How to Use Templates to Improve Productivity

By Helen Bradley | Posted August 11, 2016

Do you find yourself creating the same document over and over again? Investing the time to create templates will not only save you from hours of repetitive work, it will boost your overall productivity. Many software programs include templates to help you streamline your workflow. But even if a program you use doesn't support templates, you can create custom solutions to get your work done more efficiently. Here are some ideas on how you can use templates in a variety of ways.

[Don't miss this Microsoft Office how-to: How to Add Features to Microsoft Office with Office Apps]

How to Download Microsoft Office Templates

Most office programs like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel ship with a range of templates to meet both general business and personal needs. Google Drive applications also offer a similar range of templates. You can search for templates in Microsoft Office thusly:

Choose File > New, type a brief describe of the template you want, and click to search for it. Once you find a suitable template, download it, and then edit it to suit your needs.

How to use Office templates

Most Office applications include a range of templates for both business and personal use.

These templates generally combine a design and content. Once you finish customizing the template, save it to your computer:

Choose File > Save As, choose any location on your computer (the location will change later), type a name for the template, and from the Save as Type dropdown list, choose the appropriate template type—either regular or macro-enabled if your template contains macros.

That automatically saves the template to your user template folder. Whenever you want to access the template you created, go to File > New, and then click Personal to view your own templates.

How to Make a Custom Template

What do you do if your particular software program doesn’t have a template for your needs? Don’t fret; if that program supports templates, then you can easily make your own. There's nothing special about a template document except the way you save them; you can turn any document into a template at any time

Start by opening or creating a document that contains all (or most) of the elements you need. Remember, it's easier to remove elements than to add them later on. For example, if you generally use one of two paragraphs of text, add both paragraphs to your template—you can remove the one you don't need each time.

How to make your own templates

Even if your software doesn't provide pre-built templates that match your needs, you can create your own.

When you have all your elements in place, follow the program's process for saving templates. In the future, instead of starting a new blank document or worksheet, create a new one based on that template to speed up the process.

No Template Support? No Problem

If your program doesn't support templates, that's OK. For example, Photoshop doesn't support templates, but it's relatively easy to create a custom workflow that offers all the benefits that templates provide.

Create a document that contains all the elements you need to use each time. Next, save the document according to your program's file-saving process. We recommend that you save these files in a folder called Templates—that's finding them later easier.

How to make a Photoshop template

Even if a program doesn't support templates you can create and save a file to reuse anytime you need.

The next time you need to use one of your "faux" templates, open the template file and then immediately choose File > Save As and give the document a new name. That keeps the original "faux" template intact; instead, you're altering a copy of it.

Go ahead and make any changes you need to the new file, and then save it as usual. You can mimic this process with practically any program, and it circumvents the problem of recreating the wheel every time you need a new document.

Templates for a Head Start on One-off Tasks

Sometimes you need a template less for a task that you perform regularly and more for help with a one-off task—like designing a layout for a press release or creating content for a sales presentation. In this case search out a template that has the design or content that you want—ignoring temporarily the aspect of the template that you don't need. Download the template and open in your program and—if you need the design not the content—simply copy and paste your content into the design to replace the existing content.

PowerPoint templates

In PowerPoint you can open a template that provides the content you need and apply your own design to it later.

If you need the content and not the design (as in the case of a sales presentation slide show), you can copy the content to your own business slide show template or, in the case of PowerPoint, you can apply your corporate slide design to the downloaded template using the options on the Design tab.

Selecting your corporate slide design as a Theme will apply its look and feel to your template presentation. You'll have to clean up the presentation by applying the appropriate layouts to each of the slides, but that's a lot less work than starting from scratch.

Go Beyond Word and Excel Templates

Templates are not limited to Office applications like Word and Excel—far from it. In fact, you can find or make templates for almost any type of application. Most Web hosts, for example, provide WYSIWYG website design tools—automated templates you can use to build your website. Even if you use an online application—like Canva—to create corporate graphics, you can set up a single design so that all of your subsequent designs share a consistent look and feel.

Create templates in Canva

Make your own Canva template by creating a document with all the required elements. Then simply copy it when you need it.

The next time you need a new graphic, you won’t need to build it from scratch; simply go to the Canva home page and click to make a copy of your design. It will be populated with the elements that you need, saving you time and effort.

Templates for Partial Solutions

A template can simplify your workflow and speed up routine tasks even if you don’t use it to complete the entire task. Let's say, for example, that you always use a certain style of table for your business reports, or you want all charts to share a consistent style. Create a custom table or a chart format and save yourself a lot of time down the road. It may take a little time to create the initial custom format but, once it's done, you can apply it to any future table or chart with just a couple of clicks.

How to make Excel templates, custom charts

In Excel you can save a custom chart format as a template for all your future chart-making needs.

Be advised, however. Whatever program you use may not call this feature a template—even though it acts like a template. Take charts in Excel—you can save the layout of a chart as a reusable template. But Word saves custom tables as either a Table format or as a Quick Part. Whatever they're called, these tools not only save you time, they also ensure consistency from one document to the next.

[Don't miss this Microsoft Word tips article: Your Microsoft Word Skills Suck]

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her website, HelenBradley.com

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