50+ Digital Skills and Tools for Easy Quick Wins

This is the blog post where I’ve collected 60 of the digital skills I’ve collected over the years that have given me the quickest wins in working more efficiently or effectively. Sometimes, when you learn these skills they’re just something one-off that you look up in the moment, but if you stick with it, you’ll find that you can use them much more regularly in different circumstances. Also…. Shortcut keys. I love them and you should too.

Categories

Excel / Google Sheets Skills for Quick Wins

Adding/ Subtracting Dates

Calendar math can be really annoying. Mainly because if you get it wrong it can cause costly delays and missed deadlines. Excel and Google Sheets have the simple ability to add or subtract days from a specific date with just a few clicks. 

How does it work? Basically, it’s just a simple formula of = [CELL WITH DATE IN IT] + NUMBER OF DAYS.

Alternatively, say you know a deadline, and need to subtract key milestone dates from it. Then the formula is = [CELL WITH DATE IN IT] – NUMBER OF DAYS

Adding Page Breaks / Setting Print Area

This one might seem really obvious to  most people, but I’ll be honest, I never used this regularly despite struggling with stretching and shrinking rows and columns to make sure a spreadsheet was going to print on my sheet of paper exactly how I wanted it to. 

Excel (and Google Sheets!) actually makes it pretty easy to set up how your spreadsheet prints on a sheet. 

So for Excel, to add a page break, that is where the content below goes to the next page, you simply need to go to the Page Layout tab, and click the down arrow next to Breaks, and choose Insert Page Break. Importantly, it will add the page break ABOVE the selected cell or row. 

Related, you can also set the print area as well, with the button right next to ‘Breaks’. This basically allows you to select a range of cells that you want to be included in the print (while excluding any cells that you don’t want to be included in the print) then click Set Print Area. This means only those cells in that range will print. 

This can be really helpful if you rows at the bottoms or columns at the side that are really for your eyes only, for calculations, raw data, etc. that you don’t want included in a printed version that might be going to clients or others who don’t need that information. 

Alternating Rows Formatting

This is a visual thing, but especially with huge spreadsheets, showing the rows in alternating colors can make it so much easier to read and understand the information. 

In Google Sheets, this is what I like to call ‘stupid easy’. Basically, you can select the cells that you want to be formatted in this way, then go to Format, then click Alternating Colors. By default, it will set it where there’s a heading color then greyscale colors used on each subsequent row. However, this is easy to adjust in the options that automatically pop out on the right-hand side of the screen. 

In Excel, it’s a little more roundabout to get to alternating colors. Essentially, the range of cells needs to be set up as a Table. Tables are really beneficial and have a number of useful features in Excel. However, if you don’t need your data to be set up as a table, you can still use the table options to create alternating colors in the formatting. 

How to do this is select the range you want to format, then go to the Insert tab and click Table. Now, like with Google Sheets you can select your formatting options, including colors, if there are headers, etc. You can even set it where instead of alternating colors for your rows, you set alternating colors for columns. Use the tick boxes for ‘banded rows’ and ‘banded columns’ to achieve this. 

Then if you don’t want to keep this data within the table format, you can simply click the ‘Convert to Range’ button on the Table Design tab. All of your formatting will remain the same, you’ll only remove those table options. 

Conditional Formatting

I might be a bit of a nerd about conditional formatting. But I’m a visual thinker, so it only makes sense to me to have a visual means of communicating information embedded in the data. 

So what does conditional formatting mean? 

Basically, this means Excel or Google Sheets will highlight or format the cell based on the information it contains. 

This can be helpful with simple text information, such as a project schedule highlighting any tasks that have a status set to ‘on schedule’ or ‘behind schedule’. 

How does this work?

If you select the range of cells that you want to format based on a specific ‘condition’, you can then just click the Conditional Formatting button. From there, you can choose from some of the predefined conditions that Excel has or you can just click ‘New Rule’. This will open up a box where you can tell Excel, “if a cell has X information, it should be formatted in this way…”

For highlighting cells that contain specific text, make sure your criteria is set to Cell Value > Equal to > then type the text that would indicate that this cell should be formatting/highlighted in a specific way. 

See below: 

This is a similar process in Google Sheets, you’ll just need to choose Conditional Formatting from the Format menu. 

But what if you want the cells to highlight based on a more numerical criteria. For example, it can be helpful to have a visual highlight if an area of a project is over or under budget. This would be done the same way, but you’ll need to choose the greater or less than options instead. Then you’d use another cell’s value to determine the greater or less than result. This is easy to do by just selecting the cell of that value by clicking the little up-arrow button then selecting the cell of the value. 

Here’s important to note that by default, Excel will record the cell value in the format of $B$2. The use of the dollar signs here means Excel is locking the formatting rule to only checking against the value of that cell on that particular row and column. 

If you wanted it to instead look at cells in a particular column but for the row to match to the cell being formatted, you would remove the dollar sign in front of the row number, e.g. $B2. 

See below:

Showing things graphically like this can be really powerful. In this example, a client could be overly worried about two areas of the project going over budget. However, graphically showing the ones that are under budget, helps highlight that overall the project is still on track. 

Obviously, this is a simple example, and you might think formatting it manually would be easier. The beauty of conditional formatting however is that it means the formatting can be applied to much larger sets of data. Also, it means that the formatting will change as and when any data is updated, meaning you never have to go back and change the formatting once you’ve set it up to be conditional on those rules. It’s an amazing time saver to capitalize on the benefits of communicating more visually.

Paste values / paste formulas

This one is simple but important. Know then when you copy and paste in Excel or in Google Sheets, you don’t have to copy everything exactly as it is. 

Pasting values or pasting formulas will mean you can copy and paste your hard work but without the annoyance of bringing over information you don’t need or bringing over formulas that won’t work in this new part of the spreadsheet. 

Paste values works in that it will only paste the actual figures or text from a cell or cells. It won’t paste any formulas that were used to get those figures. 

Paste formulas on the other hand works in that it will only paste the formulas. Meaning, if you want to use the same formulas on a different set of data, pasting the formulas you’ve already created without any previous data can be a real time saver. 

Both of these options are available under the Paste expanded menu. This is via the down arrow under Paste on the Home tab on Excel. This is via the Edit menu, Paste special option in Google Sheets. 

VLOOKUP formula  

Now if you’re like me and follow Excel instagrammers or Youtube channels (they exist!), you’re likely very aware that the VLOOKUP formula can be a bit contentious. Some people love it. Some people hate it. I’m probably somewhere in between to a degree. I think what this formula does for you is incredibly helpful and  can save you so much time! However, I wish it was a bit more intuitive and less clunky. 

So what does the VLOOKUP formula do? 

The VLOOKUP formula allows you to look up and retrieve information from one range of cells based on the value found in another cell.

The typical example used to demonstrate this formula is finding a particular student’s grade from a big list. 

But this can be helpful in the interiors’ world too. You collect so much information about suppliers, FF&E, Trades, etc. over time, that being able to research and reference that record quickly can be an incredibly beneficial time savings. It can also be incredibly beneficial in sharing your experience to new team members or assistants who are helping you on your projects and in your business. 

So let’s look at a really basic example. Here’s a long spreadsheet that has a record of 94 brands. There’s some key information included with each brand. Now, if you needed to quickly find out that relevant information, instead of combing through your extensive list, a simple VLOOKUP formula will return that information for a specific brand automatically. 

Let’s see this in action:

Alternatively, consider organizing your specs, schedules, estimates, or things that you might create and you know you need add some piece of information that will be consistent across projects. A VLOOKUP formula with using an overall parent list as a source can help you autofill this information with ease. 

For example, here we have some basic information about some FF&E sourcing. We know we want to include the website URL, contact email, and contact name here as it will be easy for us to have that information at the ready when this project’s sourcing is taking into more detail. Instead of having to either look it up each time, or copying and pasting, you could have this information automatically be filled based off an overall parent or master list that is used to infill this information in the relevant cells. 

What does this look like? 

In this case you’ll be using multiple sheets within your overall spreadsheet file. 

Essentially, you use one master sheet for the detail, then on the main spreadsheet, you use the VLOOKUP formula to tell Excel where to go to find the information of a specified brand. 

Adding/Subtracting Dates

Calendar math can be really annoying. Mainly because if you get it wrong it can cause costly delays and missed deadlines. Excel and Google Sheets have the simple ability to add or subtract days from a specific date with just a few clicks. 

How does it work? Basically, it’s just a simple formula of = [CELL WITH DATE IN IT] + NUMBER OF DAYS.

Alternatively, say you know a deadline, and need to subtract key milestone dates from it. Then the formula is = [CELL WITH DATE IN IT] - NUMBER OF DAYS

Adding Page Breaks / Setting Print Area

This one might seem really obvious to  most people, but I’ll be honest, I never used this regularly despite struggling with stretching and shrinking rows and columns to make sure a spreadsheet was going to print on my sheet of paper exactly how I wanted it to. 

Excel (and Google Sheets!) actually makes it pretty easy to set up how your spreadsheet prints on a sheet. 

So for Excel, to add a page break, that is where the content below goes to the next page, you simply need to go to the Page Layout tab, and click the down arrow next to Breaks, and choose Insert Page Break. Importantly, it will add the page break ABOVE the selected cell or row. 

Related, you can also set the print area as well, with the button right next to ‘Breaks’. This basically allows you to select a range of cells that you want to be included in the print (while excluding any cells that you don’t want to be included in the print) then click Set Print Area. This means only those cells in that range will print. 

This can be really helpful if you rows at the bottoms or columns at the side that are really for your eyes only, for calculations, raw data, etc. that you don’t want included in a printed version that might be going to clients or others who don’t need that information. 

Alternating Rows Formatting

This is a visual thing, but especially with huge spreadsheets, showing the rows in alternating colors can make it so much easier to read and understand the information. 

In Google Sheets, this is what I like to call ‘stupid easy’. Basically, you can select the cells that you want to be formatted in this way, then go to Format, then click Alternating Colors. By default, it will set it where there’s a heading color then greyscale colors used on each subsequent row. However, this is easy to adjust in the options that automatically pop out on the right-hand side of the screen. 

In Excel, it’s a little more roundabout to get to alternating colors. Essentially, the range of cells needs to be set up as a Table. Tables are really beneficial and have a number of useful features in Excel. However, if you don’t need your data to be set up as a table, you can still use the table options to create alternating colors in the formatting. 

How to do this is select the range you want to format, then go to the Insert tab and click Table. Now, like with Google Sheets you can select your formatting options, including colors, if there are headers, etc. You can even set it where instead of alternating colors for your rows, you set alternating colors for columns. Use the tick boxes for ‘banded rows’ and ‘banded columns’ to achieve this. 

