I have never met anyone really productive who relied on the mouse. It’s just too inefficient. For example, consider the following two methods for saving a file in Microsoft Word. Imagine you’re typing a report. You realize you need to save your file.

Approach 1: You take your hand off the keyboard, grab your mouse, move the cursor to the File menu, move the cursor down to the Save menu item and then click on the mouse button. Your workflow is interrupted and it takes you a few minutes to get back in “the Zone.”

Approach 2: You simply press ⌘S on the Mac or Ctrl-S on the PC and keep working. This takes a fraction of the time and has the added advantage of not interrupting your workflow. And, because it is so easy, you do it every time you pause to think. This ensures that you are frequently saving your work in the event your computer crashes.

Which makes more sense? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it. Yet few people take the time to really learn the standard operating system shortcuts (Mac or Windows). If you haven’t learned these already, I would urge you to do so. Over time, you will see a major boost in your productivity.

But in this post, I want to focus on creating keyboard shortcuts for common, non-operating system tasks. Whether you are using Microsoft Entourage or Outlook, the concept is the same. If you are going to use either one as your workflow “dashboard,” you can vastly increase your productivity by creating one-keystroke shortcuts to create new email messages, tasks, events, and notes. To do this, you need a third-party macro processor. This software will allow you to perform a series of actions with a single keystroke.

When I had a Windows machine, I used Keyboard Launchpad from Stardock Systems. It’s still only $9.95—a tremendous bargain. However, since switching to the Mac, I am using iKey from Scripts Software. Unfortunately, it is $30.00, but it is still much cheaper than QuicKeys, which is $79.95. (I used Keyboard Maestro for a while. It was only $20.00, but I found it buggy. It didn’t always work reliably. I’ve been using iKey for a few months and love it.)

Regardless of which program you use, here are some keyboard shortcuts I have found helpful. Keep in mind that on the Mac, ⇧ refers to the shift key, ⌃ refers to the Ctrl key, ⌥ refers to the Alt or Option key, and ⌘ refers to the Apple or command key.

⌥⌘cSwitch to Entourage from whatever application you are currently in.
Select the File | New | Task command.
⌥⌘eSwitch to Entourage from whatever application you are currently in.
Select the File | New | Calendar Event command.
⌥⌘kSwitch to Entourage from whatever application you are currently in.
Select the File | New | Task command.
⌥⌘mSwitch to Entourage from whatever application you are currently in.
Select the File| New | Mail Message command.
⌥⌘nSwitch to Entourage from whatever application you are currently in.
Select the File | New | Note command.

The beauty of these shortcuts is that they allow you to get ideas out of your mind and into the appropriate receptacle (e.g., task list, calendar, note, etc.) as quickly as possible with the least amount of interruption to your workflow.

In addition to these, within Entourage, I have also created a keyboard shortcut for filing the current message in my Archive folder. I do not try to file messages into a more specific folder as some people do. For me, this adds unnecessary complexity to my email processing. I want to focus on deciding what action to take with the message and then filing it in a common folder, so I can always work toward maintaining an empty email inbox.

If you have to also decide what folder to file the message in, you cut your productivity in half. And, honestly, I don’t think it speeds up the retrieval process appreciably. Instead, I let Spotlight do the heavy lifting. (If you are using Outlook on the PC, I recommend Lookout, a small add-in that plugs into Outlook and makes searching within messages a snap.) So, I just dump every message in an Archive folder and leave it at that. This enables me to fly through my email.

In order to set up such a shortcut in Entourage, first make sure you have a folder named “Archive” under your inbox. Then select a message. It doesn’t matter which one. Select Message | Move To. If you see the name of your folder, write down the exact name. For example, mine is “Archive (mhyatt)”. The “mhyatt” part indicates that the folder is actually a subfolder in my main Exchange mailbox.

If you don’t see the name of your folder, then select Choose Folder…, then select your folder. Press the Move key. This will actually move the message, so you may want to retrieve it manually and place it back in your inbox. Then re-read the last paragraph and get the exact name of the folder.

Okay, now you are ready to create the shortcut. Go to System Preferences | Keyboard & Mouse | Keyboard Shortcuts. Click on the + button, then select Microsoft Entourage as the Application. Then enter the exact name of your Archive folder in the Menu Title field. Finally, enter the keystroke combination you want to use in the Keyboard Shortcut field. Press OK. That’s it.

Now quit Entourage and relaunch it. You should now be able to use your shortcut to move messages to your Archive folder with a single keystroke. You’ll be surprised at how much this speeds up your workflow.

This is just a start. Pay attention to how you work. Whenever you find yourself doing the same thing over and over, automate it with a single keyboard shortcut. This will keep you focused on the work at hand, and free your mind up for more creative problem-solving.