Am I working efficiently?

A Method to My Madness

I have had the joy of struggling with transforming my computer life from the Windows world to the Mac OS X world.  While the transformation is not in any way painless, I do notice a difference between the way I move into relationship with new technology and the way many others do so.  And, while there are those who think my method ventures into the realm of the compulsive, I find that it is quite effective for me, and, ultimately, saves me time in the long run.

So when I get a new piece of software… or in this case, a new computer, operating system, keyboard, keystrokes, programs, and… well, just a whole lot… this is what I do.  I delve into whatever I have the time for. 

I search for and learn the keyboard shortcuts for most every operation I’ll be running more than a handful of times.  Which keystrokes shifts between programs, which strokes switch between screens or documents already open within a program, which will bold, or italicize?  How do I move to the beginning and end of lines, or to the next word, paragraph, screen, or page?  What’s the fastest way to move images or text from one program to another?

What resources lie out on the net?  Who can I ask?  How can I continue learning in a painless way, so I will come in contact with better ways to do some of the things I’ve been doing?


My wife, who doesn’t operate this way, finds my strategy to be annoying, as I often get distracted from other tasks when focused on my investigations.  True enough.  Most times, my method works well for me (except when I'm particularly obsessed, of course). 

My experience tells me that when I haven’t spent time learning what I need to learn first, I am easily frustrated.  My process is repeatedly disrupted by having to search for how to do what comes next. 

My clients frequently will report uncertainty as to how much time they should take to get themselves “up to speed” on new systems or for new activities.  This question may resonate with you, as well, around other issues you might face.

For example, it is analogous to the question of how much time you should spend in preparation before you feel comfortable to begin writing for submission to a journal or creating a presentation or lesson plan.  But more mundane dilemmas abound: How does the disorder of my desk, room, or files impinge on the ease in which I can do my work? How much time do I spend getting new systems in place to support my work with my students (for example, in learning and preparing online supports to augment classroom activities)?

So what’s the answer?

It would be dandy if there were simple rules around this.  I could lay them out for you below and you could tack them up on the bulletin board above your desk and that would be that.  But, as you already know so well, life is complex… and this is yet another example of where the answers must come from trial and experience.  Your experience.

Still, there are some suggestions I can offer here:

  • Don’t assume that the way you are going about it is the best way for you… though that might be the case, after all.
  • If you’re feeling inefficient, there’s probably a reason why.  Where is the flow of your work (or of your day or of your thinking) disrupted?  What’s going on there?
  • Explore with openness and candor the truth about your situation?  Are you learning a time-saver for the long haul?  Or is this merely a clever form of procrastination?
  • If it’s even possible that it’s based in procrastination, mix in doing some of what’s being put on hold while you’re in “preparation” mode. So, if writing is being put on hold while you gather more and more information, do some writing on the project every day.  Write what you can and put "markers" into the text where you need more information or don't have a clue what to write. For example: [See if results from Joseph 1997 are relevant here.]
  • Ask yourself “What am I avoiding?”  Listen openly and carefully to what you hear.
  • Ask for help… from colleagues.
  • Ask for help… from friends.
  • Ask for help… from mentors and coaches.

Asking for help is usually the hardest thing to do: we don't like to admit we aren't perfect, don't know everything, can't succeed independently.  But asking for help is perhaps the most useful thing to do when we're stuck.

Remember: You're not the only one to experience befuddlement.  It is often exceedingly difficult to know what is really the cause of the problem.

To remain true to ourselves, it is easier and more reliable for us to get an outside opinion from a trusted, non-competing colleague, friend, adviser, mentor, or coach.  What you want here is someone who will tell you the truth, challenge you, and still hold you in high regard. (Shameless Marketing Message: If you want to know what this feels like, give me a call.)

So far, I’ve just been talking about what’s going on.  What you do about what’s going on really depends on you and what is discovered in this search.  I will tell you this: it is not your intelligence that will stop you.  If you are truly committed to your success, and you harness the power of the right tools and support, the barriers in front of you will fall away.  Wouldn’t that be nice? 


What's one thing you're "taking away" with you from having read this article?  If you'd like to share it, write a comment, give me a call (315-472-0504) or email me

-Steve Reiter
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