Then if you don’t want to keep this data within the table format, you can simply click the ‘Convert to Range’ button on the Table Design tab. All of your formatting will remain the same, you’ll only remove those table options. 

Conditional Formatting

I might be a bit of a nerd about conditional formatting. But I’m a visual thinker, so it only makes sense to me to have a visual means of communicating information embedded in the data. 

So what does conditional formatting mean? 

Basically, this means Excel or Google Sheets will highlight or format the cell based on the information it contains. 

This can be helpful with simple text information, such as a project schedule highlighting any tasks that have a status set to ‘on schedule’ or ‘behind schedule’. 

How does this work?

If you select the range of cells that you want to format based on a specific ‘condition’, you can then just click the Conditional Formatting button. From there, you can choose from some of the predefined conditions that Excel has or you can just click ‘New Rule’. This will open up a box where you can tell Excel, “if a cell has X information, it should be formatted in this way…”

For highlighting cells that contain specific text, make sure your criteria is set to Cell Value > Equal to > then type the text that would indicate that this cell should be formatting/highlighted in a specific way. 

See below: 

This is a similar process in Google Sheets, you’ll just need to choose Conditional Formatting from the Format menu. 

But what if you want the cells to highlight based on a more numerical criteria. For example, it can be helpful to have a visual highlight if an area of a project is over or under budget. This would be done the same way, but you’ll need to choose the greater or less than options instead. Then you’d use another cell’s value to determine the greater or less than result. This is easy to do by just selecting the cell of that value by clicking the little up-arrow button then selecting the cell of the value. 

Here’s important to note that by default, Excel will record the cell value in the format of $B$2. The use of the dollar signs here means Excel is locking the formatting rule to only checking against the value of that cell on that particular row and column. 

If you wanted it to instead look at cells in a particular column but for the row to match to the cell being formatted, you would remove the dollar sign in front of the row number, e.g. $B2. 

See below:


Showing things graphically like this can be really powerful. In this example, a client could be overly worried about two areas of the project going over budget. However, graphically showing the ones that are under budget, helps highlight that overall the project is still on track. 

Obviously, this is a simple example, and you might think formatting it manually would be easier. The beauty of conditional formatting however is that it means the formatting can be applied to much larger sets of data. Also, it means that the formatting will change as and when any data is updated, meaning you never have to go back and change the formatting once you’ve set it up to be conditional on those rules. It’s an amazing time saver to capitalize on the benefits of communicating more visually.

Paste values / paste formulas

This one is simple but important. Know then when you copy and paste in Excel or in Google Sheets, you don’t have to copy everything exactly as it is. 

Pasting values or pasting formulas will mean you can copy and paste your hard work but without the annoyance of bringing over information you don’t need or bringing over formulas that won’t work in this new part of the spreadsheet. 

Paste values works in that it will only paste the actual figures or text from a cell or cells. It won’t paste any formulas that were used to get those figures. 

Paste formulas on the other hand works in that it will only paste the formulas. Meaning, if you want to use the same formulas on a different set of data, pasting the formulas you’ve already created without any previous data can be a real time saver. 

Both of these options are available under the Paste expanded menu. This is via the down arrow under Paste on the Home tab on Excel. This is via the Edit menu, Paste special option in Google Sheets. 

VLOOKUP formula  

Now if you’re like me and follow Excel instagrammers or Youtube channels (they exist!), you’re likely very aware that the VLOOKUP formula can be a bit contentious. Some people love it. Some people hate it. I’m probably somewhere in between to a degree. I think what this formula does for you is incredibly helpful and  can save you so much time! However, I wish it was a bit more intuitive and less clunky. 

So what does the VLOOKUP formula do? 

The VLOOKUP formula allows you to look up and retrieve information from one range of cells based on the value found in another cell.

The typical example used to demonstrate this formula is finding a particular student’s grade from a big list. 

But this can be helpful in the interiors’ world too. You collect so much information about suppliers, FF&E, Trades, etc. over time, that being able to research and reference that record quickly can be an incredibly beneficial time savings. It can also be incredibly beneficial in sharing your experience to new team members or assistants who are helping you on your projects and in your business. 

So let’s look at a really basic example. Here’s a long spreadsheet that has a record of 94 brands. There’s some key information included with each brand. Now, if you needed to quickly find out that relevant information, instead of combing through your extensive list, a simple VLOOKUP formula will return that information for a specific brand automatically. 

Let’s see this in action:

Alternatively, consider organizing your specs, schedules, estimates, or things that you might create and you know you need add some piece of information that will be consistent across projects. A VLOOKUP formula with using an overall parent list as a source can help you autofill this information with ease. 

For example, here we have some basic information about some FF&E sourcing. We know we want to include the website URL, contact email, and contact name here as it will be easy for us to have that information at the ready when this project’s sourcing is taking into more detail. Instead of having to either look it up each time, or copying and pasting, you could have this information automatically be filled based off an overall parent or master list that is used to infill this information in the relevant cells. 

What does this look like? 

In this case you’ll be using multiple sheets within your overall spreadsheet file. 

Essentially, you use one master sheet for the detail, then on the main spreadsheet, you use the VLOOKUP formula to tell Excel where to go to find the information of a specified brand. 

AutoCAD Quick Wins and Quick Fixes

Batch plotting

If you haven’t heard, I’m a huge fan of batch plotting. I still regret time wasted when I was plotting to PDF individual sheet after individual sheet after individual sheet…

Batch plotting from AutoCAD is for some reason something that isn’t often taught to beginners. It should be because it’s 10x more helpful than just plotting a single sheet. 

See the video below on how to batch plot: 

-Layer Command

Using layers is such a fundamental best practice in AutoCAD, that any time I get the chance, I’ll reiterate that. Please-oh-please use layers! 

But also use them smartly. Be strategic in how layers are named, organized, and what properties they possess. 

The LAYER command in AutoCAD actually opens the Layer Properties Manager window. From there you can create a new layer via button, as well make a whole host of other adjustments. 

The -LAYER command on the other hand lets you do things with layers without the Layer Properties Manager window. 

In my opinion, the -LAYER command shouldn’t replace the use of the Layer Properties Manager window, because I think visually reviewing and adjusting those settings is still really beneficial in having control over your drawing. 

However, using the -LAYER command to create a bunch of new layers all at once is a lovely little time saver. Basically, instead of clicking on the little button in the Layer Properties Manager window, you type – LAYER and press enter, then type N (for New) and press enter, then type the name of the new layer. 

Then to create your second new layer, all you have to do is press enter, to repeat the last command, then press N and enter, then the new layer name, and so on and so on. 

This means you don’t have to right-click and rename or double-click to rename the default Layer 1, Layer 2 when you create a new layer. Instead, you’ll create a whole new list of new layers with the proper names. So when you go to the Layer Properties Manager to give these layers their properties, you’ve already saved yourself the time and trouble of naming these layers efficiently. 

Rename Command

I’m really bad about naming a block or something I create in AutoCAD pretty inefficiently. Then when I have a really organized file when I’m further along, I unfortunately have a bunch of random things that don’t follow any logic or order in how they’re named. Yeah, for a one-off project, this would probably be fine. However, I’m of the belief that any previous project can and should be of service to the next project. Therefore, organizing and naming things in one dwg will make it so much easier to use those things in another dwg file. 

This is when the Rename command becomes handy. It’s not a command that’s as common as the ones that have a big button up at the top, but at certain stages in a drawing, it can be really helpful. 

Basically, just type RENAME and press enter. Then choose the object, style, or whatever ‘thing’ you want to rename in the file, and then specify the new name.  Please don’t explode a block and then recreate it with a new name that’s the one you want – that’s what I used to do – RENAME is so much easier….

PDFImport

I’m all for working smarter not harder. And sometimes, it can save you so much time to bring in lines from a PDF rather than having to redraw everything from scratch. That’s where the PDFImport command comes in handy!

Watch this video below where I walk you through how to both attach a PDF file in AutoCAD then import all the lines and layers within the PDF that are ready to be used in a live .dwg drawing. 

Downsave

Downsaving is a super easy thing to do in AutoCAD. But more importantly, it’s something you need to be aware that you have to do sometimes. Especially, when you work with others in AutoCAD, being aware of how to downsave will make you have some very happy relationships with collaborators. This is because old versions of AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT can’t open new versions’ files. 

But it’s really easy to downsave.

Go to save your .dwg, and in the dropdown menu, click the older version of AutoCAD you want to save it as: 

This will mean you’ll be making any fellow designer who has been putting off upgrading their AutoCAD very, very happy. 

Purge command and Regen command

There’s a reason that these two commands are my number 1 and number 2 quick fixes in my Youtube video Top 5 quick fix commands for AutoCAD beginners. They can solve a lot of problems quickly with just a few keys. 

See the video below on how to use the Purge command and Regen command (plus a few other favorite commands for beginners!)

 

ImageFrame & PDFFrame

When you bring in an image or PDF file into AutoCAD, sometimes they have this pesky border around them that annoyingly just can’t be detached and deleted. 

This is because there is a distinct setting within AutoCAD on how to remove that frame. 

See the video below on using the IMAGEFRAME command. 

The same principles apply to PDFs as well in AutoCAD – requiring you to use the PDFFRAME command. 

Batch plotting

If you haven’t heard, I’m a huge fan of batch plotting. I still regret time wasted when I was plotting to PDF individual sheet after individual sheet after individual sheet…

Batch plotting from AutoCAD is for some reason something that isn’t often taught to beginners. It should be because it’s 10x more helpful than just plotting a single sheet. 

See the video below on how to batch plot: 

 

 

-Layer Command

Using layers is such a fundamental best practice in AutoCAD, that any time I get the chance, I’ll reiterate that. Please-oh-please use layers! 

But also use them smartly. Be strategic in how layers are named, organized, and what properties they possess. 

The LAYER command in AutoCAD actually opens the Layer Properties Manager window. From there you can create a new layer via button, as well make a whole host of other adjustments. 

The -LAYER command on the other hand lets you do things with layers without the Layer Properties Manager window. 

In my opinion, the -LAYER command shouldn’t replace the use of the Layer Properties Manager window, because I think visually reviewing and adjusting those settings is still really beneficial in having control over your drawing. 

However, using the -LAYER command to create a bunch of new layers all at once is a lovely little time saver. Basically, instead of clicking on the little button in the Layer Properties Manager window, you type - LAYER and press enter, then type N (for New) and press enter, then type the name of the new layer. 

Then to create your second new layer, all you have to do is press enter, to repeat the last command, then press N and enter, then the new layer name, and so on and so on. 

