528 – Shorten your meetings (again)

{F5531DA9-D8B1-4DA1-8EB1-EAD491380F60}Last week’s tip talked of the philosophy around 22 minute meetings, and shared a way of forcing Outlook to adjust the start and duration of meetings by default, to help you enforce the discipline.

Eagle-eyed reader John Westworth pointed out that a simpler way of doing much the same thing exists within Outlook already, if you’re on the Microsoft365 subscription. The feature arrived back in March 2019, in version 1902 (Build 11328.20146). Note: to find the version of the Office suite, go into Word – not Outlook itself – and under File | Account you’ll see what version you’re currently using.

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This year-old but hitherto little-known feature is called “End Meetings Early”: it lets you choose a value to over-ride the default meeting duration, so if you create what is ostensibly a 30-minute meeting, I’ll actually end some number of minutes early.

In Outlook, go to File | Options and look under the Calendar section on the left, to set your favoured options.

If you create your appointment or meeting – remembering that a meeting is just a special type of appointment, to which other people are invited – either {8EF536C3-747C-4C6E-AFEC-FBCC614F7707}{C15F5AF5-2086-4A14-A3DF-22BF92D72970}by using the New… option on the menu or by double-clicking on a gap in your calendar, the adjustment will be applied after the item is created (and before it’s sent, if it is a meeting).

With most of the world still WFH, it’s a handy way of making sure you don’t get in back-to-back meetings during the day, with no chance to get away from your screen. Assuming, of course, that everyone obeys the finish time rather than just over-running to the next half or full hour boundary…

If you use the Teams client to create meetings, it doesn’t currently have the functionality to shorten them, so for now, it’s best to stick to Outlook for setting the meeting up.


527 – 22 minute meetings

clip_image002One observation of the C-19 lockdown has been that as many of us are living in Teams, it’s quite easy to end up with back-to-back meetings lasting for hours, with no opportunity to get refreshments, go to the bathroom etc.

The old excuse of walking in 5 minutes late to a meeting because you were in a different building, is no longer available. “Sorry, my other call over-ran” is about the nearest you can get.

This behaviour gives cause to revisit and update a ToW from the distant past – October 2013, to be precise (though it was published online in December 2013, it was sent via email a couple of months earlier).

clip_image003Ex-Microsoftie Nicole Steinbok built a great and prescient short presentation on having better meetings, even covering the basics of handwashing. Like the “how to wash your hands” posters, Nicole produced one for summarising how to hold a better meeting, starting with making it only 22 minutes long.

See http://22MinuteMeeting.info.

Nicole partly blames Outlook for having the default meeting time set at 30 mins, and there’s also an argument for not starting on the hour, but delaying the posted start time to a little later. Imagine if we could tweak Outlook to set a different default than the fixed 30 minute block, starting either on the hour or at the half hour?

Well, it takes a few minutes to add some custom code to Outlook, but if you can follow simple instructions and can use copy & paste, you could have it up and running in a few minutes…

Voila – ToW 196 – Change Outlook meeting duration

Open the steps for #196 up in a browser and have it side/side to Outlook (or on another screen) – they still apply clip_image005to the current version of Outlook, though you may need to explicitly show the Properties dialog for the step about renaming Class1 to clsMeeting –  press F4 if you don’t see Properties in the lower left of the screen when you get to that point.

clip_image007The code in the sample defaults to having 45 minute meetings with a 5 minute delay to the start; if you want to be as fundamentalist as Nicole, you could substitute 22 and 4, as an example. This means that if you create a new meeting in Outlook, either by using the menu or just by double-clicking on the calendar, the start time and duration get tweaked by the code you’ve added, at the point the new meeting or appointment is created.

