Mankind, in all its inventiveness, has long devoted much of its time to not having to devote so much in future. Keeping an eye on the clock is a near-universal modern obsession; on the one hand, time is money, and on the other, time is something precious, extra portions of which can be used to keep the work-life balance in check. We all want to save time in our work - if nothing else, it saves us a lot of hassle, and gives us the opportunity to find something better to do.

Take, if you will, one example of a time (and indeed, effort) saving development: the move from writing lengthy documents by hand, to using a typewriter, to using a word processor. Sure enough, the modern word processor can make writing a document so much more straightforward. But from there, where do you look to save yet more time? What further efficiencies can really be made once you're already saving time by using your PC or Mac? Rather a lot, actually, thanks to Microsoft Word.

We're probably all familiar with what Word can do to make your documents look better. Different fonts, colours, pictures and tables, there's no end of available tools to make sure that your document has as positive and effective an appearance as can be. But these, if anything, can take up even more of your time, as you add this or that to augment your work. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to produce consistently appealing documents in less time rather than more?

Word has a great deal that can help in this respect. Countless templates can be downloaded (or you can create your own), and used to produce standard documents over and over again - for instance, if you need to create a number of invoices, or to send out a questionnaire or comments form. Microsoft also has its own easy-to-use and very simple programming language, Visual Basic for Applications, which can be used to assign a simple shortcut to any process that needs to be repeated over and over again - such as adding your company's address to letters and reports.

As useful as these tools certainly are, they can be somewhat limited. Word 2007 can give you much more freedom for no extra effort. If you need frequently to create documents that look similar, or that follow a particular pattern, Word now has 'building blocks' that can be used to put together individual documents using frequently used elements - just like keeping the same basic ingredients in your kitchen cupboard, which can be brought together with a few other small details to make all manner of meals. Word has a range of ready to use blocks - headers, footers, tables, title pages, and much more besides - which can be simply customised with your own details, and then dropped into your document.

Or you can create your own 'boilerplate', an area of text, formatting, images (or all three) which can be placed anywhere in a document at the touch of a button. So, if you'd like numerous pages of a brochure to contain your company's slogan, you can save it as a boilerplate, and not have to worry about typing and formatting it again - it'll be there whenever you need it. The same principle can apply to any part of your document - as in the kitchen, if you have the usual ingredients to hand, you can make dinner with much less effort but no less flavour.

Building blocks can do so much for your business, helping you to stylish, appealing and effective documents with all the information you need, and to take far less time to do so. Unlike pre-existing templates, building blocks can fit together in whatever order you want. If you feel that one style of header sits well with a particular table in one report, but needs a different table in another, or if the chosen style of footer needs to change depending on the content of a report, you can chop and change these ingredients with the greatest of ease. And with all elements being entirely and simply customisable, you can be sure that your efficient document is not only stylish but individual, and reflects whatever impression you need it to give.

Stepping forward from a typewriter to a modern word processor has given a boost to innumerable offices and individuals; if you can make use of building blocks to save your business some vital time - and a short training course can help you to get the best of this - then you too can stride forward, and stay ahead of the game.