I was doing some house cleaning the other day when I stumbled across something I hadn’t seen in a long time. Unfortunately, it was not a Honus Wagner collectible but a stack of outdated user manuals and self-help books. They are all well-worn. Most people will use a manual to look up something specific, but I have this unusual habit of reading user manuals from cover to cover. I’m not sure why that’s my approach to new software as opposed to just jumping in and learning by trial and error. Maybe I actually like all the technical minutiae that user manuals explain. But I think it’s just the simple fact that I like learning things about software that will make me faster and more efficient on projects. When I got word many years back that I was getting Final Cut Pro at my job, I bought some training books.
My wife was amazed that I could sit there, night after night, reading page after page about software I hadn’t even laid my hands on. As I told her, I know the concepts. I just need to learn where the buttons are. So, I kept reading. I didn’t really know if I’d forget most of it or not. But your mind can surprise you. I actually remembered most of what I read, which helped me feel right at home when I started my very first edit. I’ve done it my entire career. Many years ago, I had to learn how to edit on Avid. There were no Lynda.com or YouTube web tutorials then. I didn’t have a choice but to open up the user manual and start reading and highlighting. Nowadays, tutorials are everywhere online giving tips and tricks for all kinds of software.
I use Lynda.com a lot, especially with Photoshop, but to really find the “golden nugget” of tips/tricks/shortcuts, you need to dive deep into the book. Manuals can be rather boring and you may read lots of pages of sleep-inducing content, but when I come across a really cool trick or hidden feature that will shorten my work time by 10 minutes, it’s all worth it. There are two great by-products of reading user manuals. More times than not, others will come to you for guidance because you know most of the answers. But the most important reason to hunker down with a manual for a few days is that it is an investment that gives immediate dividends. Those dividends will follow you, no matter the city, job or project.