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517 – Try the preview…

clip_image002Several of Microsoft’s standard apps within Windows ship updates regularly, and increasingly are offering willing early adopters a peek at what’s coming through a  “Try the preview” clip_image004or “Coming Soon” option, usually in the top right of the main screen.

clip_image006You might need to force an update on your apps to get the latest version; go into the Store app and in the ellipsis menu on the top right, select Downloads and updates then hit the Get updates button. If you don’t like clicking menus, you could jump straight there by opening a run dialog with Win+R and entering ms-windows-store://DownloadsAndUpdates/

To find the name of any installed Store app, so you can run it from a command line or dialog, fire up powershell (just press the Start button and type that) then paste:

foreach ($p in $(get-appxpackage)) { foreach ($n in (Get-AppxPackageManifest $p).package.applications.application.extensions.extension.protocol.name) { $p.packagefullname + “`t `t `t -=- ” + $n } }

… and enter that. You’ll get a list of long app names followed by a one-word name that can be used to invoke the app. To run a Store app from a Run dialog or the Start menu directly, use that one word with a colon at the end – to start the Store version of OneNote try typing Win+R onenote: (for example).

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clip_image012The Calendar app – improbably named outlookcal: even though it has nothing to do with the desktop Outlook, other than it too can display a calendar – has recently received an opt-in preview which adds a funky new UI with background graphics reminiscent of Wunderlist, and nice icons to help you quickly switch between different calendar sources.

The preview will only show up (for now) if you’re a Windows Insider. Fortune favours the brave

514 – tweaking Outlook’s Ribbon

clip_image002Thirteen years ago, Microsoft launched Office 2007. Back when people looked forward to new releases of office productivity suites with a mix of excitement and dread, new features arrived by the boat load. While many functions stayed in later releases as core parts of the product, others led a wafer-thin existence then vanished.

One major change was the introduction of the Ribbon – a then-new way of organising the complex menu structure that sat within the individual Office apps. Despite complaints from some users, it quickly became established as a good way of presenting, in context, useful features that might otherwise have stayed buried in some deep menu structure. Competitors copied it too.

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clip_image006Outlook – like other Office apps – has evolved its Ribbon over time, and introduced a simplified version that takes up less screen real estate. While your average user has moved on from squinting at a 15” CRT monitor, it’s still desirable for some to keep the less-used menu options hidden and to focus on the content. To switch between the standard and simple Ribbons, click the little caret mark at the far right corner of the main Ribbon UI.

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So far, so good, but it you like the “Classic” Ribbon, there’s a lot you can do to get rid of some of the guff and keep the useful features more prominent. Looking at the first Ribbon image above, about 40% of the space is consumed with a handful of addins that might be useful, but not necessarily deserving of such prominence – your own list may differ, but the stuff on the right side tends to be a series of groups with a single, large icon in each.

clip_image010To clean up the ribbon, right-click on it and choose the Customize the Ribbon… option. You’ll now get a dialog box which lets you organise things – individual commands are displayed in Tabs (like Home, View, Help etc) and on groups within the tabs (New, Delete, Respond, and so on).

If you reduce the number of groups on a tab, the remaining ones may spread out and show larger icons or more detail – handy on the Home tab, if you like to use Quick Steps, which will expand out of one column.

clip_image012Let’s try moving some of the clip_image014less commonly used groups from the home tab – start by creating a new Tab and then right-click on it to rename it Add-ins or something like that.

Once you have the new tab created, it’s simple to start dragging and dropping defunct groups from the home tab onto the new one – things you might use occasionally but they don’t need to be on the main screen. Customisations are particular to the Ribbon you’re looking at – so if you organise the Classic one then switch to Simplified, you’ll still see the old arrangement until you customize that one too. You might want to export your finished layout too.

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Looking at the restyled Ribbon above, all of the groups from Delete to Tags have been stretched to show more prominent icons or reduce the menu level a little, and Quick Steps has grown from one to four columns wide. Much more useful.

clip_image018If you’re a Quick Steps fan, another trick is to right-click on one of your existing steps (where you’d normally customize that step or jump into the dialog clip_image020for managing the whole lot), and choose Add Gallery to Quick Access Toolbar; meaning your array of quick actions is only a couple of clicks away, regardless of what is shown on the Ribbon.

512 – Sticky Notes and Glancing

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Happy New Year! Whether it’s a way of keeping up with the NY resolutions you haven’t broken yet, or just a casual way to remind yourself to do stuff, Post-It Notes or the more generic “sticky notes” can be a useful tool. ToW # 446 talked about a handy Windows app that is now installed by default on Windows 10.

Sticky Notes has been through a number of iterations, and now in v3.7 it’s looking pared back yet really functional. Sure, you can use Outlook Tasks and To Do to track significant actions, long-term projects and the like, but sometimes you just want a simple list to get you through the morning or to take shopping.

