Tip o’ the Week 491 – PowerPoint layout tips

clip_image002Microsoft people love PowerPoint. Even when using it for completely unsuitable purposes (writing reports using PPT instead of Word, OneNote etc – filling slides with very dense and small text) or simply putting too much stuff on a slide, so a presenter has to say “this is an eyechart but…”

There are many resources out there to try to help you make better slides – from how-to videos to sites puffing a mix of obvious things and a few obscure and never-used tricks (eg here or here), and PowerPoint itself is adding technology to try to guide you within the app.

clip_image004The PowerPoint Designer functionality uses AI technology to suggest better layouts for the content you’ve already put on your slide – drab text, even a few clip_image006Icons (a library of useful-looking, commonly-used symbols) or graphics from your favourite source of moody pics.

If you don’t see the Design Ideas pane on the right, look for the icon on the Design tab, under, er Designer.

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The PowerPoint Designer team has recently announced that one billion slides have been created or massaged using this technology, and they have previewed some other exciting stuff to come – read more here.

A cool Presenter Coach function will soon let you practice your presentation to the machine – presumably there isn’t some poor soul listening in for real – and you’ll get feedback on pace, use of words and so on. Watch the preview. No need to imagine Presenter Coach is sitting in his or her undies either.

When it comes to laying out simple objects on a slide, though, you might not need advanced AI to guide you, rather a gentle helping hand. As well as using the Align functionality that will ensure shapes, boxes, charts etc, are lined up with each other, spread evenly and so on, when you’re dragging or resizing items you might see dotted lines indicating how the object is placed in relation to other shapes or to the slide itself…

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In the diagram above, the blue box is now in the middle of the slide, and is as far from the orange box as the gap between the top of the orange box and the top of the grey one. There are lots of subtle clues like this when sizing and placing objects, and it’s even possible to set your own guides up if you’re customising a slide master.

Tip o’ the Week 473 – Teams Shortcuts

clip_image001Many people who rely on the same applications to do repetitive tasks, will want to learn quicker ways of doing them – and use shortcut keys to good effect. Shortcuts have been covered in ToW previously – eg. how to start modern apps quickly, or navigating between running apps.

As world+dog moves from internal corporate email to Teams, Slack etc, it’s handy to know how to get the best out of the new messaging environment. Before abandoning Outlook already, here’s a reminder of some especially useful shortcut keys:

  • CTRL-2 – jumps to Calendar; useful if you’re in mail and want to quickly check something in the diary.
  • CTRL-1 – sets focus to “mail” – whatever folder you were looking at before moving away to check your calendar etc. CTRL-SHIFT-i will jump to your Inbox regardless of where you are in the UI (eg you might be in another mail folder, or looking at Calendar/Tasks etc)
  • CTRL-3 – jumps to Contacts (or “People” as Outlook now calls it)
  • CTRL-4 – jump to Tasks.
  • CTRL-5, -6, -7 and -8 will take you to long-dead Outlook features. Try them. Take a teary trip down memory lane.

And there are lots and lots more.

When it comes to using Teams, one of the most useful shortcut tips is essentially the same as the Outlook set above – CTRL-number takes you to one of the nodes on the side-bar that corresponds to the number from the top – eg CTRL-4 will jump to Meetings, which is handy if you have Teams calls in you clip_image002calendar and want to join the calls from there rather than Outlook.

clip_image004Incidentally, if you normally go into an appointment in Outlook and click the “Join Teams Meeting” link in the text body, you may tire of continually telling Outlook that yes, you did mean to switch applications, and it’s OK, you already have the desktop app…

Click the “Join Teams Meeting” icon on the Ribbon in Outlook instead, and you’ll skip this. If you’re super-skilful then you can jump straight to that command without lifting your fingers from the keyboard – just press the ALT key and you’ll see clip_image006shortcut letters appear under each of the sections of the Ribbon; press the corresponding one (“H” if you’ve opened the meeting up in Outlook already), and you’ll then see a letter combo that will activate the Ribbon commands – Y1 in this case will jump straight into the meeting.

There are many other shortcuts in Teams, with varying degrees of usefulness. Customising the UI is still a bit clunky (eg you can’t add shortcuts straight to the sidebar or move items on it up and down) but you may be able to find a quick way of doing the things you need most. To see a summary of shortcut keys whilst in teams, just press CTRL-. (ie CTRL and full stop/period ‘.’).

Tip o’ the Week 469 – To-Do Files and Accounts

clip_image002ToW has featured Wunderlist and To-Do on a number of occasions; it’s good to see new functionality being added to the To-Do app & service, and the hits just keep on coming. If you haven’t tried it out yet, get To-Do from the Store, or just play with it online. Install it on your phone, too – fruit | robot.

clip_image004Recently, the Windows To-Do app was updated with a couple of key features, including the ability to add files (up to 25Mb in size) to items – though not yet if your list is shared.

