Why “Tips and Tricks” approach is not useful for learning

On many occasions, my sessions are labeled as “tips and tricks”. I don’t like the term “tips and tricks” being used for my lectures or workshops. Many people ask me the reason behind it. Therefore I thought I will explain the thought process behind it in this article.

Especially for Microsoft office tips and tricks are quite popular there are books websites articles videos pod casts-all talking about tips and tricks. A simple search on the term “office tips and tricks” yields 470 million results! Needless to say, this content is ineffective in increasing efficiency of people worldwide. If it was effective, all of us would have been efficient in the usage of Microsoft Office tools.

The approach is either to specify a shortcut or to provide a quick and easy solution for some common problem. These are brief, myopic, “how to get it done” type of things. It is like spoon feeding. The immediate hunger may be taken care of but next time you’re hungry you will still be groping in the dark.

While I have nothing against providing quick solutions, the underlying principles behind these must also be imparted. That is never done in the “tips and tricks” approach.

The phrase “tips and tricks” makes the knowledge sound trivial and optional. Lack of understanding of the subject or the underlying concept or the thought process involved in finding the solution makes this approach incomplete and inadequate in imparting knowledge.

My approach is to provide relevant and comprehensive knowledge in a contextual manner without making it to work those and boring. No amount of explanation will make this clear. Let us take some examples.

Example: Format painter

Tips and Tricks Approach

Double click on Format Painter to apply the same format multiple times.

Dr Nitin Approach

You can copy formatting from one cell in Excel and apply it to other cells using the Format Painter tool. Similarly formatting can be copy pasted in all other Office tools as well.

Click inside the source cell, click the Format Painter and then click / select the destination cells to apply the formatting.


The problem is that this works only once. If you have to apply the same formatting multiple times, you have to click on the source multiple times – which is inefficient.

The solution is simple. Just double click on the Format Painter. Now the source formatting can be applied to multiple ranges of cells. You can even apply it to cells in other sheets of workbooks.

Did we learn something even more powerful?
Whenever you expect repetitive use of the same feature, it may be worth trying a Double Click on the tool.

Which tools work this way?

Highlighter in Word understands double click.

All drawing shapes are aware of double click (up to Office 2003). Starting with Office 2007, the double click is replaced with a new feature called “Lock Drawing Mode”.

You need to Right Click on the desired shape and choose Lock Drawing Mode. Now you can draw the same shape repeatedly without having to click on the shape tool.


PowerPoint animation can also be copy pasted!

Yes – Since PowerPoint 2010, we have an Animation Painter option – and YES – it understands double click as well. And it works across slides if you have double clicked.

Example: Keyboard Shortcuts

Tips and Tricks

There are thousands of articles on keyboard shortcuts. Ctrl B for Bold, Ctrl S for Save, Ctrl P for Print and so on… Fair enough. But not good enough.

Dr Nitin’s Approach

The first thing to understand is why do we need keyboard shortcuts. NO. The answer is not – just because shortcuts are available.The idea is, most of the work we do involves typing using keyboard.Moving our hand away from the keyboard to use mouse and click on some button is time consuming. It also interferes with our concentration.

Therefore, if you use mouse to click on some button OFTEN, it is a good idea to find out if that has a keyboard shortcut. If there is one – learn it and use it.

Now the problem is, whenever we are working and we need to click a button that is commonly used we just click it because it’s habitual. At that point just before clicking we should be thinking whether this button has a shortcut. Start doing this for frequently click buttons. Take your mouse cursor to the button and stay there without clicking for a second. A tooltip will appear and it will show the keyboard shortcut if that button has one. Notice it a few times and then you will automatically remember that shortcut. That is how you discover relevant shortcuts.

Now you would think that the topic is finished but no it is by no means finished. What if you use a button frequently and Microsoft has not provided a keyboard shortcut for it? In this case, without doing programming, can we create our own keyboard shortcuts? The answer is yes! Read this article to know details of how this is done.

Increase efficiency by using or CREATING keyboard shortcuts


I hope I have been able to show the distinction between tips and tricks versus my approach. In the next article, I will show another interesting example of this approach in video format. It is about the LAYOUT of Pivot Tables.


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