If you open Sticky Notes, and click on the body of a note itself (to set focus to that window and start editing the text), then you’ll see the menu and close controls; clicking the menu lets you quickly change the colour of your note (so if you have several open, you can clip_image004tell them apart, clip_image006maybe) or jump to the Notes list that shows a summary of all the stickies you have lying around.

clip_image008Another quick way of getting to the notes you have is to right-click the Sticky Notes icon on your taskbar.

You can type, write (with your finger, or a stylus), or grab pictures from camera or existing files, all into a note, then share and make sense of it later.

You can sync your sticky notes to other devices: just go to the settings icon (from the taskbar context view or within the Notes list) to configure syncing using either an Office 365 or Microsoft Account.

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Sticky Notes has even replaced the venerable “Notes” function in Outlook, which has been around since 1997 – go to the Wunderbar in Outlook and you may need to click the ellipsis to see the Notes pages; it’s very old-school looking and not everything is carried over quite the same, but it’s a welcome integration that replaces another duplicate way of doing the same thing. It’s part of a long-term plan, so it seems.

Multi-device

clip_image012Sticky Notes show up on the web and are also accessible on iOS and Android devices via the OneNote app…

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If you set up sync between devices, it’s quite amusing to open the web client, the PC app, and then on your phone, add a new note… and see the other two update within seconds. Technology #ftw – far more useful than the kind of toot being peddled at CES in Las Vegas this week.

On an Android phone, though, the best way to use Sticky Notes is through the integration with the Microsoft Launcher – if you’re not a phone tech geek, you might not realise that with Android, you can supplant the entire home screen UI of the phone with any number of variants.

Microsoft has a mature and highly regarded launcher, that clip_image016has an average review score of 4.6 across over 1 million reviews – how many apps in the Windows store can beat that…? See more tips on using Launcher.

clip_image018When you have the Launcher installed, the “Glance” screen is only a swipe away – on the home screen, swipe from clip_image020left to right to flick over to this summary that lets you see a customisable list (click the stack on the top right) of important or interesting info.

clip_image022The Calendar summary lets you jump straight into a Teams meeting, you can show “screen time” stats, or scroll to the bottom to add more widgets from any number of apps you have installed on your phone.

Cortana integration featured in the Launcher at one point, though it’s planned to disappear for many of us.

In a “for your comfort and safety” type announcement, news came that Cortana will disappear from the phone in favour of being part of other M365 apps in time. More to follow, no doubt…

504 – Searching Outlook

clip_image002Many moons ago, Outlook search was a laborious process – you’d enter a word and Outlook would chunter through every message in turn to see if your desired text was contained within. In the days clip_image004when you a few emails, that was fine, but when you have many thousands of messages, it’s not viable.

15 years ago, Microsoft bought a company that made an add-in called LookOut and since then, deep search capabilities have been added in a variety of ways, now provided through the Windows Search service.

clip_image006A feature that was added into both Outlook is the “Top Results” section in search results – essentially providing what the search engine returns as the most relevant content, rather than necessarily the most recent.

How useful this is might depend on how and when you use Outlook search – if you’re looking for a way to return very specific results, it might be more of a distraction than a help (ie if you’re a natural piler, you might use Search as a normal way of retrieving stuff rather than an occasional tool for finding something in particular).

clip_image008clip_image010Should you find the Top Results section annoying and/or distracting, it can be easily disabled by going into Search Options within the Search tab on Outlook’s ribbon, and clear the  “most relevant search results” option.

clip_image012Do so, and normalcy returns.

Top Results also appears in Outlook Web App (outlook.office.com), in the consumer Outlook.com and in Windows Mail – and it doesn’t appear that you can disable it: much to some users’ chagrin. Turn to Uservoice or Feedback Hub if you feel similarly.

To get more out of Search in the desktop Outlook app, it’s worth understanding how to be more specific – even using just a few keywords will help you narrow the results. Search for from:bob, for example, and all results will be mails that originated from someone who had “bob” in their display name. Narrow the search even more by adding terms like sent:yesterday, about:pricing or messagesize:enormous as well.

clip_image014You can use various tools in the Search bar to filter your results, too – it might even be quicker clicking the big paperclip than typing hasattachments:yes. To discover more search terms, click the + More option in the search bar and have a play.

