Ten things you need to know to use your computer productively

  1. Know that you can
  2. Knowing where the answer is is better than knowing the answer
  3. When in doubt press enter
  4. Block, Cut, Copy Paste
  5. Alt-Tab
  6. ATFQ
  7. Your computer is really very stupid - treat it that way
  8. Error messages don't mean what they say
  9. Save often - Save often - Save often
  10. When all else fails RTFM

Know that you can

Anything you have ever seen on paper or almost anywhere else, todays computers and software can do. Your computer CAN do these things albeit maybe not very fast and you may need new software but IT CAN BE DONE.

You need to BELIEVE that it can be done and that you can do it. It's just a matter of doing it.

Knowing where the answer is, is better than knowing the answer

Once you believe that you can do something, you now need the how. Pay attention to how computer books are written. Some are laid out by projects, others by topic, some have history and theory others while others take the minimal approach. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Most books are very focused. Note the title and what TYPE of information is in the book. Note people too. Some people give just the answer to the question with no explanation these people are VERY useful when you are in a hurry AND have a specific question. Other people answer the question in more of an essay form with explanation on why things will work the way you want and offer options to archive the same result with different methods. This is good to find a lot of information you didn't even know you wanted. but it is time consuming. Don't try to know everything about everything not only will it take every second of you life You will be very non productive. Just know what you need to do your job/project and note who can help with what.

You will find that you will become the 'expert' in something and others will come to you. Feel free to ask others. (note if you have ever listened to how computer people start a conversation you will see that they are always either asking questions or reporting something they just found out or asking for advise on a different technique. Don't consider it a imposition it is the way things are done.

Your computer is really very stupid - Treat it that way

Be aware that you computer is like a very stupid but obedient child. The best thing about it is it does exactly what YOU tell it to. The worst thing is it does EXACTLY what you tell it to.

If you told a obedient child to go get the mail, they would go to the mail box, pick up the mail and stand their in the rain. YOU never told them to bring it back to you.

What you need to do is give exact instructions. Get up. Go to the blue mail box third from the right. pick up the mail. bring it back to me. now.

Your computer is the same way. There are literally hundreds of commands that you are actually giving to the computer that you don't even think about. You need to be aware that you have actually answered these questions when something goes "wrong". What you really mean by wrong is not the way you wanted but exactly what you asked for.

Block, Cut, Copy Paste

Block, Cut copy and paste is probably the most important function of a computer. Combine that with Alt-Tab and you can conquer the world (computer software world anyway).

Block is to identify what you are talking about. Usually you block by left click and hold the mouse button and dragging down and to the right or up and to the left. When everything you want is hilighted let go of the mouse button.

Cut is to remove what you have blocked and it is remembered in memory, called the clipboard. The clip board can only hold one thing at a time.

Copy just places what you have blocked on the clipboard but leaves in place.

Paste is the place the mouse where you want and left click once. Then paste from the clipboard. The contents of the clipboard is placed where the cursor is and remains on the clipboard.


Alt Tab is holding down the Alt key with your left thumb and keeping it down then with your left fore finger press tab several times. Most computer systems will then show you which programs are open. When the one you want is on the screen let go of the Alt key. This will then bring up the desired program.

Combine this with block, cut copy and paste and you can do really cool stuff.


This stands for Answer the Friggen Question. (Well not exactly but you get the idea).

At any time there is ONLY one question on the computer screen at a time. There is a lot of other junk but only one question. The trick to successfully operating the computer is figuring out what the question is. If the computer beeps, does nothing or does something "wrong" you either answered the question wrong (the available answers is OK or Cancel and you answer No) or you answered the wrong question. The question is what do you want to call the file and you answer Y to the question you thought you were asked of do you want to close. (Happens in WordPerfect 5.x all the time).

Kids are much better at this than we are. This is because they do not know how to communicate, as 'well' as we do. We are trained to infer, imply, assume, and judge. Kids don't. They recognize the question for what it is and answer just that question.

If you notice the people that hate computer the most are extraverts (out going people). These are generally salesmen, and managers, and other people people. They make their living by communicating, persuading, manipulating feelings, implying, inferring, and other things that the computer does not do.

The computer people are introverts (reserved solitary people) These are generally non people people. They make there living on where they don't have to do a lot of communication.

It is no accident the computer sales men know little about specifics of the computer. and the worst computer sales men know the most about them. The geeks in grade school are now 'doing computers' and the Debate club chairman thinks a hard drive involves a vacation in a car.

When in doubt press enter

Sometimes not only do we not know the answer to the question the question makes no sense. When in doubt press enter. (This goes for "Press any key" The enter key IS the 'Any Key')

Error messages don't mean what they say

"Invalid password" is a good example of this. What it really is trying to say is: "The user name and password did not match my data base. Therefore I believe your password is invalid." What you should get out of this is:
The user name is typed wrong
the password is typed wrong
The password is for the wrong user name
The user name does not exist (no account on this server)

Another example is "File not found". This really means (in MS-DOS anyway) the file you typed in could not be found in the current directory or on the current path.. It does not mean the file does not exist it just means that it can t find it where it has been told to look.

Save often

The data on the screen, currently being worked on, or not 'Saved' is in a very temporary form of memory. A power strike, mistyped command, system error or system problem will cause the data to be lost. It only takes 1/1000 of a second and its gone.

This problem is so costly in time, lost work, lost ideas, lost trains of thought, that most newer programs allow automatic savings of files every few minutes. This by its self will not keep data from being lost but will minimize the risk. If you have this feature on your favorite software use it. If your software does not have this feature save your work every few minutes a most assuredly before doing a new task. (spell check, print, answer the phone, change between programs.)

This does no good however you have not backup. When the hard drive crashes your save files are on a piece of trash. Unless you are willing to spend several hundred dollars your data is unrecoverable. Backups are essential to maintaining data.

When all else fails RTFM

The manuals are generally VERY painful reading. I would not recommend reading one unless you are an insomniac. They tend to be written for the techs by the techs - UECHHHH. However if you are having trouble figuring out how to do something they you should look in the manual. Look in the index first. Find what you want an read just that. Be in front of your computer so you can tell if it answered the question. You will be amazed that that crappy manual can actually be quite helpful.

If you look it up first, but still cant find the answer call on your knowledgable friends. (Dont call before you look it up or they wont be friends long) If that fails call the tech support line. Expect to pay for this service and wait on hold for some time. Tech support should be your last resort not the first.