This means you don’t have to right-click and rename or double-click to rename the default Layer 1, Layer 2 when you create a new layer. Instead, you’ll create a whole new list of new layers with the proper names. So when you go to the Layer Properties Manager to give these layers their properties, you’ve already saved yourself the time and trouble of naming these layers efficiently. 

Rename Command

I’m really bad about naming a block or something I create in AutoCAD pretty inefficiently. Then when I have a really organized file when I’m further along, I unfortunately have a bunch of random things that don’t follow any logic or order in how they’re named. Yeah, for a one-off project, this would probably be fine. However, I’m of the belief that any previous project can and should be of service to the next project. Therefore, organizing and naming things in one dwg will make it so much easier to use those things in another dwg file. 

This is when the Rename command becomes handy. It’s not a command that’s as common as the ones that have a big button up at the top, but at certain stages in a drawing, it can be really helpful. 

Basically, just type RENAME and press enter. Then choose the object, style, or whatever ‘thing’ you want to rename in the file, and then specify the new name.  Please don’t explode a block and then recreate it with a new name that’s the one you want - that’s what I used to do - RENAME is so much easier….

PDFImport

I’m all for working smarter not harder. And sometimes, it can save you so much time to bring in lines from a PDF rather than having to redraw everything from scratch. That’s where the PDFImport command comes in handy!

Watch this video below where I walk you through how to both attach a PDF file in AutoCAD then import all the lines and layers within the PDF that are ready to be used in a live .dwg drawing. 

 

Downsave

Downsaving is a super easy thing to do in AutoCAD. But more importantly, it’s something you need to be aware that you have to do sometimes. Especially, when you work with others in AutoCAD, being aware of how to downsave will make you have some very happy relationships with collaborators. This is because old versions of AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT can’t open new versions’ files. 

But it’s really easy to downsave.

Go to save your .dwg, and in the dropdown menu, click the older version of AutoCAD you want to save it as: 

This will mean you’ll be making any fellow designer who has been putting off upgrading their AutoCAD very, very happy. 

Purge command and Regen command

There’s a reason that these two commands are my number 1 and number 2 quick fixes in my Youtube video Top 5 quick fix commands for AutoCAD beginners. They can solve a lot of problems quickly with just a few keys. 

See the video below on how to use the Purge command and Regen command (plus a few other favorite commands for beginners!)

 

ImageFrame & PDFFrame

When you bring in an image or PDF file into AutoCAD, sometimes they have this pesky border around them that annoyingly just can’t be detached and deleted. 

This is because there is a distinct setting within AutoCAD on how to remove that frame. 

See the video below on using the IMAGEFRAME command. 

The same principles apply to PDFs as well in AutoCAD - requiring you to use the PDFFRAME command. 

Gmail Tools, Tips, and Extensions

Filters/Labels

Use labels in Gmail, and then use filters to automatically apply them. That’s the tip. It makes your life so much easier, especially if you’re juggling several things at once which means you’ve got a variety of things landing in your inbox. 

Basically, according to Google themselves, ‘Filters automatically sort and apply labels to messages.’ 

You can create filters according to sender, recipient, subject, words contained within the email, even whether or not the email has an attachment. 

Once you’ve identified the criteria for Google to select the message, you then get to tell Google what to do with it. 

This can certainly be apply a label to the email. But it can allso be starring the message, archiving it, forwarding it, send with template, mark important, etc. 

Here’s Google own guidance on setting up and using Filters.

So obviously, related to filters is labels. Have a hierarchy and system for how you label your emails to ensure anytime you need to reference an email it’s easy to know what it’s labeled under. For example: 

  1. Finance
  2. Admin
  3. Prospects
  4. Projects
    1. Project 123
    2. Project 124
    3. Project 125
  5. Personal
  6. Resources

One label that I like to work with is a ‘To do’ label. This is very much not a permanent label, but a To-do label lets you easily label something where it’s understood as a task and doesn’t get otherwise lost in your inbox. When you label something ‘To do’ you haven’t removed it from your inbox but just labeled it within the inbox. 

I find that a ‘To do’ label is more effective than starring or marking an important message because, frankly, my brain starts to ignore those symbols. Instead, a bright yellow ‘To-do’ label catches my attention where I know it’s a task I need to pay attention to. 

Gmail Tabs from CloudHQ

This is a super simple little add-on for Gmail that I find really helpful. I use labels all the time to make sure things stay organized. But I’m at the point that I have a long list of labels on the side of the screen when I’m on Gmail. Sometimes, especially if it’s something I’m working on that’s very active. You’ll likely have some current projects or current contacts that you’re regularly dealing with. So having to scroll through all the labels of past projects or contacts can be a slight time waste, despite helping you be really organized. 

What this add-on lets you do is to set a few of your Gmail labels as tabs that are easily accessible at the top of the screen. This means you could set it where only current projects or conversations are put up there. 

You might also set a tab for your ‘To do’ label if you’re like me, where any emails that have a task associated are easy to find and work through. 

This not only keeps your inbox tidy where you can label everything as needed, but it makes it where the current labels are the easiest to access. 

Click here to see how it works.

Templates

Templates are kind of my jam. Email templates are particularly great to help you avoid repeating time consuming writing tasks over and over again. 

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating email templates just in document files you’ve saved in a convenient place, and you can copy them into the email when you need them. 

However, Gmail is helpful in that it has the ability to compose with a template directly within Gmail. 

First, you need to enable Templates in the settings. This is done by clicking the little gear, then selecting ‘See all settings’, then going to Advanced section, and clicking Enable in the Templates section. 

From then on, you have the options to both make and use templates in your emails. 

To make a template, you’ll need to first compose an email. Then when it’s an email that you want to use as a template, you click the option More with three little dots at the bottom and click Templates. Choose Save draft as template > Save as a new template. 

To compose an email using a template that you’ve made, click that same option More with three little dots, and go to Insert template, and click among your saved templates to insert into the email. That’s it! 

Saving templates for responding to common questions, making introductions, explaining processes and procedures, etc. will mean you’re not constantly having to re-do the work of writing this information all out for a new recipient. 

Even if you alter the text, you’ve given yourself a strong starting point that will save you time in the long run. 

Smart Compose

Have you noticed how smart Google is getting? 

If you use Smart Compose you do. I’ve become much more confident and comfortable in using smart compose to help me write emails quickly. 

What is Smart Compose? 

Smart compose is a setting in Gmail (and other Google products) that gives you a little preview of what Google predicts or suggests that you say next in your text. 

The preview doesn’t have to be used, you can simply continue typing. But if you like Google’s suggestion, you just have to press the tab key to accept it and it will automatically type that word, phrase, or sentence. 

Now, in the moment, this will only save you a fraction of a second – depending on how fast a typer you are. But add that time up over a whole email? Over a whole day of emails? Over a whole year of emails? It’s such a small helpful thing to get used to but one that can actually give you so much extra time in the big picture. 

(BTW I wrote this blog post in Google Docs that used Smart Compose to help me write efficiently these 8000+ words).

How do you enable Smart Compose?

Click here for Google’s own guidance. 

Filters/Labels

Use labels in Gmail, and then use filters to automatically apply them. That’s the tip. It makes your life so much easier, especially if you’re juggling several things at once which means you’ve got a variety of things landing in your inbox. 

Basically, according to Google themselves, ‘Filters automatically sort and apply labels to messages.’ 

You can create filters according to sender, recipient, subject, words contained within the email, even whether or not the email has an attachment. 

Once you’ve identified the criteria for Google to select the message, you then get to tell Google what to do with it. 

This can certainly be apply a label to the email. But it can allso be starring the message, archiving it, forwarding it, send with template, mark important, etc. 

Here’s Google own guidance on setting up and using Filters.

So obviously, related to filters is labels. Have a hierarchy and system for how you label your emails to ensure anytime you need to reference an email it’s easy to know what it’s labeled under. For example: 

  1. Finance
  2. Admin
  3. Prospects
  4. Projects
    1. Project 123
    2. Project 124
    3. Project 125
  5. Personal
  6. Resources

One label that I like to work with is a ‘To do’ label. This is very much not a permanent label, but a To-do label lets you easily label something where it’s understood as a task and doesn’t get otherwise lost in your inbox. When you label something ‘To do’ you haven’t removed it from your inbox but just labeled it within the inbox. 

I find that a ‘To do’ label is more effective than starring or marking an important message because, frankly, my brain starts to ignore those symbols. Instead, a bright yellow ‘To-do’ label catches my attention where I know it’s a task I need to pay attention to. 

Gmail Tabs from CloudHQ

This is a super simple little add-on for Gmail that I find really helpful. I use labels all the time to make sure things stay organized. But I’m at the point that I have a long list of labels on the side of the screen when I’m on Gmail. Sometimes, especially if it’s something I’m working on that’s very active. You’ll likely have some current projects or current contacts that you’re regularly dealing with. So having to scroll through all the labels of past projects or contacts can be a slight time waste, despite helping you be really organized. 

What this add-on lets you do is to set a few of your Gmail labels as tabs that are easily accessible at the top of the screen. This means you could set it where only current projects or conversations are put up there. 

You might also set a tab for your ‘To do’ label if you’re like me, where any emails that have a task associated are easy to find and work through. 

This not only keeps your inbox tidy where you can label everything as needed, but it makes it where the current labels are the easiest to access. 

Click here to see how it works.

Templates

Templates are kind of my jam. Email templates are particularly great to help you avoid repeating time consuming writing tasks over and over again. 

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating email templates just in document files you’ve saved in a convenient place, and you can copy them into the email when you need them. 

However, Gmail is helpful in that it has the ability to compose with a template directly within Gmail. 

First, you need to enable Templates in the settings. This is done by clicking the little gear, then selecting ‘See all settings’, then going to Advanced section, and clicking Enable in the Templates section. 

From then on, you have the options to both make and use templates in your emails. 

To make a template, you’ll need to first compose an email. Then when it’s an email that you want to use as a template, you click the option More with three little dots at the bottom and click Templates. Choose Save draft as template > Save as a new template. 

To compose an email using a template that you’ve made, click that same option More with three little dots, and go to Insert template, and click among your saved templates to insert into the email. That’s it! 

Saving templates for responding to common questions, making introductions, explaining processes and procedures, etc. will mean you’re not constantly having to re-do the work of writing this information all out for a new recipient. 

Even if you alter the text, you’ve given yourself a strong starting point that will save you time in the long run. 

Smart Compose

Have you noticed how smart Google is getting? 

If you use Smart Compose you do. I’ve become much more confident and comfortable in using smart compose to help me write emails quickly. 

What is Smart Compose? 

Smart compose is a setting in Gmail (and other Google products) that gives you a little preview of what Google predicts or suggests that you say next in your text. 