Tip o’ the Week 498 – Go do, To Do (you do so well)

clip_image002The Microsoft To Do desktop and mobile applications and services (all available from https://todo.microsoft.com/) had a major update recently, which included being slightly renamed. Instead of “Microsoft To-Do”, the core app is now simply clip_image004Microsoft To Do”, and it has a new logo (well done if you noticed)… instead of a blocky light-blue and white tick on a blue background, it’s a slightly rounded and shaded blue tick on white background.

clip_image006Still, To[-]Do’s functionality has stepped forward greatly since its first release a couple of years back, taking more than a few leaves from the Wunderlist app that preceded it. The new v2 of the To Do app includes background images that can be shown behind task lists, including one of the Berlin Television Tower which was synonymous with Wunderlist.

After Microsoft’s acquisition of 6wunderkinder (the company that made Wunderlist), it was announced that, at some stage, the Wunderlist application would be retired but still there’s no confirmed date or anything, with back-end engineering apparently taking a good bit longer than was first expected.

When the To-Do app was launched, it was a somewhat poorer cousin. Now, the story is that To Do v2 has enough of the functionality of Wunderlist, and lots of new capabilities (such as Cortana integration), that it’s time for Wunderlist users to transition.

See more of the detail here. See what’s new in versions of To[-]Do. For further To Do tips, check the help center.

The founder of 6wunderkinder has taken to Twitter to offer to buy back Wunderlist before Microsoft shuts the service down. It remains to be seen if the offer is being considered or not…

Tip o’ the Week 496 – Dark Mode marches on

clip_image002Back in the olden days of computing, wage slaves sat in front of terminals with black backgrounds and lurid green text writing. The advent of the graphical user interface relieved this tyranny with a paper-white background from a bitmapped screen to write your WYSIWYG text, to showcase colourful graphics (and Fonts!).

Fast forward 30+ years and it seems every app and OS is running away from black text / white backgrounds, and heading for monochrome graphics and oppressive white text on a black background again.

Using Dark Mode, either in apps or in the operating system on your computer or phone, promises a variety of benefits – less noticeable flickering, reducing eye strain, avoiding bright lights in a dark environment, perhaps better readability and therefore productivity, and even lower energy costs.

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Dark Mode has existed in Windows for a while – but ultimately, apps need to support the theme, too, and more and more are doing so – like new Edge browser, or Office apps (where you can set the Office Theme).

Microsoft recently put out a groovy video to highlight Dark Mode across a variety of apps and device types, and some commentary about why and when. It’s even come to Outlook.com as well.

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The announcement on Microsoft 365 functionality adds for August 2019 highlighted additional Dark Mode support coming to Outlook mobile apps and Outlook.com, saying, Dark Mode is not only easier on the eyes and may extend battery life, it also enables you to comfortably continue using your device in places where the default bright mode isn’t appropriate, like darkened airplanes and movie theaters.”

So kids, next time you want to go and watch a movie & catch up on your email, make sure you’ve Dark Mode on!

Tip o’ the Week 488 – Time Zone Travelling

clip_image002Heading somewhere nice this summer? Perhaps somewhere hot and busy, such as Las Vegas?

When moving between countries, one of the tricks the traveller needs to decide is how to handle the switch of time zone. Do you set your watch to the destination time as soon as you board the plane, or only when the pilot announces, in his or her ever-so distincive pilot tone, what the local time is on arrival?

If pilots all sound the same, what about air-traffic controllers?

Also, do you wait for your phone to pick up the destination time zone automatically, or do you set it manually? If you have a Fitbit or other wearable, do you want it to pick up the time from your phone or do you force it on departure? Decisions, decisions…

Frequent travellers tend to have pearls of wisdom on how to deal with jet lag – like get your mind in the destination time zone and keep it there (ie. If you’re out having dinner after arrival, do not keep saying that it’s really 4am; it’s 8pm now and you can’t go to bed for at least another two hours), or get the sunor even a bright light – on the back of your knees. It’s a lot easier to handle the differing time zones using your PC…

clip_image003Outlook – whenever an appointment is created, its date and time are recorded as an offset from UTC, and the time zone it’s due to take place in is also noted. If you’re creating meetings or appointments which are in a different time zone, like travel times, then it may be worth  telling Outlook by clicking the Time Zone icon in the ribbon, and then selecting the appropriate TZ – especially useful if you’re moving between clip_image005time zones during the appointment itself, and don’t want to run the risk of horological befuddlement.

