Time-saving tools and techniques that will impress your boss

Working for a living doesn’t have to mean living at work. Whether you’re balancing a budget in Excel or crafting a high-powered presentation in Keynote, there are plenty of ways to save time and still impress your boss.
Re-create WordPerfect Keyboard Shortcuts

If you’re a WordPerfect user who has recently converted to the Mac, you may be frustrated that Word and Pages lack keyboard shortcuts for your often-used commands. For example, WordPerfect users accustomed to pressing control-F7 to insert a new footnote will be stuck taking the long route in Word and Pages; both programs require that you open the Format menu to insert a footnote.

Fortunately, you can smarten up both of these programs with a program like Stairways Software’s US$36 Keyboard Maestro. This handy program lets you record a macro for any menu item in any application, and then assign your choice of keyboard shortcut to it. So in a few simple steps, you can make all your favorite WordPerfect keyboard shortcuts perform the same commands in Pages and Word.–Jeffery Battersby

Make Background Images Clickable

If you often add images to Pages word-processing documents–for example, to place a digital copy of your signature in a letter–you may be frustrated that Pages makes it so difficult to move an image to another location in a document.

Word-processing documents treat images as background objects and make them unselectable once they’ve been placed and deselected (this isn’t a problem in page-layout documents). To regain control of background objects, choose Arrange: Make Background Objects Selectable. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to save a document template with this feature already enabled.–JB

Remove Misspelled Words from Custom Dictionaries

Accidentally adding misspelled words to a custom dictionary can lead to trouble: misspelled words in important documents. But not to worry–fixing them is probably easier than you think.

In Word, select Preferences from the Word menu and click on the Spelling And Grammar button. Under the Spelling section of that preference pane, click on the Dictionaries button. In the window that appears, select Custom Dictionary and then click on the Edit button. A new Word document that contains all the words in your custom dictionary will open. Correct the misspelled words; then save and close the document.

To correct Pages’ dictionary, you’ll need Two AM Software’s free Dictionary Cleaner. Dictionary Cleaner is a preference pane that lets you make changes to the custom user dictionary that many applications use to check spelling.

Once you’ve installed the pane, open System Preferences and click on Dictionary Cleaner. A new preference pane in which you can delete words from or add words to your custom dictionary will open. You may need to log out of and back in to your user account in order for the changes to take effect.–JB

Import Word Styles into Pages

Pages lets you import your old Word templates with special paragraph styles.If you’re moving from Word to Pages ’08, there’s no reason your custom Word templates and their custom paragraph styles can’t make the move with you. To make that transition, use Pages to open a Word document or template that contains the styles you want to use, and then save that document as a Pages document. Select Import Styles from the Format menu. In the window that appears, click on the Pages document you just saved.

A new dialog box will list the styles in the document. If you want to import all the styles, click on Select All. Otherwise, hold down the command key while you select only the styles you want to import. Once you’ve made your selections, place a check mark next to the Replace Duplicates option and then click on OK. All the selected styles will be imported.

To save the document as a template, choose Save As Template from the File menu, and then name and save the document. The next time you want to create a document using those styles, select the template from the My Templates section of the Template Chooser.–JB

Create New Color Themes

Word 2008 includes a new feature that lets you completely change the colors in a document simply by selecting a new theme from the Document Theme tool in the Formatting Palette (you must be working with a .docx file to access this feature). But while it’s easy to switch to an existing Word theme, it’s not possible to create a new theme in Word. Instead you need to use PowerPoint 2008.

To create a color theme, open a new PowerPoint document and then select Theme Colors from the Format menu. A new Create Theme Colors window will open. In this window, select one of the twelve small color boxes and then click on the Change Colors button. This brings up a color palette you can use to select new colors for your theme.

Once you’ve changed the colors to your satisfaction, type a name for your new theme in the name field and then click on the Apply To All button. If Word is still open, close and reopen it, and your new color theme will be available from the Colors menu in the Document Themes pane–as well as in the other Office 2008 programs.–JB

Fix the Excel Time Warp

If you open a Microsoft Excel workbook that was created by a Windows user, you may find that all its dates are off by four years. What gives? By default, Excel for Windows manages dates by counting forward from January 1, 1900.

Excel for Mac, on the other hand, starts counting on January 1, 1904. To resolve the confusion, open Excel: Preferences: Calculation and deselect the Use The 1904 Date System option.–Rik Myslewski

Start Off on the Right Foot

If you regularly build workbooks with a large number of worksheets, you can save some time by having Excel automatically insert a specified number of worksheets into every new workbook it creates. Simply navigate to Excel: Preferences: General and enter the desired number in the Sheets In New Workbook field.–RM

See Many Sheets at Once

Tired of switching back and forth between multiple worksheets in Excel? To see all your worksheets at once, go to Window: New Window and open one window for each worksheet you want to view. In each window, click on one of the desired worksheet’s tabs. Finally, select Window:

Arrange, choose Tiled, and then click on OK–if an odd number of windows is open, the one currently selected when you click on OK will occupy the largest window after tiling. When you want to focus in on just one sheet, Click on the green plus-sign (+) button at the top left of the window; that worksheet will fill your display, covering all the other open windows. Clicking on it a second time will return the worksheet to its tile position.–RM

Change Directions

By default, when you press return, Excel jumps to the next cell in the current column. But if you’re filling out rows of data, it may be more convenient to have the return key move you to the next cell in the row. To change the return key’s behavior, go to Excel: Preferences: Edit and choose a selection from the Direction drop-down menu.–RM

Quickly Add Line Breaks

Unlike Excel, with its unintuitive command-option-return key combo, Numbers makes it easy to add a new line in a cell: simply press option-return. You can even set this as the return key’s default behavior. Open the Table Inspector, find the Table Options section, and deselect the Return Key Moves To Next Cell option. Now to move down a cell, you just press the down arrow.–RM

Insert Multiple Rows at Once

If you want to insert multiple new rows in a Numbers table, you might think you have to do so one row at a time. Not so. There’s an easier–though undocumented–way to get the job done.

First, select a group of as many rows as you want to add (the rows can either be empty or contain data). Next, carefully hover your cursor over the reference tab until the arrow appears; then control-click on it. Finally, from the resulting drop-down menu, choose Add Rows Above or Add Rows Below. An equal number of new empty rows will be inserted.–RM

Name Your Cells

In a complex Excel workbook, it’s easier to use a specific range of cells in a formula if that range is named 2008.Sales than if it’s named Sheet!$D$2:$BB$56. Likewise, when your state government raises the sales tax, it’s far simpler to change a single constant named Sales.Tax.Rate than to hunt down the previous rate throughout your workbook. That’s why Excel lets you name individual cells, cell ranges, and constants.

To name a cell or a range of cells, select it, enter the name you want in the Formula bar’s Name field (by default, this field simply shows the active cell’s address), and then press return. Note that names must not contain spaces, so use periods or underscores to separate words in your names, such as vacation.supplies or vacation_supplies.

Once you’ve named important cells, you can quickly jump to them by entering the name in the Name field and pressing return (or pressing control-G and selecting the appropriate name from the list that appears). Note that you can use this navigation aid to jump from worksheet to worksheet in the same workbook.

Naming is also useful when you’re creating constants you’ll use frequently in formulas–for example, the current sales-tax rate. To do this, select Insert: Name: Define and type a name for the constant in the Names In Workbook field.

In the Refers To field, type an equal sign (=) followed by the value you want to assign to the constant. Click on OK. Now you can use that constant by name in your formulas. When you want to change its value, return to the Define dialog box; all of its iterations in your workbook will be automatically updated.–RM

Jump Back

If you scroll so far in an Excel worksheet that your current active cell is no longer visible, you can jump back to it by pressing control-delete.–RM

Smart Sorting

Need to quickly sort the cells in a column? Unlike Excel, Numbers doesn’t require that you first select the range of cells you want to sort. Instead, just hover the cursor over a column’s reference tab until the arrow appears, click on the arrow, and then select either Sort Ascending or Sort Descending from the contextual drop-down menu. The entire table will sort according to the contents of the selected column.

If you want to perform a more-complex multilevel sort or to filter the records so that only those that meet your chosen criteria remain displayed, choose Show Sort & Filter Panel from the same drop-down menu. In the panel that appears, you can make your sorting and filtering decisions as complex as you want.–RM

The Subtle Art of Bullets

Many presenters like the drama of displaying a slide’s bullet points one at a time. Audiences, however, don’t always like this trick–for one thing, it forces note-takers to scribble madly as that last line appears and then quickly disappears. Instead, you should have each slide’s entire list of bullet points present when the slide appears (and remember to keep bullet points short).

If you want your audience to focus on a particular bullet point at a particular time, try this trick: in Pages or PowerPoint, use the Copy (command-C) and Paste (command-P) commands to make two copies of the slide (so you have a total of three). Switch to the second of the three slides and change the color of that bullet point’s text–yellow might be good, for instance. Insert a moderately slow dissolve–one second should do the trick–between the three slides. That one bullet point will briefly appear to glow yellow, and then it will slip back to its original color.–RM

Create a Cheat Sheet

Avoid the embarrassment of having to search slide-by-slide for an important point during a post-presentation Q&A session–keep a list of your slides and their slide numbers handy when you’re giving the presentation.

To print a slide list in Keynote, first make sure that your page orientation is set to Portrait (File: Page Setup). Then go to File: Print, click on the disclosure triangle next to the Printer drop-down menu, and select the Outline option in the Print section. Then click on Print. Now when you want to jump to a specific slide, check your list, type the number of the slide you want, and press return.–RM

Don’t Forget Your Fonts

If you plan to play your Keynote presentation on an unfamiliar computer, be sure to bring along copies of all the fonts you used in the presentation. A Keynote file includes all the photos, music, and QuickTime files, but it doesn’t include any of your presentation’s fonts.–RM

Make SmartArt Graphics Even Smarter

PowerPoint 2008‘s SmartArt graphics let you quickly add complex formatting, such as text bubbles, process workflows, and pie charts, to your slides. You simply click on the SmartArt Graphics tab in the Elements Gallery and then select the category and graphic style that you want. Each graphic includes placeholder text that you can replace, and you can add or delete shapes as needed to fit your information.