The preview doesn’t have to be used, you can simply continue typing. But if you like Google’s suggestion, you just have to press the tab key to accept it and it will automatically type that word, phrase, or sentence. 

Now, in the moment, this will only save you a fraction of a second - depending on how fast a typer you are. But add that time up over a whole email? Over a whole day of emails? Over a whole year of emails? It’s such a small helpful thing to get used to but one that can actually give you so much extra time in the big picture. 

(BTW I wrote this blog post in Google Docs that used Smart Compose to help me write efficiently these 8000+ words).

How do you enable Smart Compose?

Click here for Google’s own guidance. 

Browser Tips/Tools & Chrome Extensions

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

Become an internet time traveler with the internet archive wayback machine. 

Basically, if you want to look at a previous version of a website or webpage, you can use these tools to navigate to that historical version with just a few clicks. 

Sometimes this is just a fun way to be nostalgic on the internet – websites’ styling can date themselves just as quickly as a trendy interior! 

But sometimes, it’s just helpful when you remember seeing something but it doesn’t’ seem to be there anymore. The wayback machine helps you look at the older version of homepages and other pages to refresh your memory and find what you’re looking for.

Color Picker

Now the big caveat here is that on-screen colors are never the same as in-person, printed, painted, etc. colors. 

That said, sometimes you just want to know what the exact hue or shade you’re seeing on a webpage is. 

This is when using a Google Chrome extension is super handy. There a number of them out there. This blog post breaks down several different color picker extensions – including how do it within Google Chrome itself, but no matter the one you choose, keep in mind that this is an option! 

Just dropping a little eye dropper on a website or online image to get the RGB (Red-Green-Blue) values instantly is such a handy thing when you need that color for a presentation, scheme, rendering, etc.

Fount – Font Finder

Just like when you see a color and you feel you have to know what exact color it is, you might feel the same way about fonts. 

Fount is an online tool you can use to identify any webfont. 

I’ll be honest, I have no idea exactly how this works in the way that it does. Basically, to make Fount work,  you go to their site. Drag the little button into your bookmarks bar, and leave it there. 

Now, when you’re on a page and you want to know the font, you just go and click the Fount bookmark. This will turn your cursor into little cross-hairs that when you click on any text, it will identify the font.  

(If you’re clever you can also go in and inspect a webpage and hunt for the font style there, which is what I’m assuming Fount does but Fount does make it a lot easier). 

Google Reverse Image Lookup + Google Lens

You’re probably already familiar with this one. (It’s been a designers’ friend for a while right?)

If you’re not familiar, basically, it’s just a matter of going to images.google.com, then clicking on the little camera icon to upload an image and find where that image has been posted on the internet. 

This method means you’re searching with an image you’ve already saved and can upload to Google to search for OR you have the URL of another instance of this image and you’re looking for other pages where this image has been used. (This can be really helpful if you’re having copyright concerns with others sharing images of your work!).

This is the basic way of searching by image. 

But helpfully, on Google Chrome, you can actually right-click on any image and select search images with Google Lens – which will open up a little window to the right that gives you various options. 

Google Lens is the more advanced version of searching by image. Basically, with Google Lens, you can use an image or part of an image to conduct an online search. It can help you visually search, identify text to search with, or translate text to search with to help you use an image in your internet search. 

Helpfully, Google Lens also has a big button that says ‘Find image source’ which lets you do what images.google.com does, and helps you find where else on the internet that image is posted. With this option, there’s no need to upload an image file or copy and paste a URL. You’re just right-clicking and clicking within a browser that already has the image you’re wanting to search with. 

Password Manager

There are really two angles in terms of guidance here: 

  1. Quit using the same 2-3 passwords for all of your online accounts. 
  2. Quit clicking ‘Forgot password?’ in 99% of your online log ins. 

I’m afraid I’ve fallen into both categories over my time online. A password manager helps you stay secure without having to keep track of a whole host of unique passwords. But don’t take my word for it, here’s an article outlining all the benefits of why a password manager is a good idea. 

You can certainly work within stored passwords on Apple Keychain or Google Chrome Password Manager, but a proper Password manager can give you more options. I don’t have a specific recommendation to make here, but do the research and find one that works for you because it will help you stay more secure and efficient when it comes to your online security. 

Pinterest Save Button Chrome Extension

I feel like saving images to Pinterest is just a key part of interior design these days. Clients (both residential and commercial!) definitely use Pinterest, and I think there’s a strong case for designers to have a Pinterest system in place for their own research and collaboration with clients. Click here to read my blog post on using Pinterest like a professional.

The easiest way to use Pinterest more effectively is to use the Pinterest Save Button Chrome Extension. 

This simple extension adds a little red Save button to any image you view online and links to your account. So with the click of a button you can save an image from any other website to one of your own Pinterest boards. 

I will say as a creative who cares about the intellectual property of others, make sure you’re doing this as a researcher. Don’t use this tool to spam content from others’ on your own boards. There are some contentious subjects out there with Pinterest, but if everyone can use it responsibly and with good intentions it can be such a powerful tool! 

Screenshot whole page

This is such a random but helpful skill to know. There are many different ways to do it. This blog post walks you through 10 different options and it doesn’t include my favorites. My suggestion is to look at one or two depending on how you work, and just try it once. You’ll definitely find excuses to screenshot a whole page once you know how. 

I use Google Chrome a lot, so this is the method I reference the most. 

When you’re on the webpage you want to screenshot, all you need to do is right-click, click Inspect. Then click on the three little dots next to the gear icon, choose Run Command. Then just start typing ‘Screenshot’ in the command line. When ‘Capture full size screenshot shows up, click it. 

Wait a second or two, and then your screenshot image file should automatically download. When you open it, you’ll see a long image that shows all of the webpage. 

Search with “ “

I was late to the party on this one. I’m pretty sure this was a really early feature in the very first search engines. But alas, while it took me a while to get here, I love this feature now. 

Basically, when you go to search for something on Google, and you type a phrase, Google will use those words to find what it thinks is the best results for this search. However, sometimes, Google doesn’t know that either one or several words within the search are key to what you’re looking for in the result. It might not know that the whole search is about trying to find an exact match. To let Google know you’re looking for the exact phrase in your search results, simply put quotation marks around it. 

So if I’m searching for modular sofa vitra, Google might return mostly modular sofas in the results but it might not make Vitra the top result, because it thought modular sofa was the most important part of the search term. 

But if I’m specifically looking for a modular sofa by Vitra, I would search modular sofa “vitra”. This tells Google we’re looking for exact matches for ‘vitra’, so here, Vitra will likely be the top result. 

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

Become an internet time traveler with the internet archive wayback machine. 

Basically, if you want to look at a previous version of a website or webpage, you can use these tools to navigate to that historical version with just a few clicks. 

Sometimes this is just a fun way to be nostalgic on the internet - websites’ styling can date themselves just as quickly as a trendy interior! 

But sometimes, it’s just helpful when you remember seeing something but it doesn't’ seem to be there anymore. The wayback machine helps you look at the older version of homepages and other pages to refresh your memory and find what you’re looking for.

Color Picker

Now the big caveat here is that on-screen colors are never the same as in-person, printed, painted, etc. colors. 

That said, sometimes you just want to know what the exact hue or shade you’re seeing on a webpage is. 

This is when using a Google Chrome extension is super handy. There a number of them out there. This blog post breaks down several different color picker extensions - including how do it within Google Chrome itself, but no matter the one you choose, keep in mind that this is an option! 

Just dropping a little eye dropper on a website or online image to get the RGB (Red-Green-Blue) values instantly is such a handy thing when you need that color for a presentation, scheme, rendering, etc.

Fount - Font Finder

Just like when you see a color and you feel you have to know what exact color it is, you might feel the same way about fonts. 

Fount is an online tool you can use to identify any webfont. 

I’ll be honest, I have no idea exactly how this works in the way that it does. Basically, to make Fount work,  you go to their site. Drag the little button into your bookmarks bar, and leave it there. 

Now, when you’re on a page and you want to know the font, you just go and click the Fount bookmark. This will turn your cursor into little cross-hairs that when you click on any text, it will identify the font.  

(If you’re clever you can also go in and inspect a webpage and hunt for the font style there, which is what I’m assuming Fount does but Fount does make it a lot easier). 

Google Reverse Image Lookup + Google Lens

You’re probably already familiar with this one. (It’s been a designers’ friend for a while right?)

If you’re not familiar, basically, it’s just a matter of going to images.google.com, then clicking on the little camera icon to upload an image and find where that image has been posted on the internet. 

This method means you’re searching with an image you’ve already saved and can upload to Google to search for OR you have the URL of another instance of this image and you’re looking for other pages where this image has been used. (This can be really helpful if you’re having copyright concerns with others sharing images of your work!).

This is the basic way of searching by image. 

But helpfully, on Google Chrome, you can actually right-click on any image and select search images with Google Lens - which will open up a little window to the right that gives you various options. 

Google Lens is the more advanced version of searching by image. Basically, with Google Lens, you can use an image or part of an image to conduct an online search. It can help you visually search, identify text to search with, or translate text to search with to help you use an image in your internet search. 

Helpfully, Google Lens also has a big button that says ‘Find image source’ which lets you do what images.google.com does, and helps you find where else on the internet that image is posted. With this option, there’s no need to upload an image file or copy and paste a URL. You’re just right-clicking and clicking within a browser that already has the image you’re wanting to search with. 

Password Manager

There are really two angles in terms of guidance here: 

  1. Quit using the same 2-3 passwords for all of your online accounts. 
  2. Quit clicking ‘Forgot password?’ in 99% of your online log ins. 

I’m afraid I’ve fallen into both categories over my time online. A password manager helps you stay secure without having to keep track of a whole host of unique passwords. But don’t take my word for it, here’s an article outlining all the benefits of why a password manager is a good idea. 

You can certainly work within stored passwords on Apple Keychain or Google Chrome Password Manager, but a proper Password manager can give you more options. I don’t have a specific recommendation to make here, but do the research and find one that works for you because it will help you stay more secure and efficient when it comes to your online security. 

Pinterest Save Button Chrome Extension

I feel like saving images to Pinterest is just a key part of interior design these days. Clients (both residential and commercial!) definitely use Pinterest, and I think there’s a strong case for designers to have a Pinterest system in place for their own research and collaboration with clients. Click here to read my blog post on using Pinterest like a professional.

The easiest way to use Pinterest more effectively is to use the Pinterest Save Button Chrome Extension. 

This simple extension adds a little red Save button to any image you view online and links to your account. So with the click of a button you can save an image from any other website to one of your own Pinterest boards. 

