RTFM-Read the Fantastic Manual

March 18, 2008 by Ben Sayers

Each day I work with multiple software applications including email, Office applications, ERP and CRM applications as well as my Internet browser. Expert at some and novice at others, they all produce results and either make me more efficient or increase my level of frustration. All of my employees go through the same each day using the tools the company has provided, and they too are either efficient or frustrated.

For my employees, the applications they are most efficient in and least frustrated with are the ones that the company has spent time documenting and providing training on. For me, the applications that work best are those that I have invested my personal time in learning and playing with, and those that come with user-focused documentation. More often than not, I get the most use from an application when I pro actively read the manual and learn what it can do and how it is intended to work.

Take a digital camera. Think about its manual, when you read it and how the product works before and after your time with the manual. We all know how to use a camera these days, turn it on, press the button a little until the camera focuses, and press harder when ready to snap the picture. Simple and easy, nothing to it. The only time most people read the manual is when it stops working or there is something stuck on the LCD that we can’t get rid of. The camera manual isn’t very large nor that complex. When we do read it to find the fix for the problem, generally all of the content surrounding the fix contains information unlocking the features of the camera that we either don’t use, don’t understand or didn’t know existed – perhaps all of these. After 30 minutes of manual reading time, I now know all that my camera is capable of and have learned how to fully utilize the product. As a real life example, I now get 100 percent more usage and enjoyment out of the camera with 95 percent less frustration when things do go wrong. The same applies to my television, washer and dryer, my car and even my microwave. I read the manual and learned that there was a flashlight in my car’s glove compartment. That would have been nice to know a few years ago when I bought it and had to change a fuse using my cell phone for lighting.

Back to software applications; the same logic and experiences apply. You can check the help file when things go wrong, and you can struggle through trial and error when learning new tricks, or you can stop and spend 30 to 60 minutes reading the manual. Over a very short period of time you will recoup your 30 to 60 minute investment, and you should be that much more efficient, less stressed and the benefits gained will be carried with you so long as you need to use that application.

As an employer, I encourage the staff to read and self-educate constantly. We pay for training, books and time to learn; it is highly encouraged and equally rewarded. I am as guilty as the next when it comes to not always taking time to read the manual, but understanding the value and seeing the benefits firsthand will help ensure that I do take the time, without making excuses for why “I don’t have time to read the manual.”

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