Consider the tools that you use everyday. Now, think about how proficient you are with those tools. If you feel you have mastered your toolset, stop reading now, otherwise follow these tips to get you started:
Browse your options
Most programs have an options / preferences or both in the menu. There are usually a few tweaks that you can make to enhance the experience with the program. It may be setting custom document directories, making the font larger, or turning auto save off.
Read the manual
At the very least, peruse the Table of Contents and the Glossary or Index. Trials by error mode can be mitigated by just having an overall understanding on how the product works. Manuals can be dry or boring, but there are usually nuggets to help you on your way.
Know How To Access Help
Whether its the F1 key in Word or /? at the command line, don’t be afraid to use it. My favorite thing to do with any new program is to find the shortcut keys associated with it. Usually there is a section in help just for this. Programs today are getting more sophisticated help also. Videos are now common for showing how to do complex tasks. Hands on Labs and walkthroughs are also becoming more prevalent in applications.
Find the Experts
For almost every program out there, you will find a group of “experts” willing to share their opinions. Pick your program, search on Bing or Google, look for the sites that have tips and tricks. Personally, I add these to my RSS feeds and review any new tips that come out.
Experts just aren’t bloggers. Find the “expert” in your team / office / company. Look for experts on Social Networks, such as Twitter.
Teach the program
In my opinion, there is no better way to learn about the program. Take a topic you are weak on and present it to others, write about it. By sharing what you have learned, new levels of productivity will be achieved.
It is often an enlightening experience, finding the new feature, shortcut or way of using programs differently. As a practical example, I looked at help for findstr at the command line. What a plethora of information. What ways do you use to become more productive.