I will say as a creative who cares about the intellectual property of others, make sure you’re doing this as a researcher. Don't use this tool to spam content from others’ on your own boards. There are some contentious subjects out there with Pinterest, but if everyone can use it responsibly and with good intentions it can be such a powerful tool! 

Screenshot whole page

This is such a random but helpful skill to know. There are many different ways to do it. This blog post walks you through 10 different options and it doesn’t include my favorites. My suggestion is to look at one or two depending on how you work, and just try it once. You’ll definitely find excuses to screenshot a whole page once you know how. 

I use Google Chrome a lot, so this is the method I reference the most. 

When you’re on the webpage you want to screenshot, all you need to do is right-click, click Inspect. Then click on the three little dots next to the gear icon, choose Run Command. Then just start typing ‘Screenshot’ in the command line. When ‘Capture full size screenshot shows up, click it. 

Wait a second or two, and then your screenshot image file should automatically download. When you open it, you’ll see a long image that shows all of the webpage. 

Search with “ “

I was late to the party on this one. I’m pretty sure this was a really early feature in the very first search engines. But alas, while it took me a while to get here, I love this feature now. 

Basically, when you go to search for something on Google, and you type a phrase, Google will use those words to find what it thinks is the best results for this search. However, sometimes, Google doesn’t know that either one or several words within the search are key to what you’re looking for in the result. It might not know that the whole search is about trying to find an exact match. To let Google know you’re looking for the exact phrase in your search results, simply put quotation marks around it. 

So if I’m searching for modular sofa vitra, Google might return mostly modular sofas in the results but it might not make Vitra the top result, because it thought modular sofa was the most important part of the search term. 

But if I’m specifically looking for a modular sofa by Vitra, I would search modular sofa “vitra”. This tells Google we’re looking for exact matches for ‘vitra’, so here, Vitra will likely be the top result. 

InDesign Quick Tips and Quick Wins

Place files shortcut – Ctrl + D

Always place your files in InDesign as linked files. To do this quickly and easily, use the Ctrl + D shortcut in Windows and CMD+D shortcut in Mac to place your files.

Downsave

It’s good practice to always save a downsized version of an InDesign file when you’re using it. Unlike AutoCAD, InDesign doesn’t downsave according to a specific year. Instead, you’ll need to save an IDML file, which is the version that can be adapted and opened by older/newer versions of the software.

Helpfully, when you Package an InDesign file, that is save all the images, fonts, etc. alongside the InDesign file, it will automatically create an IDML file too. 

But if you want to create an IDML file on it’s own, just go to Save As and choose the .idml option from the dropdown. 

Frames

Here’s another tool I was late to the party on. Use Frames in InDesign to help you plan and visualize where images will go in the composition of your sheet. 

Then when you go to place those images, you can just drop them into those frames where they’ll be cropped automatically. No need to crop them manually. 

If they’ve been brought in at the wrong size (i.e. they look huge in a tiny cropping frame), then it’s just a matter of selecting each or all frames, right-clicking and then selecting Fitting > Fill Frame Proportionally. Voila.

Guides

Create guides automatically to help you structure your composition.

Go to the Layout menu,  click Create Guides, then choose your columns and rows, set the gutter (the space between the columns and rows) and let InDesign know if these are created within the margin or within the overall page size. Click OK and you’ve got a perfect grid of guides in your InDesign file. 

Bonus tip: Create the layout of guides on a Master or Parent Page, where it automatically gets added to each and every page with that Master/Parent, and where the guides are automatically locked for editing as part of the Master/Parent page content. 

Paragraph/ Character Styles

My InDesign loves the Minion Pro font like it’s never heard that other fonts exist. It’s the default. And it can be annoying to just be constantly changing fonts, size, alignment, color, and other type settings in InDesign. To make this easy on yourself, use Paragraph and Character Styles. This will allow you to set up a few different styles, each with their own properties when it comes to font, style, size, line spacing, color, alignment, etc. 

It will take a few minutes to get these set up, but once they are, instead of individually changing these setting every time you make a new piece of text, you just change the Character or Paragraph style and those properties will change automatically. 

Place files shortcut - Ctrl + D

Always place your files in InDesign as linked files. To do this quickly and easily, use the Ctrl + D shortcut in Windows and CMD+D shortcut in Mac to place your files.

Downsave

It’s good practice to always save a downsized version of an InDesign file when you’re using it. Unlike AutoCAD, InDesign doesn’t downsave according to a specific year. Instead, you’ll need to save an IDML file, which is the version that can be adapted and opened by older/newer versions of the software.

Helpfully, when you Package an InDesign file, that is save all the images, fonts, etc. alongside the InDesign file, it will automatically create an IDML file too. 

But if you want to create an IDML file on it’s own, just go to Save As and choose the .idml option from the dropdown. 

Frames

Here’s another tool I was late to the party on. Use Frames in InDesign to help you plan and visualize where images will go in the composition of your sheet. 

Then when you go to place those images, you can just drop them into those frames where they’ll be cropped automatically. No need to crop them manually. 

If they’ve been brought in at the wrong size (i.e. they look huge in a tiny cropping frame), then it’s just a matter of selecting each or all frames, right-clicking and then selecting Fitting > Fill Frame Proportionally. Voila.

Guides

Create guides automatically to help you structure your composition.

Go to the Layout menu,  click Create Guides, then choose your columns and rows, set the gutter (the space between the columns and rows) and let InDesign know if these are created within the margin or within the overall page size. Click OK and you’ve got a perfect grid of guides in your InDesign file. 

Bonus tip: Create the layout of guides on a Master or Parent Page, where it automatically gets added to each and every page with that Master/Parent, and where the guides are automatically locked for editing as part of the Master/Parent page content. 

Paragraph/Character Styles

My InDesign loves the Minion Pro font like it’s never heard that other fonts exist. It’s the default. And it can be annoying to just be constantly changing fonts, size, alignment, color, and other type settings in InDesign. To make this easy on yourself, use Paragraph and Character Styles. This will allow you to set up a few different styles, each with their own properties when it comes to font, style, size, line spacing, color, alignment, etc. 

It will take a few minutes to get these set up, but once they are, instead of individually changing these setting every time you make a new piece of text, you just change the Character or Paragraph style and those properties will change automatically. 

Photoshop Quick Tips and Quick Wins

Actions and Batch Automate

Have you ever need to change just one or two things on about 100 different images? 

Like Let’s make all the images in that set black and white. Or Let’s crop all of these down to a 4:3 proportion. 

If you haven’t, then you might not know that mind-numbing feeling when you’re faced with just the most time consuming and monotonous task you could imagine. 

The great news is that you don’t have to do it over and over again. You can actually record yourself doing it once, then tell Photoshop to do that same thing to a whole bunch of other files. 

(I don’t know why, but I feel super high-tech when I do this, like Q in James Bond, when in actuality, it’s probably one of the easier things to do on this list.)

How does this work? 

Basically, you need to open the Actions window in Photoshop. From there, you can create a New Action and record yourself complete a particular action or set of actions on an image. When you’re finished recording and stop, this action will now be saved in your Actions window to use anytime you need it. Even if it’s just a one-off file that needs that set of actions. 

The great thing though is to then go to the File menu, go to Automate then Batch. From here you can set the action you want to automate, then choose a folder of all the image files you need to edit with this action, set any destination or new file naming settings, and then click OK and watch Photoshop do all that monotonous and time consuming work for you. 

It really is that simple. 

I do recommend doing a one-off test with the action first to make sure it didn’t accidentally record you doing something that you hadn’t intended to do. But once you’ve seen it work once, go ahead and tell Photoshop to do it as many times as you want and watch all of these perfectly edited images get done automatically. 

*Chef’s kiss.*

Remove the background from an image

Removing the background from an image is getting easier and easier with the way image software can read an image file. One day it will definitely be a completely automatic process, but for now, you do need to know a couple ways of doing it. 

In Photoshop, removing the background from an image can actually be done in 3 ways: 

If you don’t use Photoshop, there are also plenty of other options out there to remove the background from an image. Here’s my Youtube playlist on my favorites.

Adjustment Layers

When you can avoid directly editing an image layer in your Photoshop file, it’s generally good practice to do so. This is because it lets you keep your options open when it comes to editing. 

Adjustment layers are a helpful tool in helping you retain your editing options. 

Basically, adjustments like Brightness/contrast, Hue/Saturation, etc. can be given to an image via an adjustment layer that is on-top of the image layer. This means no changes will be made to the image layer itself. 

How does this work? 

Just go to the little half black/half white circle icon at the bottom of the layers panel, or go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer to create your adjustment layer. Choose the adjustment you want to be specified via this layer, e.g. Hue/Saturation. 

Then make those adjustments in the Properties window and watch them take effect on the image. If you then turn off that adjustment layer, the adjustments will disappear too. 

Clipping Masks

Clipping masks can save you time and energy when you need to go back and re-edit something in Photoshop. If you have cut or cropped or cutout any original imagery, going back and  making changes to the edits can be really tricky. Or in some cases, you might just have to start from scratch. 

With clipping masks though, you can visually ‘remove’ parts of an image layer, while retaining the full version of that image layer on the ‘backend’. 

How does this work? 

Basically, if you have a shape on one layer in Photoshop, if you have an image layer directly on top of that layer, you can then go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask OR right-click on the layer and say Create Clipping Mask, and that top layer will then automatically be clipped to align with the edges of that bottom layer. 

You can then move around the top layer to make sure it clips exactly how you want. Meaning the clipping shape remains and all the image information remains even if it isn’t visible on-screen. 

Here’s Photoshop’s own guidance on it if you’d like more information. 

Actions and Batch Automate

Have you ever need to change just one or two things on about 100 different images? 

Like Let’s make all the images in that set black and white. Or Let’s crop all of these down to a 4:3 proportion. 

If you haven’t, then you might not know that mind-numbing feeling when you’re faced with just the most time consuming and monotonous task you could imagine. 

The great news is that you don’t have to do it over and over again. You can actually record yourself doing it once, then tell Photoshop to do that same thing to a whole bunch of other files. 

(I don’t know why, but I feel super high-tech when I do this, like Q in James Bond, when in actuality, it’s probably one of the easier things to do on this list.)

How does this work? 

Basically, you need to open the Actions window in Photoshop. From there, you can create a New Action and record yourself complete a particular action or set of actions on an image. When you’re finished recording and stop, this action will now be saved in your Actions window to use anytime you need it. Even if it’s just a one-off file that needs that set of actions. 

The great thing though is to then go to the File menu, go to Automate then Batch. From here you can set the action you want to automate, then choose a folder of all the image files you need to edit with this action, set any destination or new file naming settings, and then click OK and watch Photoshop do all that monotonous and time consuming work for you. 

