My writing usually focuses on technical tips and tricks. But in all honesty, the best tip I can offer is to get trained. Most of us are self-taught in the office software products we use. Unless you are the type to read all your manuals thoroughly before touching the mouse or keyboard, it’s safe to say you learned what you were shown and what you either found by accident, or after hours of “hunt, peck and destroy.”
The thought of taking days away from our primary income earning activity to sit in a boring class keeps many of us from even researching our options. But, there are alternatives, such as webinars, interactive software and classes designed for working people that can make the experience worth your investment of time and money.
If you’re not sure about something that organized or formal, at least expand your learning through self-study. Here are a few self-study tips for getting better at the various office software applications you use.
1. Buy a book! Before starting to hack away at an answer, look it up. Get in the habit of hitting your reference material first. If you don’t find the answer, you’ll at least get a direction to head in. My favorites are the “…Bible” series from Wiley Publishing. These come with a CDROM that contains the entire book electronically! Keep a journal of what you look up and learn. Then, review it at the end of the week.
2. Hover. Hover over icons and objects on your screens and learn what they are called. When you know the proper terms for things, it is easier to ask for help on them. Once a day hover over something you’ve never clicked on and see if you can find out what it does or what it’s called. I found the Merge and Center icon in Excel this way years ago! Play a “match game” with yourself from time to time on the icons and objects you’ve uncovered. See if you can guess the right names.
3. “Shop” templates. I’ve learned so much about Microsoft Word, Excel and Access by browsing through and trying out templates. From formulas to fancy text boxes to subforms, I’ve picked up valuable techniques I didn’t know before just from reverse engineering a few templates.
4. Visit Office.Microsoft.com's Help and How To tab for great interactive training on specific topics. This is how I learned mail merge! Look for help entries that show an icon that looks like a teacher with a pointer and a blackboard. These are interactive and take you step by step through a brief training exercise with audio and video.
Above all, don’t stop learning! I’ve been using most of the Microsoft Office tools since their first or second versions. Not a month goes by where I don’t learn something new they can do. The next tip you learn could save you hours of time and frustration. Go for it!