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If you’re booking a load of appointments in another time zone – eg. you’re working in another country for a few days and creating appointments with people in that locale – then it’s even worth switching the TZ of your PC whilst you do the diary-work, to save a lot of clicking around in setting the appropriate time zone specific to each meeting.

The best way to do this would be to show your second time zone in the Outlook calendar – in the main Outlook window, go to File | Options | Calendar and select the second one to show; when you’re ready to switch between your local TZ and the remote one, just click the Swap Time Zones button to switch the PC (and Outlook) between the different zones.

clip_image009Windows 10 – In the Settings | Date & time menu, there’s an option to tweak how Windows deals with time and time zones – some of which might be applied by policy and therefore greyed out for you. Like phone OSes, Windows 10 has the option of setting time zone automatically.

If you’re going to use the time zone swapping in Outlook as per above, switching time zones before you actually travel, then it’s worth disabling the automatic mode as Windows can get itself properly confused; the default time zone will change, and Outlook will end up showing the same time zone for both primary and secondary.

clip_image011Using the old fashioned Windows control panel time settings applet, you can choose to show a second time zone in the clock on the system tray – in the Date & time settings, look to the right and you’ll see Add clocks for different time zones.

The Alarms & Clock app in Windows 10 shows a map of the world with your choice of locations, and the moving daylight line so you can see what’s happening around the globe. A good alternative to that exec boardroom display nonsense, that you might expect to see gracing the wall of your average corporate hot shot.

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Tip o’ the Week 478 – O365 and Windows’ Mail and Calendar

clip_image002On the mobile platforms that still survive, the highly-regarded and rightly popular “Outlook” mobile apps have no relation to the Outlook desktop Windows app which first appeared with Office 97, before smartphones were a glint in anyone’s eye. Mobile Outlook has hundreds of millions of downloads on both iOS and Android; quite a feat, as later this year Windows Mobile sinks quietly beneath the waves.

The genesis of Outlook on the phone as we know it today, is perhaps the acquisition of a company called Accompli 5 years ago, and a great deal of refinement and effort since.

clip_image004Somewhat interestingly, traces of the same app have come to Windows as well – namely the Mail and Calendar app(s) that are in the box on Windows 10. Look back to ToW 445, and you’ll see that the names for the apps are outlookcal, outlookmail and outlookaccounts. Stick a “:” on the end and you can run them from a prompt.

e.g. Hit WindowsKey+R then enter outlookcal: and you’ll jump straight into the Calendar app.

Both have come a very long way – at first release, they were pretty basic, but they’re now so well featured that most people could use them as their primary email and calendar apps, most of the time.

clip_image006The Calendar app is functionally pretty similar clip_image008to the Outlook desktop app, except when it comes to working with other people – there’s no way to view someone else’s calendar, for example, but for a personal diary of appointments it’s really very good. And if you want the best of both worlds, you can connect your Office 365 account to both Outlook – as might be your primary way of working – and to the Mail and Calendar apps, for some side benefits and quicker ways of getting some things done.

Go into the settings on the Calendar app, then Manage accounts, then + Add account… or just Win+R then outlookaccounts: and you’ll be able to add your Office 365 account onto both Mail and Calendar.

If you have multiple calendars connected – like home Office 365, Gmail or Outllook.com accounts as well as your corporate one – you could selectively enable them for display in the app, and the set of calendars that are shown will also appear in the agenda if you click on the clock / date on your taskbar. You can also see your upcoming appointments in a live tile on the Start menu, if you still use such things.

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You’ll also see your next appointment on the Windows Lock Screen if you have it enabled under Lock screen settings.

You may want to go into the Notifications & actions settings page (just press Start and begin typing notif…) and turning off Calendar notifications, or you’ll get a blizzard of reminders from desktop Outlook and the Calendar app.