It really is that simple. 

I do recommend doing a one-off test with the action first to make sure it didn’t accidentally record you doing something that you hadn’t intended to do. But once you’ve seen it work once, go ahead and tell Photoshop to do it as many times as you want and watch all of these perfectly edited images get done automatically. 

*Chef’s kiss.*

Remove the background from an image

Removing the background from an image is getting easier and easier with the way image software can read an image file. One day it will definitely be a completely automatic process, but for now, you do need to know a couple ways of doing it. 

In Photoshop, removing the background from an image can actually be done in 3 ways: 

 

 

 

If you don’t use Photoshop, there are also plenty of other options out there to remove the background from an image. Here’s my Youtube playlist on my favorites.

Adjustment Layers

When you can avoid directly editing an image layer in your Photoshop file, it’s generally good practice to do so. This is because it lets you keep your options open when it comes to editing. 

Adjustment layers are a helpful tool in helping you retain your editing options. 

Basically, adjustments like Brightness/contrast, Hue/Saturation, etc. can be given to an image via an adjustment layer that is on-top of the image layer. This means no changes will be made to the image layer itself. 

How does this work? 

Just go to the little half black/half white circle icon at the bottom of the layers panel, or go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer to create your adjustment layer. Choose the adjustment you want to be specified via this layer, e.g. Hue/Saturation. 

Then make those adjustments in the Properties window and watch them take effect on the image. If you then turn off that adjustment layer, the adjustments will disappear too. 

Clipping Masks

Clipping masks can save you time and energy when you need to go back and re-edit something in Photoshop. If you have cut or cropped or cutout any original imagery, going back and  making changes to the edits can be really tricky. Or in some cases, you might just have to start from scratch. 

With clipping masks though, you can visually ‘remove’ parts of an image layer, while retaining the full version of that image layer on the ‘backend’. 

How does this work? 

Basically, if you have a shape on one layer in Photoshop, if you have an image layer directly on top of that layer, you can then go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask OR right-click on the layer and say Create Clipping Mask, and that top layer will then automatically be clipped to align with the edges of that bottom layer. 

You can then move around the top layer to make sure it clips exactly how you want. Meaning the clipping shape remains and all the image information remains even if it isn’t visible on-screen. 

Here’s Photoshop’s own guidance on it if you’d like more information. 

PowerPoint Quick Tips and Quick Wins

Exporting all images as separate files from PPT

I learned this one from being a bit silly and careless in researching for ideas. 

Basically, I was just copying and pasting images into a PPT file as my dumping grounds for inspiration and precedents. 

What I ended up with was a big ugly messy file and quite frankly I would have found just having the images as files themselves a lot easier. Nor did I want to take the time to go through and ‘Save As Picture’ all of those images I had copied/pasted. 

The solution? 

Save a copy of the PowerPoint file. Go to however you view your files (making sure the file extensions are showing). Change the .pptx extension to a .zip extension. 

Now go an unzip that new .zip file.  

In the folder, go to ‘ppt’ then ‘media’, and behold all the images from your PPT file neatly saved in one place.

Master Slides

For a long time, I found the default preset layouts in the slide options for PowerPoint annoying. That was before I discovered how I could create my own layouts with my preferred compositions, colors, text boxes, etc. 

How do you do this? 

Go to the View tab, then click Slide Master. Now, in the Slide Master tab, you can create different layouts, add placeholders, and add static elements as you’d like. When you click Close Master View, these different layouts will become options for all of your new slides. 

Find and Replace Fonts

Find and Replace Fonts is such a helpful tool, if you’re indecisive like me. 

Basically, if you made a whole presentation using one font, but then decided to change it after you’ve done all that work, you can actually tell PowerPoint to find any instance using that font and replace it with your new font. It’s an option under the Replace button on the Home tab. Super easy to use. 

Setting up theme fonts and colors

I always like to mention this tip! I know professional graphic designers and even interior designers can be a bit snobby about using things like PowerPoint. But I think sometimes it’s the most suitable tool for the job. 

Importantly, that tool needs to be set up efficiently to make it look like the work of a professional in the design industry. A big part of that is using theme fonts and colors. If I have to see Calibri or the default Microsoft color set again, I’ll probably cry. 

It’s actually really simple to set these up. Here’s a blog post I wrote on it a while back. 

This can be really helpful in setting up your brand’s fonts and colors, or project specific styling as well. 

Exporting all images as separate files from PPT

I learned this one from being a bit silly and careless in researching for ideas. 

Basically, I was just copying and pasting images into a PPT file as my dumping grounds for inspiration and precedents. 

What I ended up with was a big ugly messy file and quite frankly I would have found just having the images as files themselves a lot easier. Nor did I want to take the time to go through and ‘Save As Picture’ all of those images I had copied/pasted. 

The solution? 

Save a copy of the PowerPoint file. Go to however you view your files (making sure the file extensions are showing). Change the .pptx extension to a .zip extension. 

Now go an unzip that new .zip file.  

In the folder, go to ‘ppt’ then ‘media’, and behold all the images from your PPT file neatly saved in one place.

Master Slides

For a long time, I found the default preset layouts in the slide options for PowerPoint annoying. That was before I discovered how I could create my own layouts with my preferred compositions, colors, text boxes, etc. 

How do you do this? 

Go to the View tab, then click Slide Master. Now, in the Slide Master tab, you can create different layouts, add placeholders, and add static elements as you’d like. When you click Close Master View, these different layouts will become options for all of your new slides. 

Find and Replace Fonts

Find and Replace Fonts is such a helpful tool, if you’re indecisive like me. 

Basically, if you made a whole presentation using one font, but then decided to change it after you’ve done all that work, you can actually tell PowerPoint to find any instance using that font and replace it with your new font. It’s an option under the Replace button on the Home tab. Super easy to use. 

Setting up theme fonts and colors

I always like to mention this tip! I know professional graphic designers and even interior designers can be a bit snobby about using things like PowerPoint. But I think sometimes it’s the most suitable tool for the job. 

Importantly, that tool needs to be set up efficiently to make it look like the work of a professional in the design industry. A big part of that is using theme fonts and colors. If I have to see Calibri or the default Microsoft color set again, I’ll probably cry. 

It’s actually really simple to set these up. Here’s a blog post I wrote on it a while back. 

This can be really helpful in setting up your brand’s fonts and colors, or project specific styling as well. 

Working with PDFs Quick Tips and Wins

Easy signature on the go

I’ll admit I learned this one from Instagram. But I’ve already used it about 10 times since I learned it. 

If you’re out and about and receive an important document that needs to be signed then and there (and it’s not via a more user-friendly Docusign type platform), this can actually be done in seconds if you have an iPhone.

No need to get to a desktop computer, and no need to print anything out.

Open the PDF on your phone. It might open in Safari, or it might open up in Files. Either way, look for the Markup option. 

From there, click the little plus sign at the bottom and choose Signature. 

This then opens up a big drawing area where you can sign with your finger or Apple Pencil/Stylus. OR if you’ve done this before, it will let you add a previously signed signature to the new document. 

When you’re done, your phone then lets you place that signature where it needs to be on the PDF file. 

Then tap Done and it will ask you Save File To… and choose a place you can then reference when you send back the signed document as an attachment. 


Something that used to be an annoying chore requiring you to be at home or in the office, can now be done in seconds while you’re out and about. 

SmallPDF or PDF2go

If you have a Creative Cloud subscription, you likely have the professional version of Adobe Acrobat, which gives you a whole host of tools to use for PDF files. 

However, I recognise that not everyone has the full Creative Cloud, but you still likely need some PDF editing tools now and again. Tools like reducing the file size, or merging two PDFs into one.

For an online free PDF editor, I recommend either of these options: 

Small PDF OR PDF2GO

Both sites give you a great number of tools you can use to edit, compress, alter, etc. PDF files. They also both have a generous free plan which is extremely handy for the occasional editing needs.

Redacting information from a PDF

For those of us working with contracts or other legal documents, there may be the occasion when you need to redact a file before sharing it with someone. Redacting digital files can be a bit tricky. Sometimes the seemingly safest way to redact it would be to print it out, redact it all out with big thick blackout marker, and then scanning it back in. 

Keep in mind just digitally adding a black rectangle over an area isn’t enough. Because often PDF files are saved in layers, so someone could easily just remove that rectangle and see the information underneath. 

So if you do need to redact information in a PDF, I’d suggest trusting the gold standard when it comes to PDFs and use the Redact tool in Adobe Acrobat. 

Just like a digital marker, it helps ensure you’re actually blocking information  rather than just covering it.

Easy signature on the go

I’ll admit I learned this one from Instagram. But I’ve already used it about 10 times since I learned it. 

If you’re out and about and receive an important document that needs to be signed then and there (and it’s not via a more user-friendly Docusign type platform), this can actually be done in seconds if you have an iPhone.

No need to get to a desktop computer, and no need to print anything out.

Open the PDF on your phone. It might open in Safari, or it might open up in Files. Either way, look for the Markup option. 

From there, click the little plus sign at the bottom and choose Signature. 

This then opens up a big drawing area where you can sign with your finger or Apple Pencil/Stylus. OR if you’ve done this before, it will let you add a previously signed signature to the new document. 

When you’re done, your phone then lets you place that signature where it needs to be on the PDF file. 

Then tap Done and it will ask you Save File To… and choose a place you can then reference when you send back the signed document as an attachment. 


Something that used to be an annoying chore requiring you to be at home or in the office, can now be done in seconds while you’re out and about. 

SmallPDF or PDF2go

If you have a Creative Cloud subscription, you likely have the professional version of Adobe Acrobat, which gives you a whole host of tools to use for PDF files. 

However, I recognise that not everyone has the full Creative Cloud, but you still likely need some PDF editing tools now and again. Tools like reducing the file size, or merging two PDFs into one.

For an online free PDF editor, I recommend either of these options: 

Small PDF OR PDF2GO

Both sites give you a great number of tools you can use to edit, compress, alter, etc. PDF files. They also both have a generous free plan which is extremely handy for the occasional editing needs.

Redacting information from a PDF

For those of us working with contracts or other legal documents, there may be the occasion when you need to redact a file before sharing it with someone. Redacting digital files can be a bit tricky. Sometimes the seemingly safest way to redact it would be to print it out, redact it all out with big thick blackout marker, and then scanning it back in. 

Keep in mind just digitally adding a black rectangle over an area isn’t enough. Because often PDF files are saved in layers, so someone could easily just remove that rectangle and see the information underneath. 

So if you do need to redact information in a PDF, I’d suggest trusting the gold standard when it comes to PDFs and use the Redact tool in Adobe Acrobat. 

