For years upon years I've been teaching and extolling the virtues of learning your software. The outcome is to save time (that most precious commodity) and if it's part of your responsibility - helping you increase income.

The 'ohs and ahs' when showing the how-to examples are always most gratifying - on both ends.

This past week Microsoft brought in Dr Nitin Paranjapa from India, another productivity expert. He demonstrated the time saving value of learning one's software to a wonderful packed house of about 250 at Sky City on Tuesday.

He had the audience oohing and aahing too of course. I learnt several new tricks (with over 9000 features in MS Office we only use 2 per cent of the software's capabilities). Dr Paranjapa had a marvellous overview on how learning one's software better fits in in the corporate world, and for small business. I'd like to share it with you.

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He divides the work you do into two components.

One is structured. This is the documented work you do - one that has well defined procedures. Marketing. Finance. Operations. Human Resources. These he feels have been worked on, explored and must be for the most part set down in the most productive manner.

However quite a lot of the work you do is unstructured. Meetings. Creating and sharing documents. Creating proposals. PowerPoint presentations. Email. These activities are where human intervention, individuality comes to play. It's unmanaged.

People learn on their own and most have the attitude that 'if it works for me, I'll live with it'. The status quo is okay as you're not suffering, and no one questions you 'why did you do it this way; why did it take you two hours to create this report'? After all, your manager is in the same boat and most likely doesn't know that the same task could have been accomplished in 10 minutes.

As your company gets newer versions of MS Office (or any software for the matter) there are new features and enhancements of the old. But staff stay with what has been working for them instead of exploring what is new or made better. Of course being busy, and not having time is an element - but it's a self-perpetuating problem. Therefore the investment in the newer software is mainly wasted instead of fully realised in increased productivity.

On the small business side, the problem is so much time is invested in doing the business, one doesn't have the time to invest in growing the business.

It is by diverting time, stealing from the unstructured work that you can increase either your productivity and get more done or/and spend more time on growing business and income.

How to get staff to change? The way to open the door is to build a thirst for knowledge, for learning their software. You do this by showing tips based on their specific unstructured tasks - such as automating email or creating better documents faster. By showing specific tips over time, you build the habit of thinking there must be a better way of doing what they're doing - and then they go looking for it.

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