It’s also now possible to add multiple accounts to the Windows To-Do app; so you can have several Office 365 or personal Microsoft Accounts – and switch between them without needing to sign out and in again. Maybe something that Teams could aspire to

To keep up with further news, check out the To-Do blog, or the Twitter account.

Tip o’ the Week 466 – Mobile Teams Tips

clip_image002Teams is more than just a replacement for Skype for Business on your PC, it’s also a consummate mobile app that functionally eclipses its predecessor in many ways, and even its desktop sibling in some. If you haven’t installed the Teams mobile app on your phone, go and get it (and other Office apps) for Googly Devices or Fruity Phones. The remaining Windows Phone users can follow the setup link here, though be prepared for disappointment.

clip_image004The “Calls” tab on the mobile version on the app is more usable in some senses than Calls on the PC version of Teams is, since it exposes phone numbers more easily. On the desktop Teams app, if you want to use the service to call an existing contact via the POTS, the actual phone number you use can at times be somewhat obscured.

clip_image006On the PC app, for example, if you look at History, you’ll often seen a list of people but it’s not clear which number they called from (or you called them on), and you’ll need to use the Contacts list within Calls to be able to direct a new call to a specific number.

In the Teams mobile app, if you look at the Calls tab, under History, tap on a line and then the card to the right side of the list of icons, you’ll get a contact card and the ability to respond back – using Teams – to any one of the listed phone numbers.

clip_image008Under Settings, you also get a bit more direct control over do not disturb functionality with quiet hours and days.

Finally, one of the great new functions in Teams mobile is the building-in of clip_image010Org Chart functions, so you can browse the global address list hierarchy while on the move (assuming such info is populated in the directory).

Just search for a contact’s name, and their organisational tree is only a tap away.

For more tips on using Teams Mobile, see here.

Tip o’ the Week 448 – Sometimes, size does matter

clip_image002Once upon a time, users had to deal with email quotas that meant they often had to shuffle messages around to stay within their allowed size limit, or else get limited functionality. The Outlook Thread Compressor tool* was written to help reduce the size of a user’s mailbox, and for a while, had thousands of users inside Microsoft. It inspired the Outlook team to write the “Conversation Clean Up” feature, which works in a slightly different way but does similar things.

Nowadays, with 50 or 100GB mailbox quotas being the norm, most Outlook users don’t need to worry about reducing the size of their mailbox other than to keep it from being too hard to use – a tidy mind and all that. But if you have massive mailboxes, the storage and organisation of all your content may put an unnecessary strain on your PC, so it’s worth taking a few steps to check and clean up if you can.

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In Outlook 2016, go to the File menu and lclip_image006ook for Tools > Mailbox Cleanup for a bunch of tools that can help, including being able to view your current mailbox size…

… and marvel at a dialog box that hasn’t changed since the earliest days of Outlook, evidenced by the fact it measures size in KB rather than MB or even GB…

Limits to be aware of

There are some recommended limits that have been given to Exchange/Outlook users over the years – not just about the overall size of the mailbox, but the number of items in certain folders and even the number of folders themselves. See a 2005 post on the Exchange blog here, for example, which advises keeping the item count low on certain folders (< 1,000 items in the Inbox, Calendar and Contacts folder was the recommendation then – also on the Exchange Blog, check out some of the examples in this post for early pioneers of huge mailboxes).

In more recent versions of Outlook, though, there are some guidelines to avoid performance problems:

  • Keep the number of items per folder below 100,000
  • Keep the total number of folders to less than 500

Now, you’re probably not going to have too many folders with more than 100k items though it might be worth checking Sent Items and Deleted Items. Unfortunately, the mailbox size tool above shows you the total size of each folder, rather than the number of items – and if you want to know how many folder you have, you’d need to manually count them in the scrolling list box: not an easy task if you have lots of them.

It’s quite possible if you’ve had your mailbox for a while, and you’re a very diligent filer (especially if you use a methodology like GTD or tools like ClearContext), you could inadvertently have more than 500 folders – and if you use AutoArchive, then you could find a lot of them are empty, since the archive process moves the items out into another location but leaves the folder structure behind.

FolderCount to the rescue

Here’s an interesting little hobby project – a macro-enabled Excel sheet which cycles through all the folders in your mailbox, tells you how many items are in each one and offers to get rid of the empty ones for you.

It can be run in:

  • Read Only mode – it’ll just show you what you have, and leave it up to you to clean the mess
  • Active mode – for each identified empty folder, you’ll be prompted if you’d like to keep or delete it
  • Nuclear mode – just assumes you want to delete the empties, so doesn’t prompt.

