Tip 1001: Streamline the tasks you do most often.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
— Abraham Lincoln

This is a simple but powerful AutoCAD tip—write it on a sticky note and paste it to your monitor frame. You would think this CAD tip would be obvious–you may even be thinking “Duh!” about this time. But I often see that CAD designers do not realize the power of this technique. There are three steps to the process:

  1. Identify a task or activity that you do frequently, repeatedly, in the course of a day’s work.
  2.  Find a way to make the task go faster, smoother, and with less effort, thought, and stress.
  3.  Repeat with another high-frequency task.

First, identify one of the most-frequently-executed CAD tasks in your personal workflow. There are several ways to do this. The simplest way is just keeping a mental log of what you find yourself doing most often during the day. Does your work have many repetitive elements, or is it more diverse, with lots of “special conditions?” Do you do more editing of existing drawings, or creating drawings from scratch? Do you tend to use certain CAD commands more often than others, such as fillet, offset, copy, changing the layer state of objects, printing PDFs, printing to paper, tracing CAD drawings using JPEG underlays, or perhaps finding and using blocks from other projects? Any of these tasks can be streamlined, and we will be discussing specific methods in other tips.
Another way is to analyze the command list of a typical project, using these steps (these are written for AutoCAD®, but are easily adaptable to other platforms):

  1. Pick a time when you have worked for an extended period on a typical CAD project, without closing the DWG file during the entire word session.
  2. Hit the F2 function key to open the list of commands and actions in the AutoCAD text window.
  3. Using the slider on the right, scroll to the top of the list and click on the first word to select it. Scroll to the bottom of the list, hold down SHIFT, and click after the last word. The entire list should now be highlighted.
  4. Hit CNTL-C to copy the entire list to the Windows clipboard.
  5. In a spreadsheet program such as MS Excel, open a new sheet. Click in the top left cell. Paste the list from the Windows clipboard into the spreadsheet program by hitting CNTL-V. The “A” column should now show the list and should be highlighted.
  6. Click the “Data” tab on the ribbon. On the Sort and Filter panel, click the button for sorting A-Z in ascending order.
  7.  This groups similar commands together alphabetically and lets you easily see the frequency of use for each command. Look over this list and note which commands you tend to use the most.

Second, streamline the most-used task or activity. In other words, invest a reasonable amount of time making the frequently-needed task go faster and smoother and with less thought required each time you do it. For example, I’ve found I do a lot of printing to PDF, so I make sure that I have fully functioning page setups ready to go. By doing this, I can print to PDF in any of the formats I use with just a couple of keystrokes: CNTL-P to open the print dialog box, and ENTER (or click on the OK button) to start the printing process.

By investing this time, you are saving lots of time in the long run. These savings add up to big gains in efficiency. Always be on the lookout for CAD workflow streamlining opportunities.

Keep on CADDing! 🙂


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