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How to Improve Computer Performance & Supercharge Your Productivity – Tips From an IT Pro

By Jason Steele

computer nerdI’m not the fastest typist in the world, yet I’m still able to operate a computer with a level of speed and efficiency that amazes some people.

Over time, I’ve learned that the number of words you can type per minute isn’t everything when it comes to maximizing your time on the computer. As someone who has been working in information technology for over a decade, I have made a concerted effort to find every trick to getting the most done in the least amount of time.

Whether you make your living working on a computer, or just use one for your personal life, you can easily increase your productivity with these simple techniques.

Tips to Speed Up Your Computer Performance

1. Learn to Touch Type

Like many people, I suffered through a typing class in high school. When I was done, I still couldn’t punch out thirty words a minute, but at least I was touch typing.

Touch typing refers to using the proper “home” finger placement on your keyboard. Your index fingers are on the F and the J keys, your thumbs operate the space bar, and one of your fingers is always adjacent to every letter. If you are properly touch typing, you will never need to look at the keyboard.

Those who don’t touch type use a technique called hunt and peck. It is not only much slower than touch typing, but it requires that you divert your attention from the monitor, and stare at your fingers on the  keyboard.

At first, you may be frustrated by the fact that touch typing is actually slower than your previous hunt and peck technique. But this is only temporary. Before you know it, the method will become second nature, and your speed will only continue to improve.

The same can’t be said for hunt and peck. If you stick with that approach, your speed will never increase and you will be forever spending precious time trying to find the right letters on the keyboard. If you start touch typing now, I guarantee that within a few weeks you will be typing much faster than you had before.

2. The Mouse Is Not Your Friend

I am old enough to remember using a computer without a mouse. Later, I used a laptop that had such a poor substitute for a mouse, it wasn’t worth the effort to use it. In both cases, I was able to utilize keyboard shortcuts and hot-keys that allowed me to do almost anything on a keyboard that I could do with a mouse.

These days, even when I have a mouse at my disposal, I still choose to save time by using the keyboard for everything I possibly can. The time it takes to alternate between mouse and keyboard can really bog things down and throw off a good working pace.

Here are a couple of ways you can use key commands to save time and work more efficiently:

  • Text Editing. When typing I always move the cursor with the arrow keys. To quickly move the cursor left and right, I hold the Control (Ctrl) key while using the arrow key to jump a word at a time. To highlight words as a I move, I hold down both the Ctrl and Shift keys while arrowing. Similar tricks can be used with the Home and End keys when used in combination with the Ctrl and/or Shift keys. I always use Ctrl-X to cut, Ctrl-C to copy, and Ctrl-V to paste.
  • Activating Menus. Beyond text editing, it helps to know how to activate menu items in Windows using keystrokes. Menu items can always be selected by using the Alt key in combination with the underlined letter, and certain key combination are common to all Windows programs. For example, Alt-F will bring up the file menu, and then pressing the X key will select Exit.

These examples are just scratching the surface of the vast number of keyboard shortcuts in Windows. A more comprehensive list can be found on the Microsoft website. Apple provides a similar list of Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts as well.

fast typer

3. If You Must Use Your Mouse, Make It Faster

Despite my speed on a keyboard, there are still many times where I have to use my mouse. The way to get the best performance out of your mouse is to increase it’s tracking speed:

  1. In Windows, go the control panel and select Mouse options.
  2. Under Pointer Options, bump up the speed a notch or two.
  3. Every week, bump it up another notch. The difference will be barely perceptible, but ultimately you will be able to manipulate the cursor with the slightest movement of your fingertips rather than having to use your entire hand.

As your pointer speed increases it will become harder to control the mouse precisely, especially if it is a corded mouse, or heaven forbid, it still has a roller ball. The cord actually exerts some force on the mouse, reducing its accuracy, and the ball is easily clogged with dust and debris.

If you are still using one of these mice, invest a small amount in a cordless optical mouse. Everyone has their own preference, but a popular one you can try out is the Logitech Wireless Anywhere Mouse MX. It has a few buttons on the left side (convenient to click with your thumb) which you can set to emulate the “back” arrow on web browsers.

It is not uncommon for newer models to be equipped with buttons like this, as well as wheels for scrolling up and down (and side to side) on a page. Some people I know even have a fourth button on their mouse that they use for going forward.  If you do prefer to use a mouse, there are plenty of great options for streamlining use.

4. Upgrade Your Computer

There is nothing efficient about twiddling your thumbs, trying to figure out why your computer is taking so long to boot up or open a program. If you find yourself in this situation, there are several ways you can noticeably improve your computer’s speed.

These are just some examples of recommended computer upgrades:

  • Upgrade your operating system. If you’re still using Windows XP or Vista,  an upgrade to Windows 7 will make a world of difference.
  • Add more memory. It may sound intimidating, but adding memory to your current computer can be done easily and inexpensively.
  • Install a new hard drive. This is a more expensive option, but it will vastly increase the speed of your computer.

5. Use the Number Pad

It might seem obvious, but it is much easier to enter numerical data using the number pad than the number keys at the top of the keyboard. Just like typing letters, it is much faster to touch type on the keypad than to divert your attention to hunt and peck.

6. Disable Windows Animation

Anyone who remembers Clippy knows that Microsoft has a very condescending attitude toward the computer skills of their users. Someone at Microsoft seems to think that people who use their computer all day prefer flashy graphics and animation to raw speed.

Call me impatient, but if I want to watch animation, I will go out and see the latest Pixar movie. As a person who is constantly trying to convert my thoughts to data as efficiently as possible, I need performance. Whenever I receive a new computer, or reinstall my operating system, the first thing I do is remove as much of this animation as possible.