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Use with caution; though anything that is successfully “deleted” will be moved to Deleted Items first, therefore you’ll need to run it again to actually do the damage (or just empty your Deleted Items… a thought that fills some people with dread).

To run it, click on the link above, save the file locally, open it up in Excel and you’ll need to clip_image010enable the Macros to run – probably by first enabling editing, and then allowing macros by “Enable Content”.

Once you’ve done that, click on the appropriate button to let it run. I’d suggest starting with the top one until you feel brave…

*The Thread Compressor tool was made available externally after a time, but the domain disappeared… the actual Outlook Addin is again available here, but you’re a bit on your own as far as installing and using it is concerned…

Tip o’ the Week 446 – What’s brown and sticky?

clip_image002Q: What *is* brown and sticky?

A: A stick…

Q: What’s yellow and sticky?
A: One of the most successful product design failures in history.

Yes, the Post-It note (which has gone on to spawn many imitators, sometimes known as just “stickies” or “sticky notes”) was essentially invented by accident almost 50 years ago, by a scientist at 3M who was trying to make a super-strong glue but instead came up with one that didn’t really stick very well but was at least reusable and didn’t leave any residue behind.

Of course, the real story is a lot less simple – the product really took more than a decade to perfect, and convincing people that it was a viable business took several attempts, but eventually it went on to be one of the most-bought office supplies in history.

The digital equivalent has had decades of evolution too, from a simple note app from the company that brought you Tiny Elvis to the Sticky Notes application that shipped with Windows 7, and innumerable similar apps in the various mobile and desktop app stores.

Starting with the Windows Insider “Skip Ahead” community (but soon to roll out wider), the Microsoft Sticky Notes app has been heavily revised, consolidating the multiple windows that would typically be left on your desktop with a single list, and then pop-out notes that feature multiple colours, support for ink, cross-device syncing and more.

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Keep an eye out for the Sticky Notes 3.0 arrival on your PC. As MJF says, with the same team now responsible for OneNote, To-Do/Wunderlist, and Sticky Notes, it’ll be interesting to see how deeply integrated they get.

Tip o’ the Week 443 – Starting modern apps

clip_image002Power Users often like to start applications quickly, without recourse to grubbing around with a mouse or a trackpad. Super Users might even want to write scripts that automate all sorts of things that mere mortals with less time on their hands are happy to do manually. Regardless of your penchant for automation, here are a few short cuts you can take to quickly start apps that you use often.

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Apps pinned to taskbar

The taskbar in Windows obviously shows you what’s currently running, but can also be used to pin frequently accessed apps or – by default at least – those that Windows thinks should be frequent (Edge, Store, etc – right-click on them to unpin if you disagree). You’ll see a highlight line under the apps that are running, so those without the line are simply pinned there.

If you start typing the name of a favourite app at the Start menu, clip_image006then right-click on it in the list, you can choose to pin it. So far, so good.

If you drag the pinned apps around, they’ll stay in that position relative to each other, and new apps will always start to the right (or underneath, if you use a vertical taskbar, as you really should). Now, if you press WindowsKey+number, you’ll jump to the app that is n along the line, and if that app isn’t running, then Windows will start it. So in the picture above, pressing WindowsKey+2 would start Edge, or WindowsKey+3 would bring Outlook to the fore.

Shortcut to desktop

clip_image008You could try an old-skool method, by creating a desktop shortcut to apps that are already on your Start menu – press WindowsKey+D to show the bare desktop itself, then press Start to show the actual Start menu.

Assuming your Start menu isn’t full screen then you’ll be able to drag icons or tiles from the menu to the Desktop, and if you right-click the shortcut and look at Properties, you’ll see a Shortcut key: clip_image010option… just press some key sequence that makes sense to you and press OK to save.

This method differs from the taskbar one above, because each press of the shortcut you set might start a new instance of the app (if it supports that) – which may or may not be desirable. If you end up with several windows of OneNote, for example, you could cycle through them by repeatedly pressing the appropriate WindowsKey+n as above.

Keep on Running

There’s no better mark of being a real PC deity than by launching your apps through running the executable name… you know the drill? WindowsKey+R to get the Run dialog (it’s so much faster than pressing Start), then enter the app’s real name and you’re off to the races. winword, excel, calc, notepad… they’re for novices. The genuine hardcases might even dive into the (old fashioned, obvs) Control Panel applets like ncpa.cpl rather than navigating umpteen clicks.

Looking at the shortcut to OneNote’s modern app above, though, it’s clear there isn’t a simple executable to run – onenote will launch the on-life-support OneNote 2016 version.