Just like a digital marker, it helps ensure you’re actually blocking information  rather than just covering it.

General Digital Skills & Tools - Tips & Tricks

Zapier for automation

Have you heard about Zapier

Sometimes a good automation gives me goose-bumps just because of the potential it has in saving time and energy…

Zapier is such a user-friendly way to develop your own automations in your life. 

Think about the things you do repetitively. Could any of these be done automatically via a Zapier automation? 

There are a lot of possibilities here. 

  • Can you automatically file the attachment when you receive an invoice or receipt in your email? 
  • Automatically add new enquiries to a spreadsheet where you keep track of them? 
  • Can you automatically add or assign tasks or projects to Click-up, Asana, Trello, or another project management software when a project starts? 

Zapier integrates with literally thousands of applications, so no matter what tools you use for email, cloud storage, CRM, etc. there’s likely a Zap for that. 

The good news is that Zapier has a great free plan that gives you the ability to automate 100 tasks per month within 5 Zap, or 5 workflows. But if you become an automation addict, the paid plans are pretty reasonable and often pay for themselves in the time they can save you. 

Calculator Shortcut key

Know your shortcut key for opening up the calculator app. 

For a lot of PCs with a keyboard with a number pad, this will be key two rows above the 7. For Mac users, this is typically, CMD+1. 

It’s a quick and easy shortcut that saves you time. 

Have two browsers

Hey, sometimes internet browsers fail need an update or show something weird. Always make sure you have at least two browsers installed on your computer, even if you use only one of them most of the time. 

For me, I use Chrome everyday but I also have Firefox installed. (My husband uses Safar, Firefox, and Chrome!) 

Having two browsers is just a fail safe. When something doesn’t work on a webpage, open that same URL in another browser and see if it works there. If you limit yourself to just the one, you could be wasting your time waiting for an issue that has nothing to do with you to resolve itself.

Also, having a second browser can be really helpful if you’re a small business owner – like a know a lot of you are! If you want to check to see how your website, social profiles, etc. appear to different users. It can be a small thing, but if for some reason your website looks great on Safari but horrible on Chrome, it could turn some prospective clients off. Seeing your site on multiple browsers will help you resolve those problems and keep a consistent virtual storefront. 

Check file info by adding columns to the file browser

Did you know you can add more columns to your file browser and see more information? 

You can actually do this in both Mac/Finder and Windows/File Explorer. 

For Mac, you won’t have as many options as Windows, but it’s simple enough to turn on/off options in Finder. See this blog post for a guide on how to do it. 

In Windows File Explorer, you actually have a lot of options. To add new information to your File Explorer, just right click on the headings in the Details view of File Explorer and you can tick next to other information you want to see. 

Importantly, here you can click More… and check a whole bunch of other things. Some of my favorites are things like dimensions, horizontal resolution, vertical resolution, etc. This means I can check to see if something is a high resolution file before I even open it. 

Clear Formatting

When you’re editing text, sometimes all the adjustments, styles, fonts, etc. can get away from you. Sometimes you just need to clear all the formatting. This is especially helpful if you are copying and pasting text to your website and it keeps looking weird. 

Basically, clearing formatting will mean the text will just go back to the original and basic style. In Word, this is done via the down arrow on the Styles option, and clicking Clear Formatting. In Google Docs, this is just the little icon with T and a strikethrough on the far right of the toolbar. 

It’s simple, but a helpful trick to know.

Favicon

This might be more of a pet peeve than a digital skill, but for me it’s the mark of a more professional website. 

Change your favicon to something custom. Don’t use the default favicon from WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. 

What is a favicon? 

It’s that tiny image on a browser tab when your website is loaded. It doesn’t have to be anything special, it will be a really small image file. Depending on how you’ve set up your website, how you update and upload your favicon will vary. But if you use WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace – one of the big DIY platforms for websites, updating the favicon will be an easy how-to to find and implement. 

Zapier for automation

Have you heard about Zapier

Sometimes a good automation gives me goose-bumps just because of the potential it has in saving time and energy…

Zapier is such a user-friendly way to develop your own automations in your life. 

Think about the things you do repetitively. Could any of these be done automatically via a Zapier automation? 

There are a lot of possibilities here. 

  • Can you automatically file the attachment when you receive an invoice or receipt in your email? 
  • Automatically add new enquiries to a spreadsheet where you keep track of them? 
  • Can you automatically add or assign tasks or projects to Click-up, Asana, Trello, or another project management software when a project starts? 

Zapier integrates with literally thousands of applications, so no matter what tools you use for email, cloud storage, CRM, etc. there’s likely a Zap for that. 

The good news is that Zapier has a great free plan that gives you the ability to automate 100 tasks per month within 5 Zap, or 5 workflows. But if you become an automation addict, the paid plans are pretty reasonable and often pay for themselves in the time they can save you. 

Calculator Shortcut key

Know your shortcut key for opening up the calculator app. 

For a lot of PCs with a keyboard with a number pad, this will be key two rows above the 7. For Mac users, this is typically, CMD+1. 

It’s a quick and easy shortcut that saves you time. 

Have two browsers

Hey, sometimes internet browsers fail need an update or show something weird. Always make sure you have at least two browsers installed on your computer, even if you use only one of them most of the time. 

For me, I use Chrome everyday but I also have Firefox installed. (My husband uses Safar, Firefox, and Chrome!) 

Having two browsers is just a fail safe. When something doesn’t work on a webpage, open that same URL in another browser and see if it works there. If you limit yourself to just the one, you could be wasting your time waiting for an issue that has nothing to do with you to resolve itself.

Also, having a second browser can be really helpful if you’re a small business owner - like a know a lot of you are! If you want to check to see how your website, social profiles, etc. appear to different users. It can be a small thing, but if for some reason your website looks great on Safari but horrible on Chrome, it could turn some prospective clients off. Seeing your site on multiple browsers will help you resolve those problems and keep a consistent virtual storefront. 

Check file info by adding columns to the file browser

Did you know you can add more columns to your file browser and see more information? 

You can actually do this in both Mac/Finder and Windows/File Explorer. 

For Mac, you won’t have as many options as Windows, but it’s simple enough to turn on/off options in Finder. See this blog post for a guide on how to do it. 

In Windows File Explorer, you actually have a lot of options. To add new information to your File Explorer, just right click on the headings in the Details view of File Explorer and you can tick next to other information you want to see. 

Importantly, here you can click More… and check a whole bunch of other things. Some of my favorites are things like dimensions, horizontal resolution, vertical resolution, etc. This means I can check to see if something is a high resolution file before I even open it. 

Clear Formatting

When you’re editing text, sometimes all the adjustments, styles, fonts, etc. can get away from you. Sometimes you just need to clear all the formatting. This is especially helpful if you are copying and pasting text to your website and it keeps looking weird. 

Basically, clearing formatting will mean the text will just go back to the original and basic style. In Word, this is done via the down arrow on the Styles option, and clicking Clear Formatting. In Google Docs, this is just the little icon with T and a strikethrough on the far right of the toolbar. 

It’s simple, but a helpful trick to know.

Favicon

This might be more of a pet peeve than a digital skill, but for me it’s the mark of a more professional website. 

Change your favicon to something custom. Don’t use the default favicon from WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. 

What is a favicon? 

It’s that tiny image on a browser tab when your website is loaded. It doesn’t have to be anything special, it will be a really small image file. Depending on how you’ve set up your website, how you update and upload your favicon will vary. But if you use WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace - one of the big DIY platforms for websites, updating the favicon will be an easy how-to to find and implement. 

Top 10 Shortcuts to use on the reg

Ctrl+E – Go to Search

In a browser, Use Ctrl + E (PC) or CMD + L (Mac) to go to the search bar and start typing.

Ctrl+F – Find

Use Ctrl + F (PC) or CMD + F (Mac) to search a document, webpage, PDF, etc. for a keyword or phrase.

Ctrl+X/Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V – Cut/Copy/Paste

(There’s a reason the creator of cut, copy, and paste had his obituary published nationally and internationally, they are some of the most widely used things we do on the computer.)

Use Ctrl + X (PC) or CMD + X (Mac) to cut or remove text, an image, etc. and add it to your digital ‘clipboard’. 

Use Ctrl + C (PC) or CMD + C (Mac) to make a copy of text, an image, etc. and add it to your digital ‘clipboard’. 

Use Ctrl + V (PC) or CMD + V (Mac) to paste the most recently cut or copied text, image, etc. from your ‘digital’ clipboard into its new location.

Ctrl + Shift + V – Paste without formatting

Use Ctrl + Shift + V (PC) or Option + CMD + Shift + V (Mac) to paste text without any formatting. This can be really helpful when you’re copying and pasting text from a PDF or website where you might not be able to predict it’s format in your active working document. 

Ctrl+Z/Ctrl+Y – Undo/Redo

Use Ctrl + Z (PC) or CMD + Z (Mac) to undo your most recent action. 

Use Ctrl + Y (PC) or Shift + CMD + Z (Mac) to redo the action that you just undid. (It reverses the undo shortcut). 

Arrange Windows

There’s actually a range of shortcuts you can use to rearrange windows on your screen. It will differ from Windows to Mac. Here’s a helpful blog post on Windows options. And here’s one for Mac options. 

I’m a Windows user, so my favorite shortcut is the Windows key + Left/Right arrow, to make a window take up just ½ the screen. No stretching and resizing windows manually. Just use the shortcut and it becomes so much easier to view different windows at the same time. 

Shift + Click OR Ctrl + Click – Select Multiples

Learn how to select multiple files at one time. 

If you need to select more than one file that aren’t necessarily right next to each other in the order of how the files appear on-screen, use the shortcut Ctrl + Click (PC) or CMD + Click(Mac) to click on every file you want to select.

If you need to select more than one file that are right next to each other in the order of how the files appear on-screen, click first on the top file in your list, then use the shortcut Shift + Click (PC) or Shift + Click(Mac) to click on the last file you want to select. All of the files in between will be selected.

Ctrl+S – Save

Use Ctrl + S (PC) or CMD + S (Mac) to save the file you’re working on. 

Home and End

Use the Home and End keys to automatically go to either the first of a line of text (Home key) or the end of a line of text (End key).

Ctrl+A – Select All

Use Ctrl + A (PC) or CMD + A (Mac) to select all things on screen with two key strokes. This works for files in a file explorer, text and images in a document, or all content on a webpage

Ctrl+E - Go to Search

In a browser, Use Ctrl + E (PC) or CMD + L (Mac) to go to the search bar and start typing.

Ctrl+F - Find

Use Ctrl + F (PC) or CMD + F (Mac) to search a document, webpage, PDF, etc. for a keyword or phrase.