Here is how you can do it in Windows:

  1. Click the Start button, and then select “Control Panel.”
  2. If you are using an expanded Control Panel, select “System.” Otherwise click “System and Security”, then “System.”
  3. In the left pane, select “Advanced system settings.”
  4. If the User Account Control dialog box appears, click “Yes.”
  5. The “System Properties” multi-tabbed dialog box appears. Click the “Advanced” tab.
  6. Below “Performance,” click “Settings.”
  7. The “Performance Options” multi-tabbed dialog box appears. Select the “Visual Effects” tab.
  8. I prefer to choose “Adjust for best performance,” but you can select just the options you want under “Custom.”
  9. Click “OK” on the dialog boxes to close them.

Removing the fancy animations may make your computer seem a little dull, but it will definitely help it to perform better. Remember, the key to more efficient computer use is to speed up all of the basic functions, from user performance to the machine itself.

7. Speed Up Your Menus

Incredibly, Microsoft created a built-in delay before opening up menu items in Windows. For example, when you click on the Start menu and move your mouse to hover over Programs, the slight delay you experience is actually part of the program. The delay appears again when your mouse reaches a sub-menu, such as Microsoft Office.

While this delay is only four tenth’s of a second, it has the effect of making your Start menu, and all of your Windows menus, feel slow. Fortunately, you can reduce this delay to zero. There are many utilities out there than can do this, or you can do it manually by following Microsoft’s instructions.

8. Show Detailed Lists of Files in Windows Explorer

If you only had a few files on your computer, it might make sense to display them as big icons. The truth is, though, that every computer now contains tens of thousands of files. Displaying them as large icons takes up too much space, and you will waste time scrolling though all of them.

A handy trick is to set your Windows Explorer to show files as a list called Details. That setting lists each file, along with information about it, on one line. Next, apply this setting to all folders. The method for doing so will vary depending on the version of Windows you are using.

Specifying this file display setting will ensure that every time you go to a different folder your files will be presented in the most efficient manner.

Final Word

Computers are continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the people who use them, yet there are still some areas where we as humans can adapt. By taking just a few moments to properly configure your machine, and learn a few tricks to speed up your keyboard and mouse usage, you can realize substantial gains in your computer productivity while dazzling your friends and co-workers with your lightning speed.

Do you have any tips or techniques for increasing speed on your computer? Share them in the comments below!

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Jason Steele
Jason has been writing about personal finance, travel, and other topics on blogs across the Internet. When he is not writing, he has a career in information technology and is also a commercially rated pilot. Jason lives in Colorado with his wife and young daughter where he enjoys parenting, cycling, and other extreme sports.

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  • Kevin Vesga

    FWIW upgrading Windows is not technically a hardware upgrade. Also if your computer currently has XP, you should first check if the hardware is more than sufficient to run Windows 7.

  • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

    I was a hunt-and-peck-er. I knew where most of the keys were — I remembered that from an elementary school keyboard class — but I never took typing after that. Through sheer volume of typing, my speed and accuracy increased to the point where I can type without looking, though I’m sure not all of the keys are touched with the “correct” finger. I can’t type without looking on one of those split-in-half ergonomic keyboards. I think part of it was years of musical training allowed my fingers to train themselves more efficiently than others’ might. Regardless, it is possible!

  • Jason Steele

    I am sure you are fast, but you could be faster if you touch type. By definition, hunting and pecking does not utilize all ten of your fingers. Furthermore, unless you fingers are resting on the keys, they are traveling a distance to reach the keyboard.

  • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

    I do use all 10 fingers (well, left thumb almost never), and they are on or very close to the keyboard. I can type 65 words per minute without looking at the keyboard. That’s fast enough for me :)

  • Jason Steele

    I think you are touch typing then. It may not be using the standard method, but so what. It works for you, but I don’t think what you are describing is still hunt and peck.

  • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

    “The same can’t be said for hunt and peck. If you stick with that approach, your speed will never increase and you will be forever spending precious time trying to find the right letters on the keyboard.”

    All I’m saying is that the above is not always true. I stuck with that approach and it morphed into being able to type well.

  • Jason Steele

    I think we are in agreement. What you have described is that you are no longer hunting an pecking, and that is why you are typing so fast. Whether you started touch typing out of a concerted effort, or because your hunting and pecking just evolved to touch typing is not really the point. Intentionally or not, you clearly have not stuck with the approach of hunting and pecking.

  • http://www.savings.com/blog/blog.html Amy Saves

    I hate the mousepad on my laptop. It’s completely useless. I have an external mouse and will have to optimize it per your advice.

  • David Bookbinder

    I hate when computer know-it-alls-who-know-nothing provide inaccurate and useless advice. Upgrading your O/S will NOT improve speed and performance, in fact, it will accomplish just the opposite. Each new O/S is more resource demanding than the one it replaces, so putting a newer O/S on an older machine will only cause it to operate slower. The only way upgrading will improve performance is when the user buys a new, faster machine with the new O/S. And upgrading your hard drive may or MAY NOT speed up your computer, depending on whether it’s a faster drive. However, even it that’s the case, the improvement is not “vast”

  • milrtime83

    “The Mouse Is Not Your Friend”

    Depends on your job. For a blogger that is typing most of the day it may not be. To an engineer designing stuff in CAD programs all day the mouse is a necessity.

  • nonegiven

    How do you learn to touch type? I keep hitting the ; instead of the l and the caps lock instead of the tab, for backspace, shift for enter and on and on.
    I took typing back when they still had manual typewriters, it didn’t take.

    My son does at least 120 wpm with Dvorak so it does no good to look at his keyboard, is that why he’s so fast?

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