Productivity: know your tools!

Written on 4 December 2014, 11:38pm

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I’m always surprised by the fact that a considerable number of people in our field don’t really know how to make the best use of their tools. I’ll try to put together a set of good practices and possible improvements.

1. Hardware

Display: Know what type of monitor is better for your job (designer vs developer). Know the difference between IPS and TN panels, between fps and refresh rate, between LCD and LED technologies. If you are using a dual monitor configuration, know what is the set up that works best for your workflow. On the same page, you need to know how to sit correctly (or maybe stand?) and about the…
Ambient light: know what temperature of light is fit for what purpose (TL;DR: warm white for relaxation, cool white for work). Use f.lux to automatically adjust the screen color temperature according to the time of the day. Know that a dark color scheme is easier on the eyes compared to a light one.
Keyboard: Here the most important part is not the keyboard itself, but the way you type. Touch typing is mandatory at this level. If you don’t master it yet, get on it now.
I personally prefer this keyboard because it’s classic, it has a great touch feeling and – as a bonus – has separate multimedia keys that work with Spotify 🙂
Mouse/trackpad: no matter which one you use, it should allow you to be fast. In my experience the mouse is always faster on a day-to-day use, but if you are mostly browsing/reading and you need less pointing precision then the trackpad is probably enough. Just know how to use 2-fingers scroll and stuff like that. I personally use this mouse, after using 3 or 4 pieces from the older generation. After 8 years of using them I settled for the following configuration:
– button next to the wheel – middle click (=closing tabs)
– left/right wheel buttons – volume down/up
– left button 1 – minimize window
– left button 2 – mute toggle

Almost 2 years later, the mapping changed:
– button next to the wheel – middle click (=closing tabs)
– left/right wheel buttons – ctrl+shift+tab/ctrl+tab (switching tabs)
– left button 1 – ctrl+t (new tab)
– left button 2 – minimize window

Headphones (for music or conference): Ideally you would like to have some headphones with noise cancellation, but if you are video-conferencing a lot then you need to have some headphones with a good microphone.

2. Software

Here the motto is Learn the shortcuts. Since I am mostly using Windows, the tips below concern that operating system, but some of them are more general.


Know Win+R, Win+E, Win+D, Win+F, Win+Arrows, Alt+F4, F2, Ctrl+W etc
Use tools for context menu integration (ex. zip/unzip, files diff, image file resize, Dropbox integration, scan, etc…)
Know about Global hotkeys
Don’t forget that you can always remap keys


Here things are simple: Sublime Text FTW 🙂 It allows:
– Key mappings
– Distraction free mode
– SFTP Plugin
– Version control integration
I simply cannot imagine working without it; but if you are using a different IDE, make sure that it allows fast searching of text, fast searching of files, integration with your favorite version control tool and ideally communicates with your remote server. Don’t forget to use a dark scheme.
And invest time in learning your IDE – it will pay out on the long run.


Know Ctrl+shift+T, Alt+left/right arrows, Ctrl+R, Ctrl+T, Ctrl+J, Ctrl+L, F12 to open DevTools. The shortcuts above work in all the major browsers.
Use mouse gestures. I started to use them about 8 years ago, and I never switched back.


We are spending a lot of time going through the emails, so knowing a few key shortcuts/functionalities is essential.
Outlook: Ctrl+K to check names Ctrl+S vs Alt+S, use rules to filter messages, use a setting to delay send (in case you accidentally send the email before it’s done)
GMail: undo send, mail filters, reply and archive
Mailbox for iOS: snooze email, try to reach inbox zero


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