Whether you consider yourself a master at Photoshop, Powerpoint, or Call of Duty, there are two fundamental bases of skill: knowledge and talent. Some people have natural talent, some don’t, and others can learn it — that’s not what this post is about. This post is about utilizing knowledge to make yourself productive.

  1. Start now!

    Productivity is output/time. Let’s take email as an example, since you’re probably very familiar with it. You’re not completely new to Gmail/Mail/Yahoo, but you haven’t taken time out of your day to learn the details. There’s no time, you want to just read your mail, reply, and be done with it. Little do you know, there are hotkeys (buttons on your keyboard) that do specific actions. You’re moving your mouse all the way up to the delete button when you could just press “d”!

    Big deal, right? Right. That hotkey saves maybe 1.5 seconds per email. These add up quickly. Figuring 50 emails a day, you’re taking 50 actions and spending an unnecessary 75 seconds. That’s 7.6 hours a year. Still not a large amount of time, but different tools have different tricks. What if half those emails never existed in the first place? Go look up Gmail filters and learn to use them. You’ll end up saving entire days, and that’s just email.

    Saying you’ll learn the time-saving tricks later only increases the overall time you spend. Learn them now now. The next bullet point can wait.

  2. We don’t know everything

    I’ve been designing websites for 10 years now, and with Photoshop for 8 and a half. I consider myself to have an eye for design, and over the years I’ve gotten fast at mockups. You tell me what to draw and I can get it done reasonably fast. I thought I knew the ins and outs of Photoshop…

    While working a couple weeks ago, a fellow designer and co-worker, Mr. Didi, saw me right click to open a submenu. Next thing I know, I’m being called a Photoshop n00b. Major ego hit! For 8 years, I’ve been doing an action in 3 clicks that only takes one. If I knew that 8 years ago, I’d probably have saved 30+ hours (and partially my reputation) by now.

    Figure out what you don’t know by working with people who know their stuff and by constantly questioning yourself.

  3. Use the right resources

    The reasons I didn’t actually know the details of Photoshop is because I was completely self taught. I relied on myself just stumbling upon features instead of following a guide or book.

    I’ve come to realize that it’s incredibly important to learn from experts and balance how much you self-teach. The experts know what they’re doing, plus, reading about a trick is significantly faster than discovering it yourself. Buy books and support the economy.