Ctrl+X/Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V - Cut/Copy/Paste

(There’s a reason the creator of cut, copy, and paste had his obituary published nationally and internationally, they are some of the most widely used things we do on the computer.)

Use Ctrl + X (PC) or CMD + X (Mac) to cut or remove text, an image, etc. and add it to your digital ‘clipboard’. 

Use Ctrl + C (PC) or CMD + C (Mac) to make a copy of text, an image, etc. and add it to your digital ‘clipboard’. 

Use Ctrl + V (PC) or CMD + V (Mac) to paste the most recently cut or copied text, image, etc. from your ‘digital’ clipboard into its new location.

Ctrl + Shift + V - Paste without formatting

Use Ctrl + Shift + V (PC) or Option + CMD + Shift + V (Mac) to paste text without any formatting. This can be really helpful when you’re copying and pasting text from a PDF or website where you might not be able to predict it’s format in your active working document. 

Ctrl+Z/Ctrl+Y - Undo/Redo

Use Ctrl + Z (PC) or CMD + Z (Mac) to undo your most recent action. 

Use Ctrl + Y (PC) or Shift + CMD + Z (Mac) to redo the action that you just undid. (It reverses the undo shortcut). 

Arrange Windows

There’s actually a range of shortcuts you can use to rearrange windows on your screen. It will differ from Windows to Mac. Here’s a helpful blog post on Windows options. And here’s one for Mac options. 

I’m a Windows user, so my favorite shortcut is the Windows key + Left/Right arrow, to make a window take up just ½ the screen. No stretching and resizing windows manually. Just use the shortcut and it becomes so much easier to view different windows at the same time. 

Shift + Click OR Ctrl + Click - Select Multiples

Learn how to select multiple files at one time. 

If you need to select more than one file that aren’t necessarily right next to each other in the order of how the files appear on-screen, use the shortcut Ctrl + Click (PC) or CMD + Click(Mac) to click on every file you want to select.

If you need to select more than one file that are right next to each other in the order of how the files appear on-screen, click first on the top file in your list, then use the shortcut Shift + Click (PC) or Shift + Click(Mac) to click on the last file you want to select. All of the files in between will be selected.

Ctrl+S - Save

Use Ctrl + S (PC) or CMD + S (Mac) to save the file you’re working on. 

Home and End

Use the Home and End keys to automatically go to either the first of a line of text (Home key) or the end of a line of text (End key).

Ctrl+A - Select All

Use Ctrl + A (PC) or CMD + A (Mac) to select all things on screen with two key strokes. This works for files in a file explorer, text and images in a document, or all content on a webpage

Autodesk, AutoCAD, and Revit are registered trademarks or trademarks of Autodesk, Inc., and/or its subsidiaries and/or affiliates in the USA and/or other countries.  Adobe Photoshop and InDesign are registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe, Inc., and/or its subsidiaries and/or affiliates in the USA and/or other countries. Sketchup, Sketchup Pro, and Layout are registered trademarks of Trimble, Inc.

Audrey Noakes is not affiliated with Trimble, Inc., Adobe, Inc., or Autodesk, Inc.

Copyright 2022.

Audrey Bardwell, practising as Audrey Noakes 

audrey@audreynoakes.com

International House, 64 Nile Street, London, N1 7SR, UK

Legal

Copyright 2022. Audrey Bardwell, practising as Audrey Noakes.

core module 1 - introduction and interface

Core Module 1 

This module is all about introducing the basics of the software, including overall principles and the workings of the interface. Don't skip this section as it can be really helpful to see how I've set my interface up where you can set yours up to match. This will make following the subsequent lesson videos easier to follow. 

Downloading and installing the software

WHERE TO DOWNLOAD

Before you get started on the course, you’ll need to download and install AutoCAD from Autodesk.com.

AutoCAD is a subscription software program, meaning it will incur costs monthly or annually, depending on the subscription you select.

Students in degree courses or other higher education courses are eligible for free Autodesk products. If you are a student pursuing a degree, diploma or other higher education achievement in interior design, architecture, or a similar program, it would be worth checking with Autodesk to see if you can obtain the software for free with their educational licenses.

Click here for Autodesk Educational Access

Unfortunately, students in training courses such as my own AutoCAD for Interior Designers course aren’t eligible for free access.

That said, this course is designed to be completed within the AutoCAD trial period. This is because I know some people are wanting to train in AutoCAD to help improve their skills to get a job or boost their resume. As a result, if you’re not in a position or not ready to invest in the subscription for AutoCAD, please download and install the trial instead.

WHAT TO DOWNLOAD

I wanted to clarify that there are 2 programs that you can download and install.

AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT

AutoCAD LT in my opinion has all the capabilities that an interior designer likely needs for a much reduced cost. As a result, for completing this course, I recommend downloading AutoCAD LT. Double-check your system requirements to make sure your computer is suitable for the software.

Click here to download AutoCAD LT

For troubleshooting, if you run into issues installing the software, please consult Autodesk directly. Here’s the link to the Autodesk’s AutoCAD LT support.

WINDOWS VS MAC

The way this course is structured you can use either a Windows machine or a Mac to use AutoCAD. There are some slight differences in the interface and how it looks (this is addressed in a later video) between operating systems. However, following the best practices introduced in this course, you’ll be equipped to work with the software with either a Windows computer or a Mac. This can be incredibly helpful if you learn AutoCAD on one operating system but work for an employer who uses another operating system. Using these best practices, will make that transition as easy as possible.

I use Windows throughout the course (except for when I’m outlining the key interface differences). So if you have both a Windows computer and a Mac to choose from, I recommend using Windows to run AutoCAD. Autodesk products typically run better on Windows – other programs from Autodesk only run on Windows, and this means you’ll be seeing exactly what I’m seeing throughout most of the videos.

About AutoCAD and key terms

Interface

The interface refers to the window(s) that appear when AutoCAD is running on your machine. This includes all of the menus, palettes, and the drawing area.

Commands

Commands are what we call the various tools, options, tasks and activities a users asks AutoCAD to do. For example, the command ‘LINE’, activates the line tool where a user can draw a line within AutoCAD.

Throughout the course, I reference the importance of TYPED COMMANDS. By this I mean, instead of clicking a button to activate a new command, I mean typing the command word in the command bar and pressing enter to activate the command. Typed commands are favored because with practice they mean you’ll work faster in the software. Also, typed commands makes it easier to switch between operating systems should you be working on both a Mac and a Windows computer.

Layers

Layers will be something we cover in more detail later in the course, but essentially, layers are the ‘virtual’ sheets of tracing paper that you can stack on top of each other to create different drawings showing different information. Layers are essential in making easy to use, edit, and present drawings.

Points and Lines

Some basic rules of geometry apply within AutoCAD. Points with specific coordinates in space exist within AutoCAD, as does lines that connect two points in space. Don’t stress if you’re not confident with geometry, as helpfully, AutoCAD does all the hard work for you when it comes to calculations and such. Instead, it’s more important that you just understand some of those basics. See below the link the course resource document Geometry 101. Don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense now. It will become more clear as you progress through the course.

Link to Geometry 101 Resources

.dwg files

.dwg is the extension given to AutoCAD drawing files. Relatedly, there are also .bak, .dwl, .dwl2, etc. extensions used in AutoCAD as well, but these files are back up file or temporary files created when the drawing is open. Main drawing files will always be .dwg.

About the course

A lot of love and thought went into this course. I’m a firm believer that anyone can learn design software, but I know that sometimes it can be a bit daunting. AutoCAD is particularly intimidating sometimes because it looks so different than a lot of the other software programs we might be using every day.

It’s absolutely ok to be intimidated. This course is designed to walk you through the basics and best practices as an interior designer or other type of spatial designer using AutoCAD. We focus on using AutoCAD for it’s 2D capabilities as that will be the most important for most interior design activities. We also walk you through some key workflows where when faced with your own projects, you’ll know exactly how to start.

How to get the most out of the course:

  • Go in order of the modules (it can be tempting to skip ahead but work through the modules in order to make sure all the fundamentals are clear before we get into the specifics!)
  • If possible, watch the videos on a separate screen where you can then practice with the software on your main computer screen. If not, regularly switch back and forth between the videos and your own AutoCAD interface where you can put into immediate practice the lessons being taught.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself if it feels hard! AutoCAD isn’t always easy. It might take a little bit of time to train your brain to think intuitively in the way that the software demands. That’s ok. I promise you’ll get their in the end.
  • Use a scroll wheel mouse! It’s simple but important that you have the right equipment. A touchpad or a fancy touch style mouse, may actually make your life a bit harder when it comes to using AutoCAD. Use an inexpensive basic scroll wheel mouse to make it easier to navigate around your drawing and the program.
  • Stick with it. Make a plan on when and how you’ll complete the course. A half-finished course doesn’t help you build your skills and knowledge. Therefore, if you have a consistent schedule and workable plan to complete the course and practice with the software, you’ll be set!

Lesson Introduction

There are several videos in this lesson. Don't think you need to learn all of this content by heart. Instead watch through these videos as an introduction. The content will be continually reinforced throughout the remaining tuition.

 
INTERFACE OVERVIEW

Watch this video for an overview of how the AutoCAD LT interface is structured, what each part is, and why it will be important to your own practice.

 

WINDOWS INTERFACE SETUP

If you have installed AutoCAD on a computer with Windows, watch this video for an overview of how I recommend setting up your interface for efficiency.

 

MAC INTERFACE SETUP

If you have installed AutoCAD on a Mac, watch this video for an overview of how I recommend setting up your interface for efficiency.


INSERT VIDEO


NAVIGATING THE DRAWING AREA

This video is key in understanding some basics in navigating the drawing area, introducing you to the concept of model space. As mentioned earlier, a scroll-wheel mouse will be imperative in easily navigating your drawing in AutoCAD.

 

THE A MENU

This menu will feel really familiar, but it’s a key place for the basic tasks of opening and saving files.

 

HOME RIBBON

See the video below for an overview of what can be found on the Home tab ribbon.

 

INSERT RIBBON

See the video below for an overview of what can be found on the Insert tab ribbon.

 

ANNOTATE RIBBON

See the video below for an overview of what can be found on the Annotate tab ribbon.

 

PARAMETRIC, VIEW, MANAGE, OUTPUT, ADD-INS, AND COLLABORATE RIBBON

See the video below for an overview of what can be found on the remaining tabs, but these aren’t used as often in everyday interior design work in AutoCAD.

 

WHAT HAPPENS IF I CAN’T SEE MY RIBBON MENU


INSERT VIDEO


THE STATUS BAR

Last but not least, let's look briefly at the status bar. We'll be covering more about this section of the interface of the course of the tuition.

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