Mac Lab Report

10 Tips for More Efficient Mac Use

- 2002.06.13

This is not one of those weary MHz/pipeline/bandwidth articles we've been inundated with for years. Instead, I'm going to ask you to think a little bit "outside the box" and ask yourself this question: What else can I do to get my work done faster?

The answer is literally outside the box. Through the use of a few simple principles, you can greatly increase your speed on the computer - by changing your work habits and learning a few of the timesaving tricks already in your machine.

How many times have you seen a high level manager hunt-and-peck on a computer keyboard or seen someone type the same phrase over and over? In education, the best example is TSWKABAT: The Student Will Know And Be Able To... or, as I like to call it, "Tiss-wikka-bat."

To avoid repetitive and time-wasting habits will increase your efficiency so much, you'll be able to out produce people with much more powerful machines - such as your boss, who probably has a machine twice as fast as yours. (Not my boss. Your boss. My boss uses a machine slower than all of us teachers, bless her heart.)

I believe an expert user of AppleWorks on a '040 Mac could easily outperform an untrained or inept user on a brand-new Pentium XIX (or whatever number it is these days - does anyone track that?). It's also true that an expert user on a 286 could out produce an inexperienced user on a brand-spankin' new G4 dual processor tower. Maybe. But if you don't tell, I won't either.

So what are these simple expert tips? Some of them go without saying, but that never stopped me before.

1. Learn to Type.

Buy a copy of Mavis Beacon, for gosh sakes, and just do it. There's no excuse for hunt-and-peck typing in this day and age. If you're in public school and haven't learned to type by graduation, someone in the counseling office is not doing their job. Or you're not listening. I think we know which of those scenarios is more likely, don't we?

2. Read the Fine Print in the Manual (RTFPM)

There are many tips in the manual. Tips like the following:

  1. When confronted with a long list of items in the Finder, start typing the document name. The Finder will jump to the appropriate file.
  2. The cursor arrows can be used to make selections of icons in the window and desktop.
  3. Use the Favorites option in the Save and Open dialog to go to frequently visited locations on your hard drive.
  4. Build a popup window with frequently used documents, programs, aliases, servers, and directories. Write a letter supporting adding this feature to OS X. In OS 9, just drag an open window to the bottom of the screen.
  5. Learn to eject a disk without the mouse. Select the disk. Press Apple-Y. Go on with your life. Ask Apple to make one more change to OS 9 and OS X: That little dialog box that comes up telling you the disk can't be ejected because files are in use should include an option to quit all relevant programs and then eject the disk anyway.

Want more tips? There are many tip websites and lots of tip books at the bookstore.

3. Get Organized

Find the file display that works best for you. I use icons at the top level. because everything is either in Documents, Applications, Utilities, or the System Folder. In the applications folder, I have Games, Words, Science, and Other. Within those folders, my files are in list view, because there are so many that it's difficult to track that many icons. I use the desktop for current projects - just like my real desk - and it's pretty messy. I file everything from time to time. In practice, my computer is much more organized than my desk.

4. Use Aliases

Use aliases for frequently mounted server volumes to skip the Chooser. Where I work, we use SASI on a remote server for attendance. The instructions we got say: "Open the Chooser. Pick the server. Log in. Open SASI with the alias on your desktop." The PC-types who don't understand Macs don't know that if we double-click on the alias, we skip the Chooser step and go straight to password city. Aliases are good for directories, programs, and documents, too. Anything you have to open more than 2 windows to get to probably should be an alias in a desktop folder or popup window, don't you think?

5. Use Put Away

If you find a file and drag it to the desktop to work on it, click on it once and choose Apple-Y, and it'll file it back where you got it. Doesn't work if you've put a file in the trash, or if it was created on the desktop, but for you retentive types it helps keep that desktop neat.

6. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

In every menu there are keystroke commands next to selected items. In a Windows program, there are selections indicated by an underlined letter - press alt-letter to invoke the command. I like that Windows does every command, but on the Mac I like that the letter choices actually make sense.

"Press alt-J to Rotate," for example, is typical for a PC, and "Shift-Command-R" is more like a Mac. Guess you can't have it both ways. The simple fact is, a GUI is easier to learn, but keystroke commands are faster. It's a fact, so get over it. I can open my hard drive, maneuver to a file, open it, spell-check it, print it, and close it before a mouse user can figure out they only have one button on the mouse. Well, maybe I'm not that good. But you get the point. I love my mouse - I'll never give it up, but for speed it's just not the fastest method of getting things done.

7. Use Contextual Menus

Take your mouse, hold down the option key, and click right here - > 0 < - . Now, you got a whole bunch more options without going cross-country to the menu bar, didn't you? Thanks very much folks, I'll be here all week.

8. Command-L Resets the Preferred Desktop Printer

"Why can't I print?" is probably because you accidentally selected some other "thing" in the Chooser and switched your printer to a Wheelwriter 2 or something. Click on your desktop printer icon once and type Command-L. Back in bidness.

9. Don't Restart at the Drop of a Hat

The #1 annoying thing about a Mac is if you try to attach to a server that's not online, your Mac goes brain-dead (especially in OS 9) and won't respond to clicks or anything else until about forty-nine minutes have gone by. Okay, not forty-nine, but long enough that you get disgusted and restart because your computer "froze." My students do this all the time.

It takes longer to restart than to wait for the timeout. That delay needs to be cut down to like, 5 seconds. If the server's not online, it's not. Give up. Oh yeah, check your keyboard cable. Might be loose, especially on the older ADB Macs.

10. Read Low End Mac

That's what's called a shameless plug, folks. And while you're at it, send money. Lots of money. We need it to finance things like our annual trip to Barbados and the 72" wall mounted flat screen Phillips computer monitors we hook up to our old Mac LCs. And, uh, electricity is good too; we like to buy that. And food. Food is good.

That flat-screen thing is just a joke, son. Calm down.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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