Tech Briefing

By John Zyskowski

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7 BlackBerry tricks from the pros (but what's missing?)

A BlackBerry smart phone is standard-issue equipment for most government executives these days, ensuring that workplace issues – and pressures – are practically never more than an arm’s length away. However, too often people feel like the BlackBerry ends up taking over their life, so it’s important to make the technology work for you, instead of the other way around.

To this end, we asked a few executive coaches for their best tips for making the most of using a BlackBerry. Their suggestions follow.

Do you have any favorite BlackBerry tricks that help you manage the device or your time better? You can share those ideas with other readers by using the comments below. Please include your e-mail address in the form so that we can follow up with you directly if we have any questions. We will not post your e-mail address publicly.

1. Get to know some apps

Ever tried to access Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn from your BlackBerry Web browser and had difficulty reading or navigating the pages? If so, go to Blackberry App World and download the (mostly) free apps that enable you to more easily interact with these popular services, suggests Marsha Egan, a business leader coach and author of “Inbox Detox.” As an example, with the Twitter app a star appears on the home page when there is a new mention, just like a star appears when you have new e-mail messages. New apps are being created each day, and searching the Internet for top BlackBerry apps will keep you current and more efficient.

2. Customize the left-side key

That button on the left side of the BlackBerry is assigned out of the box to voice-activated dialing, which Fiona Forrest, an executive coach with Strategic Learning Solutions, finds a difficult feature to use. Instead, she advises using the button to bring up the calendar or address book. Directions for reassigning one of these functions to the button, which is called the left-side convenience key, vary depending on your carrier, so check for your specific model. Once reassigned, you can talk on the phone and easily check your calendar at the same time.

3. Set electronic boundaries

Productivity and efficiency involves setting boundaries, and you can use one of the BlackBerry’s battery saving features to make it easier to set those boundaries, said Egan. Just because the BlackBerry allows you to be connected 24/7 doesn't mean you should. You can set your device to automatically shut down at specific times and turn itself back on. To do so, go to your device's icon screen and click the Options icon. Then click Auto On/Off, select whether settings should apply to weekdays, weekends or both, and choose stop and start times.

4. Cut back the keystrokes

If there are words you type often, you can add shortcuts to them in the BlackBerry’s dictionary with Autotext under Options, recommends Forrest. She has added all the days of the week and the names of people she often refers to in her e-mail. This can save a lot of typing. You can also use this feature to correct common spelling mistakes you might make. She also says “no” to the Confirm Delete under the Options menu. That way deleting a message takes only one keystroke, saving hundreds of keystrokes a day for heavy e-mail users.

5. Save on directory assistance

Cell phone companies charge $1 or more for directory assistance calls, a fee that can add up quickly for an organization filled with people used to dialing 411 when such requests were free. If you’re willing to listen to a few second advertisement when you call, you can use a free directory assistance service by dialing 800-FREE-411, or 800-373-3411, said Forrest. Google also offers a free service at 800-GOOG-411 or 800-466-4411.

6. Beat the traffic

Time spent behind the wheel caught in traffic is time lost for work purposes. You can steer clear of backups by using the mobile Web version of’s real-time traffic alert system, suggested Allan Tsang, an executive coach and business consultant. First visit to register for free. Select the highways you will be using every day and the approximate time. The service will then send automatic e-mail alerts to your BlackBerry if there are backups within your route and time frame.

7. Do it faster with shortcuts

There are many built in shortcuts for typing and navigating message lists on the BlackBerry, so you’ll probably want to get familiar with at least some of them, said Forrest. Some shortcuts vary with different models, so check your mode’s manual. Here are some of the ones Forrest tells her clients about.

When typing, press:

* The space bar twice to insert a period and capitalize the next letter automatically.
* Hold a letter key to capitalize that letter.
* The alt key and a character key to type the alternate character on a key.
* A number key to type that number in a number field (no need to press the alt key).
* And hold the alt key and a number key to type a number in a text field.

When navigating a message list, press:

* The shift key and the space bar to move up a screen.
* The space key to move down a screen.
* T to move to the top of a message list.
* B to move to the bottom of a list.
* N to move to the next date.
* P to move to the previous date.
* U to move to the next unopened item.
* J to move to the next related message.
* K to move to the previous related message.
* C to compose a new e-mail message.

Posted by John Zyskowski on Sep 13, 2010 at 12:20 PM

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Reader comments

Tue, Sep 14, 2010

If you have an unlimited data plan, the BB Google Maps app provides real-time traffic updates overlaying colors on the map to represent current road status.

Mon, Sep 13, 2010 Fiona Forrest La Jolla, California

I hope everyone finds this article helpful and if you want to know more about executive coaching and how it can help your productivity you can email me at or visit us at Good luck with your BlackBerry!

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