same thing, it’s well worth making a tiny investment in some software like TextExpander. This will allow you to set up “snippets” of text that you can trigger with just a small string. For example “br” for “Best Regards.”
I cannot overstate how much time this can save.
Say, for example, you often apply for freelance gigs. Although you (hopefully!) tailor every application to the specific job, there will still be sections of text you likely use again and again in your proposal emails.
You can save a vast amount of time if all of these sections only require you to press a few keys.
Have a good think about the text you type regularly. Some software that saves you ever having to do it could be a fabulous investment.
As you can see, it doesn’t really take that much to improve your computer skills. Just a few simple changes, along with the willingness to try new things out, can soon see you mastering your laptop like a pro.
- Read our full review of TextExpander and look at how much time it could save you.
- Find out which apps I personally use to run my freelance business.
- Lean about how to keep your data safe.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.