Lifehacker IT Pro Readers Share Their Best Time-Saving Tricks

Lifehacker IT Pro Readers Share Their Best Time-Saving Tricks

From using PowerShell to ignoring your boss, these are the tactics our readers suggested to get more hours into your day. Plus: who won our Windows Server 2012 R2 competition and receives a shiny new Xbox One?

Clock picture from Shutterstock

All these suggestions came as part of our competition to try out Windows Server 2012 R2, but they’re worth sharing with a wider audience. As you’d expect, many (though not all) focused on how to administer Windows environments more effectively. Matt, for instance, is a big fan of automated desktop deployment:

Installing Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and using it as our primary image deployment system. All we have to do is PXE boot a machine, come back to it after an hour and voila! One domain-joined laptop/tablet/desktop ready to go, with all settings configured and apps installed. Could not ask for anything more (and it’s free!)

Shannan offers another useful tip for mass deployment:

Using sysprep to create read only master VHDs with differencing disks when mass deploying virtual desktops in a remote desktop server environment. It saves so much time when running up new machines for new staff members.

Paul favours a more distant approach:

On a number of occasions I’ve had to install a complicated accounting application on PCs used by our finance department. This particular software is a pain to install and can take anything from 15 to 30 minutes. To save time I installed the finance software on our application server and then created a Finance_RemoteApp.msi. On the client PC it takes less than a minute to install and connect to the server using Microsoft RemoteApp. As far as the staff in finance are concerned it looks just like a native application that’s installed on their PC. This method of installation is a massive time saver and allows me to get on with other jobs that need my immediate attention.

Tim is a huge fan of Robocopy:

Working as an intermediary between developers and end users, and constantly testing new software with said users, you need to be able to deploy updates to multiple test rigs. Without Robocopy and a one line batch file I would have to spend hours updating where a script will get the job done in minutes.

Speaking of scripts, Brett was one of many readers singing the praises of Powershell:

Learning PowerShell would probably be the most time saving trick that I have picked up over the years. Recently I did a site migration for our Head Office which was around 800 users. After migrating their data, I had to update their new Office Locations, Home Drive location (new server), and so on. I used PowerShell to export all their Active Directory accounts into a CSV file, updated the new details in bulk and then imported back to Active Directory. Doing this one by one manually would have taken weeks.

The importance of automation was a recurring theme. As Evan put it:

Once is fine, twice is a coincidence, three or more is redundant.

Sam offers a useful security reminder:

Windows Key + L. Because with the pranks in our office if you leave your computer unlocked, anything can happen.

Benjamin highlights the importance of sharing knowledge with others:

Teaching the receptionist to check the basics (unplugged cables, turn off and on again) before they come to me. It cut my downtime from my primary role (web dev) in half and I’m now much more productive.

Adam notes that speed of deployment isn’t always a good thing:

When asked by your boss to implement a new feature sit on it for a few days — he hasn’t thought it through yet! This will save you throwing out your work when he comes with a new idea. I can’t measure the amount of time I’ve saved by not doing something destined for the bin.

And Craig points out that reinventing the wheel is pointless:

Don’t try to do everything yourself. If it’s not your core competency, chances are there’s some better and faster at it than you, or better yet a SAAS offering.

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition. There can only be one winner, and our favourite answer came from Brett. Congratulations — your Xbox One will be on its way soon!


  • When I was working for a bank we had a boss who was constantly coming up with what he thought were mind blowing and industry altering ideas and he kept telling us to develop them.

    We eventually simply ignored him and if he got back to us a couple of weeks later we implemented the application.

    Saved a great deal of time.

    • The other tactic is to ask them for more specific details. People who come up with grand ideas often dont like to think about the little things that would make it work.

      Every 6 months or so management here decide they need some big displays on the wall showing key metrics and live data. Each time, I ask them what data they specifically want displayed…and it doesn’t get mentioned again.

      • Sounds like you work for either Coles or Woolworths. Had exactly the same issue when I was at Coles. heh

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