At different stages in the career I've been paid for working in Houdini, Nuke, 3DSMax, XSI, Fusion, Maya, Shake, Blender and After Effects among the other applications. I've been using Lightwave, 3D-Coat, Combustion, Rayz and so many other things. Not even mentioning programs like Photoshop, Corel Draw or Inkscape here. Of course I'm not the master in most of them, but I think I'm OK with learning new software, and here are the two tricks I know.
As obvious as they are, it is quite amazing how often even quite experienced artists manage to ignore them.
First one: RTFM. Read
Every piece of software comes with a manual. Some are good, some are less, but all of them contain much wider perspective on the tools that you would get elsewhere (or at least from a lone journey). They also often describe the intended use of not always obvious features and address the particular working techniques – personally I've learned a good deal of software-independent tricks and methods from manuals alone.
It takes less time than it seems to go through the whole book. And although you probably won't memorize or even completely understand all of it in the first reading, the further you would get – the better idea of what your toy is capable of you will have – the less time you'll spend figuring out the answer when confronting new tasks during the real production.
Because you don't abandon the documentation after the first reading – you just start using it as a reference from now on, since from now on you have a good idea where to find what. And (might sound a bit shocking) there is a search function to it! Again, strictly personally, but the first thing I do whenever get stuck with a software – press F1 and type the issue into the search field. Google helps as well of course.
The second tip is as groundbreaking as the first one: use hotkeys. Same way as putting hands at 10 and 2 for driving; while holding a mouse or a stylus in one hand, it is a good practice to keep another one on the keyboard when operating the graphics software. It is just plain faster. Times faster. And it is quite addictive after you start, so it only takes to overcome a little laziness once. Unless you're already doing so (and you probably are, but just in case) – look up the keyboard shortcuts for the 5-10 functions you use most often (they are usually listed in the menus, when hovering the tool button and/or in the manual (see above)) – and start accessing those functions with a keyboard rather than a mouse. Give it an hour, and if your life quality will not improve – do not listen to me anymore.
Thank you. Hope it helps.
Might return to the typography article next time, but that would mean a longer pause as well – will see...