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How to Go from Computer Confused to Software Savvy in 5 Easy Steps

How did you learn all this stuff?

I have been asked one too many times, and now I have to explain myself!

Colleagues frequently come to me asking how to insert a scanned image into a Word file or format a document better. Some of my Language Centre tutors shuddered when I decided to use an online time card over a paper version. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent with Poppy answering his questions about “floor-matting” his new flash drive or sending a “tex-mex” on his cell phone. Friends even ask me how to use Blogger and Gmail. Sure I’ve taken a few classes on various computer-related topics, but I realized something when someone asked me that question this week.

I learned most of what I know about computers and programs by wasting time. When I was a teenager, I spent hours on our family computer. I played with Paint. I wrote something in Word, highlighted some text, and saw what I could do with it by playing around with the buttons and menus. Same with Excel and Firefox. Clicked on stuff. Saw what it did. No consequences.

And now, people come to me with their questions.

Only problem for most of my readers is that we no longer have time to just play around with a computer program. We have deadlines, bosses, and families that need our attention. So I’ve thought about some tricks I’ve developed to learn programs faster now that I’m an adult, and I’m going to share them with you tonight.

5 Tricks for Learning Technology Fast

  1. Google it. You will have to dedicate at least 20 minutes to learning the new program—everything has a learning curve, after all—so if there is something you know it should be able to do, but can’t figure out in 10 minutes, ask The Google. Chances are that someone else has the same question, and you’ll have your answer in a few clicks.
  2. Ask your friend to show you how to do something, but you sit in the driver’s seat. We learn by doing, not by watching. Have your friend sit next to you and point to the buttons on the screen or walk you through the steps, but you rock the mouse and keyboard. And don’t be afraid to ask the same friend to remind you if you’ve forgotten the next week. You don’t become a ninja pro Word user by being too prideful to ask for help! Remember, asking shows that you are truly interested in learning, in improving your skills.
  3. Send it to yourself first. I have used When Is Good several times to set up Language Centre meetings and get tutor availability, but before I ever sent a blank week grid to my tutors, I emailed it to myself first. This serves two purpose. First, you will be able to make sure you have actually used the program correctly. If something doesn’t look the way you thought it would, go back and start over. No embarrassment in front of clients, supervisors, or students. Second, you will be able to describe to the client, supervisor, or student how to use the program from their end. In the case of When Is Good, I emailed my tutors a link to our meeting sheet with detailed correct instructions on how to communicate their availability to me. When they get clear instructions, you get the answers you need the first time around.
  4. Don’t be afraid that you are going to break it. Very rarely can you do something from within a program to screw everything up, so just forget that crazy notion right now. If you’re using Excel or Word or anything with a save function, save the original, but use File > Save as… to create a back-up document called, for example, “harvard_application-test”. If you happen to make that file look awesome, fine. If something bad happens, voila! Open your original and you haven’t lost all of your hard work. If something unexpected does happen, try CTRL + Z. It’s the universal “un-do” key combination.
  5. Slow down. If a program or website has promised that it can do a certain function, but you can’t find it, slow down. Look at every menu and every menu item and ask yourself, “Could that describe what I am trying to do?” I find that sometimes I’m reading the menus and options too quickly and often skip over the very button I needed.

Question of the Day

What are you interested in learning more about that you know will make your work or home life easier, but haven’t tried yet because it seems too complicated or you don’t have the time?

9 thoughts on “How to Go from Computer Confused to Software Savvy in 5 Easy Steps

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  4. Daniel Hargett

    07 Nov on 2008 at 19:57

    Haha, I always tell people that I’ve played with computers since i was 10 and just messed around with everything to see what it did too! These are very good instructions though! Especially about google, can’t stress that one enough. If Google was around when I was 10, I would be a computer super genius, instead of just a halfway computer genius.

    • xgravity23

      09 Nov on 2008 at 15:53

      @Daniel Hargett – Hey, is there anything you would add to this list? Maybe I could write a follow up. Or you could write a guest post!

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  6. Lorraine

    07 Nov on 2008 at 17:24

    Ah, and herein you get to the heart of why I heart you. ;-) I had no idea until I started reading your blog just how savvy you really are, Linden. And I’ve been amazed ever since. I think I’m finally (!) starting to pick up on many of the tricks I was always missing, but I will say that you continue to inspire me by always being one step ahead on new technology. How do you constantly find all these new things? And please keep it up so I can stay in the loop by proxy. ;-)

    • xgravity23

      09 Nov on 2008 at 14:44

      Awww, you’re so sweet! I’m glad that I’m inspirational! I find new things by reading/scanning all my feeds–Lifehacker is a great source for finding all sorts of new schtuff.