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The WordPress Dashboard is a good tool, but it can be improved. If you are tired of scrolling pages, drilling down through menus and searching for little used features, you could increase your efficiency and decrease your frustration with a few plugins.

It doesn't seem like much of a bother to the infrequent user, but if you have a lot to do, you become aware of every extra click, extra menu, and every extra few seconds of wait time. They all add up. We're going to show you some plugins you can use to make your life easier.

Introduction: Standard WordPress Dashboard

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This is the default dashboard that comes with the basic WordPress installation. It does a good job. But it's a bit cramped, requires a lot of scrolling and clicking to see all the menus.

Some important aspects of efficiency are

  • Real Estate - Not land, but space on your page so you can see everything you want. You don't want to waste it on big logos and excessive white space.
  • Page Layout - most used things easily reached and available in a single glance.
  • Ease of use - We're going to make it easier to get where you're going with fewer clicks and less scrolling. Every time you click, there's a wait associated with it. When you're scrolling, you need to read to discriminate between entries. That takes even more time.

It all adds up.

Here's how we're going to improve things

  • Change from vertical to horizontal layout so you can get more functions in the first view. (Make good use of the real estate)
  • Drop down menus - Instead of accordion menus. Removes the "drill" down you need to do to open a submenu item. (Save some Clicks)
  • Function Consolidation - Make it easier to get to critical functions (Save clicks, scrolling and discrimination (reading).
  • Visual Organization - Use visual trees and color coding to let you use your eyes to find things fast. (Save discrimination time, scrolling and clicks)

You'll need the following plugins to complete this tutorial.

  • Ozh' Admin Drop down Menu
  • Ozh' Better Plugin Page
  • Admin Menus Fixed
  • Page Tree View
  • Color Admin Posts

You can install these by searching for them from the "Add new plugin" page.

Step 1: Conserving Real Estate

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Install a horizontal menu plugin and some helpers.

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Search for ozh on the Add New Plugin page.

There are 3 plugins we're using from that page.

  1. Ozh' Admin Drop Down Menu
  2. Ozh' Better Plugin Page
  3. Admin Menus Fixed

Ozh' Admin Drop Down Menu - All admin links will be available in a neat horizontal CSS driven drop down menu. No need to click on "Manage" then "Pages" to edit pages. And plenty more space on your screen.

Ozh' Better Plugin Page - brings a few valuable enhancements to the Plugin Management page: tiny icons, less clutter, quick action links. Handy for those who have 70+ plugins on their blog.

The image below shows what Ozh's Admin Dropdown Menu looks like:
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With no vertical menu, your admin page is now able to expand to full screen width. Making it much easier to read, and allows more room for more text in the initial view. I'm using a narrow view of the screen so it doesn't look much different, but you will see how this makes a huge difference as we go through this tutorial.

The admin menu is now neatly placed at the top of the page.

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The horizontal menu means no more scrolling to find the section you want to work on, and the dropdowns eliminate the click that expands the default accordion menu.

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The plugin comes with a control panel to let you further customize the look and conserve space. You can change the color of the bar. This will help you customize the look as well, so if you do a custom panel for your clients with your own branding, you can co-ordinate.

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Search for and install Admin Menus Fixed if you haven't already

In this case fixed doesn't mean repaired. It means that it will fix the position of the admin bar so that it doesn't move as you scroll through admin. It will always be there, and will save you lots of scrolling.

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It also does a little cleanup by removing the blue bar at the top of the page with the link to your site. It removes a redundancy, In other words, two links that do the same thing, saving you some vertical space as well. (For publicly viewed sites redundancy can be a good thing. But in an admin environment it can be more confusing to have two ways to do the same thing.)

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As you scroll through the page content, the menu bar will remain in place. In the image above, I've scrolled to the bottom of the content section, while the menu remains in a fixed position.

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This plugin can also work as a standalone plugin, and will fix the position of your default menu as well. Here you can see I've scrolled to the bottom of the page and the full default menu is still visible on the left.

I don't find this as convenient as having the menu at the top, but everyone has their preferred way of working.

Step 2: Feature Consolidation

Many times the tasks you need to perform require you to do extra searches or scroll through long lists to find what you want. There are plugins that will help consolidate these functions into a small space, a more efficient menu, or additional widget placement that will make them quicker to get to.

We've already download one of those, Ozh Better Plugin Page. Let's add Pages Tree View to our list. Search for it on the add plugins page and install it.

Pages Tree view features and highlights:

  • View your pages & posts in a tree-view, like you view files in Windows Explorer or the Finder in OS X
  • Drag and drop to rearrange/order your pages
  • Add pages after or inside a page
  • Edit pages
  • View pages
  • Search pages
  • Available for both regular pages and custom posts
  • View your site hierarchy directly from the WordPress dashboard
  • Support for translation plugin WPML, so you can manage all the languages of your site

First a quick look at Ozh' Better Plugin Page. This brings a few valuable enhancements to the Plugin Management page: tiny icons, less clutter, quick action links. Handy for those who have 70+ plugins on their blog.

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Ozh Plugin Page - This plugin adds some buttons to the top of the plugin page that make sorting and finding plugins easier.

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It's a small, but significant improvement in efficiency. Making the controls easier to see and quicker to find lets more easily find these links on the page. It might not seem like it takes a lot of time to find a small blue link on a page that leads you to the same functions, but it all adds up.

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Now lets look at Pages Tree View. Adding this plugin gives you a visual map of your site's pages. Mousing over the titles gives you additional controls for quick access. It adds link in your Pages menu, but it goes a little farther than that. You get a lot information with a quick look and virtually no clicking. Consolidating multiple tasks in a single interface is very efficient when it comes to often needed tasks.

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Pages Tree View adds a widget to your admin page with the tree view, so you never have to access the admin menu to get to your pages. If you have a lot of pages, this is a real treat. Visual organization of a hierarchy makes this far less confusing. Adding a widget lets you put this information on the most valuable real estate on the front page.

Step 3: Color and Visual Organization

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Reading takes time. If we can cut down on reading, and use colors to visually organize. After installing this plugin, you will be able to make each type of post a different color. When you're administering posts, you can easily hone in on the group by color. You can see what's done, and what needs to be done, which will help you organize your time or assign tasks to others.

The image below shows how Color Admin Posts works:
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Change the background colors of the post/page within the admin based on the current status: Draft, Pending, Published, Future, Private.

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The different types of posts literally jump out at you. You no longer have to read the titles or search for a blue link. You've cut down reading time and the number of clicks by making it easier to discriminate visually.

Conclusion: Putting it all together

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Now with everything installed go back to the Dashboard and go to the top right of the screen and click on Screen Options.

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  1. Uncheck Incoming Links
  2. Uncheck Word Press Blog
  3. Uncheck Other WordPress News
  4. Click the Radio button for 4 Columns
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You will probably see widgets in two columns. You can reposition the columns by clicking the titles and dragging them to a new position. Arrange them so they work best for you.

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Now you have a very efficient dashboard:

  • Miscellaneous widgets that might distract you are hidden.
  • The menu and all pertinent information is "above the fold". You've eliminated scrolling.
  • The menu is always visible, you never have to scroll to find a section.
  • You've eliminated the extra clicks to drill down to the submenu that you want.
  • All your pages are visually accessible without clicking Pages > Add New (or edit) > scroll to the page . click another command to get a menu >click the menu selection

Behind the dashboard, your posts are all color coded and your plugin page is easy to organize. There are many other plugins available that can speed your workflow. The basic principles for efficiency we've demonstrated here can help you choose which you need, and save you lots of time.