How we format the documents that we use to work with daily can have an enormous impact on our productivity. Formatting is one of those elements that, although hidden, can have a considerable effect on our workflow. Consistent guidelines for document configuration save time and produce better results.
The less time we spend trying to understand how something works, the more time we have available to focus on the content itself. Consistent formatting also helps us work more quickly because we know and identify the general guidelines. It also helps us regularly produce better results. If you multiply this concept throughout an organization, valuable time will be saved to do better work.
There are many advantages to using consistent guidelines for your documents, processes, and even customized input screen in the systems you use.
- Quicker and better understanding: Saving time is the most obvious advantage of having consistent formatting across your documents. Less time is spent trying to identify what the document is trying to say because we know where to find the information we need. Also, if the same formatting is used everywhere, for instance, in every spreadsheet in the company, the user will instinctively know what to expect. He or she will be able to quickly find a title and recognize the main takeaways from the document.
- Quickly compile documents: You also save time when putting together documents. You already know what goes where and where to find anything you need. When putting together a new presentation, knowing that you will have a table of contents and that you will be using mostly images, for instance, will help you. You can quickly get started by filling in the obvious elements, and the presentation will come together faster. If you work with a consistent format, you can start working within this preset structure, so you don’t have to start from scratch every time.
- Better product: With consistent guidelines, you can ensure all your documents and reports will be better because nothing will be missing. The result can also be more aesthetic.
- Easier to find errors: If something is not in line with the general format, it will jump out. For example, in Excel, if someone leaves a highlight behind, and it isn’t part of the format, you will know that something is off.
How to Improve Productivity
To make formatting work for you, use the same formatting everywhere for the documents/procedures and screens you use the most. Consider what works for your company and what guidelines you would like to implement, so everyone is on the same page.
- Spreadsheets: Some guidelines might include whether your documents have gridlines, if you remove unused tabs, how you name documents and tabs, how you format titles within the document, and how you style the margins.
- Input screens in your systems: The systems you use in your company, such as Customer Relationship Management or Enterprise Resource Planning software, may be customizable. If they are, try to set up all the screens in the system so that they follow the same concept. For example, at the start of every screen, you can have the entity that the record belongs to, like the customer or supplier. You can place this field on the top left-hand corner of every screen. Then, if there is a value associated with the same record, it can be placed on the top right-hand corner. For every screen, you can follow similar guidelines so that users will look for entities and values in the same places across the board. You may also want to define general guidelines like the number of columns in each screen, how titles are formatted, and the order and grouping styles of information.
- Processes: The more consistently your processes are formatted, the more the user will focus on the content and not spend valuable time looking for information. When configuring your processes, aim to standardize titles, list formats, and any codes you may use to identify them. You can organize these by function, department, and user.
- Presentations: If you put together presentations often, you can develop a signature format that works well for you and your company. You may have a title slide followed by a table of contents, and you’ll likely include slides with mostly images. You may choose to use a template that includes the same background, layout, and font style and size for all your presentations.
- Policies: If you use documents to record your company’s policies, you can follow the same format for every department. You may, therefore, have the same arrangement, which, like presentations, may follow a consistent structure with a title, then a table of contents, and finally the content. Also, some of the content itself may overlap across departments. In this case, it can also make sense to place similar content in the same order in all policy documents.
Formatting guidelines don’t have to be complicated. They are simply a set of rules that are coherent so that less time is spent thinking about how to put something together and you and your team spend more time on the work itself. You will save valuable time, and the final product will be consistently good.