But here’s an even easier option: rather than customizing a default graphic after the fact, make it fit your data from the start. First, enter your text with bullets on a new slide. Click anywhere in your text, and then click on a SmartArt icon. PowerPoint will lay out your text according to the hierarchy on your bulleted slide.

If you don’t like the design, click on a different icon, and your text will immediately adopt the new style. In this manner, you can set up your text and then try out different SmartArt graphics to see which fits best. Of course, you’re still free to customize the graphics as needed. If you don’t like the way something looks, just press command-Z to undo your choices until you get back to your bulleted text.–Kirk McElhearn

Get Quick Access to Files

Annoyed that the Microsoft Project Gallery pops up every time you launch an Office program? You can easily banish it (go to programname: Preferences: General and deselect the Open Project Gallery When Application Opens option). But before you do, take a closer look at its powers. It not only contains a collection of useful templates, but also provides access to all your recently opened Microsoft Office documents.

If you live in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, the gallery can serve as a handy file launcher. Simply drag the Microsoft Project Gallery icon (or the Project Gallery Launcher if you use Office 2004) from the Applications/Microsoft Office 2008/Office folder into your Dock (if it’s not already there).

Launch it, select the Recent tab, and choose All Office Documents from the Show drop-down menu–it’ll launch that way from now on unless you change those settings. To see only your most recent files, filter the file list by choosing a date range in the Dates pane.–RM

Sync iCal with Google Calendar

Trying to create a joint schedule with coworkers or family members is no easy task. If you subscribe to Apple’s MobileMe Web service, you can share your iCal calendars with other subscribers. But what if you need to sync schedules with people who don’t use MobileMe? If your colleagues and loved ones use Google Calendar, you’re in luck.

Google recently added support for CalDAV, a calendar-sharing protocol, to its Web-based calendar, so you can easily share data between iCal 3 and Google–no MobileMe required. While setting this up isn’t complicated, it’s a bit more work than publishing a calendar from iCal. Fortunately, Google has complete instructions on its Web site.–KM

Extract a Single Page from a PDF

Need someone’s feedback on just one or two pages of a 24-page PDF document? Rather than wasting time–and network bandwidth–by sending the whole thing, simply send the pages you need. First, open the PDF file in Preview 4. If the sidebar isn’t visible, click on the Sidebar button in the toolbar (or press command-shift-D). Select the thumbnail of the page you want, and press command-C to copy it.

In Preview’s File menu, choose New From Clipboard, or simply press command-N. You’ll get a new Preview document with just the selected page. If you want to add other pages, just drag their thumbnails from the full document’s sidebar into the new document’s sidebar. Press command-S to save the document, and you’re all set.–KM

Use AIM Blast Groups with iChat

To send an iChat message to an AIM Blast group, place a left bracket in front of its name.Do you regularly host group conversations with the same people in iChat? Save time by setting up an AIM Blast group. This recent addition to AOL Instant Messenger lets you set up permanent chat groups that work somewhat like mailing lists.

When you send a message to an AIM Blast group, all the recipients receive it, and anyone in the group can reply, sending an answer to everyone as well–it’s great for connecting colleagues who work in separate locations or for making lunch plans.

To set this up in iChat, you first need to create an AIM Blast group. Go to the AIM Blast page, where you log in with your iChat handle and password. (This may be your Apple ID, such as yourname@mac.com or yourname@me.com, or an AIM user name.) Create a name for your group, add a description if you want, and then choose who can add members and send messages to the group (all members or only administrators).

When you click on Create Group, you’ll see a list of the contacts in your iChat Buddy List: select the ones you want to add to the group, and either click on Send Invitations to invite them now, or click on Invite Later to do so at a later date. The people you invite will get an iChat message and will have to reply to be added to the group.

When you’ve finished, the group you’ve set up will appear in your iChat Buddy List as a new group. Here’s the tricky part: To send messages to your Blast group, choose File: New Chat (or press command-N), choose Text Chat, and then type in your group’s name preceded by a left bracket ([). As you type, iChat will autocomplete the name, since the group is in your Buddy List. You can then send messages to the group.

You can easily deactivate or disable groups by returning to the AIM Blast home page. This means you can set up these groups even for brief conferences if you need to. If you delete a group, it may not disappear from your Buddy List (or your buddies’ lists) immediately; trying to send a message to the group seems to solve the problem.–KM

[Jeffery Battersby is a writer and IT Manager who lives in upstate New York. Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Rik Myslewski has been writing about the Mac since 1989. His blog can be found on Myslewski.com.]

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