Saturday, February 3, 2007

Going for the Gold

Though he’s exhausted, he still takes one last run, weaving around flags in the snow. Coaches scrutinize each move. What is two-tenths of a second to this Olympic downhill skier in training? The difference between the silver and the gold medal. In your business, as you strive to save time and money, here are two ideas you can implement: keyboard shortcuts and a business intranet.

First, there are keyboard shortcuts: efficient, keystroke combinations that perform routine commands without the mouse. Using these saves time and physical strain; you aren’t fumbling around to use your mouse and follow the cursor on your monitor. Although there are dozens of shortcuts in Windows applications, here are a few common ones.

To begin with, use CTRL+S to frequently save your work. Why? Imagine the pit in your stomach when the power suddenly goes out at 4:30 in the afternoon and your two hours of unsaved work is lost and gone forever. Second, to undo the last action you completed—like accidentally deleting a huge section of text—use CTRL+Z. Third, navigate between open applications by pressing the ALT key and the TAB key. This is a great asset when you’re toggling between open applications to copy (CTRL+C) and paste (CTRL+V) text or graphics. Finally, press F1 to open an application’s online help system. By searching for the word “shortcuts,” you may be amazed at how many ways you can conserve time and energy using only the keyboard.

Shortcut keys are great for business environments where specific actions are frequently repeated—such as copying and pasting text from the Internet into Microsoft Word. For example, consider four employees, each using only two keyboard shortcuts an hour. A conservative savings of one second each operation translates into a collective savings of about 20 minutes a month. Using keyboard shortcuts build user confidence and shave time off one’s “personal best.”

A second significant way to conserve time and improve quality is to implement a company intranet—a closed system in which data is shared only between fellow employees. This is best explained by comparing two businesses—one with a corporate intranet, and one without. In both scenarios, an employee must fax a notification letter to a client.

In Office A, an employee begins the process by locating an existing notification letter on his workstation. He then copies and renames the document in Microsoft Word. After retrieving the client’s folder from the filing cabinet behind his desk, he opens the summary page listing the client’s information. He then carefully copies the information into his document—typing the address, greeting, date, and pertinent details. He checks his desk calendar to count out 10 business days in the future, and enters that date as the required response date. Once the letter is complete, he saves the document and prints out the letter to the shared office printer. After a walk down the hall, he picks up the letter at the printer, turns around to the other side of the room, and transmits the letter on the fax machine. When the paper has passed through the unit he returns to his desk, writes the current time on the letter, and returns the folder with the letter to the filing cabinet. Total cost: 15 minutes with potentially an inaccurate letter, an incomplete fax transmission, and no clear record of the event.

By way of contrast, the employee in Office B begins with her business intranet already open in her browser. In her custom “Clients” window she selects the client’s name from an alphabetical list. In the next window, she chooses the “Generate Notification Fax” button. Immediately, the client’s information is retrieved from the database—including account number, name, and address. The current date is automatically entered and the response date of 10 business days is also calculated (also accounting for the upcoming business holiday). All this data is seamlessly incorporated into a notification-letter template for her final review. Once approved, she chooses the Send button and the client’s fax number is dialed from the computer using integrated fax software. The letter is successfully sent and the details are added to the database as an audit trail. Total time: 15 seconds with accurate information and a detailed journal of the event.

Now consider if four employees in Office A each send one such fax a day, and the same is done in Office B. In one month Office A will have spent 20 hours whereas Office B will have spent only 20 minutes. As a business owner, what would you do each month with nearly 20 more hours than your competition? Invest in new equipment? Expand your services? As an employee, what would you do with the time saved using shortcut keys? Handle an incoming call with greater calm or double-check a mathematical calculation? Whether it’s shaving off two seconds or 20 hours, go for the gold!