Many modern apps do, however, let you launch them from the Run dialog by entering a name with “:” at the end…

Examples include:

onenote:

Modern OneNote (annoyingly, you may get prompted to open in OneNote 2016 – just hit cancel and it goes away)

ms-settings:

The new-fangled control panel. You can tag on other commands like ms-settings:display or ms-settings:windowsupdate but you might be quicker clicking the icon than typing all of that.

bingmaps:

A good bit quicker than launching the browser and navigating to the maps URL, even if you do press ALT-D to set focus to the address bar, and type bingmaps <CTRL-ENTER> to auto-fill the www. and the .com

outlookmail:

Even though it’s not real Outlook, this launches the Mail part of the Mail & Calendar store app. outlookcal: does the other bit.

ms-windows-store:

For when you can’t wait to check out all the great new apps in the Microsoft Store.

fb:

If you feel the need to do a personality test or look at other people’s holiday photos.

More on this, later…

Tip o’ the Week 410 – Inbox Zero for New Year?

clip_image001ToW has covered various strategies in dealing with email (189, 223, 310 and more), but this week’s tip is shamelessly lifted from a LinkedIn article by an erstwhile colleague and media industry leviathan, Tony Henderson.

Tony, it turns out, authored a book a few years back which offered a slightly different-than-the-norm spin on productivity and how to deal with some of the difficulties of the modern workplace. It’s from this tome that he picked some great tips in handling your inbox – perhaps leading to the ability to clear it completely and leave “inbox zero”.

The Eleven Rules of Email

  1. Daily Mail Test – “Never write anything in an email that you would not be happy for your mother to read on the front page of the Daily Mail.”
  2. Responding – Don’t be too quick to respond to email requests – emails are very easy to send, and it is often hard and time consuming to respond.
  3. Expectations – Get people to call you if they want something urgently so that you know whether they are really serious and why they need a response.
  4. Inbox Management – Clear your inbox every day to less than 30 emails (so the list does not reach the bottom of outlook page). Set up folders covering each area you work on – or groups you deal with – and file religiously – even if you have not always read. That way you can go back and review by topic and avoid the stress of an overfull inbox.
  5. Getting Things Actioned – if you are sending an email looking for someone to act flag that action is required by putting ACTION REQUIRED in the title which will mean that everyone who the email is copied will read it.  To make it really clear who and what you are asking you must highlight specific requests e.g.: “Action: Alan to check this issue and confirm.” This approach works well with people you know, but may be ignored by people who you don’t – a good idea to get verbal agreement first.
  6. Getting Your Message Across – If you need to get an email response from senior people who are busy or don’t know you very well.                       
    • Construct your title carefully (perhaps write it as a proposition such as – “Getting final approval for Project X”).
    • Get the message over in three short and punchy paragraphs – no more.
    • If you want approval, ask for it by asking them to merely reply to that email and type “yes”. This works very well as it makes it so easy for them to respond!
    • Remember that people are all really pressured by email but generally always scan the title and first few lines.
  7. Avoiding Inevitable Email Accidents – the speed and simplicity of email will always lead to some mistakes; many of them can be rectified by adopting two simple principles.
    • Set a Delay – Set a sending delay of at least 2 minutes on your Outbox – it gives you just enough time to delete that accidental email. Better still you can set it for specific addresses such as clients.
    • Double Check Addresses – Double check your address lines in email before you send – Outlook auto insert often puts odd names in there.
  8. Arguments – Never, ever have an argument by email – everyone loses and it is recoded for posterity. If you sense a disagreement coming, make a call or organise a face to face meeting and then circulate the conclusions by email.
  9. Favourite Form of Communication – Email is not everyone’s favourite form of communication. Some people are better “live”, others like to use the phone, and others respond to formal letters or memos. Try and find out which form your key people like and use it for important communications.
  10. Circulation List – When you need to respond to an email with a wide circulation on it, you need to stop and think. Do I need to send this to everyone? Is this “thread” wasting a lot of people’s time? (You can be sure that it is).
  11. Interruptions – While internal emails can be a huge waste of time they can also avoid unnecessary interruptions. After you have interrupted someone at their desk it can take up to 30 minutes for them to get back to their original task.
    So while talk is best, email may be a useful method to log a question or thought. Equally making a note and saving it for a lunchtime chat is also a good option.

See Tony’s article here, and The Leopard in the Pinstripe Suit, here.

Tip o’ the Week 356 – How not to send mail accidentally

clip_image001An ohnosecond is the small measure of time between a luser doing something seemingly innocuous, then realising the true magnitude of what you’ve done.

Frobbing a scram switch without knowing. The dawning reality that a protest vote might actually result in that thing actually happening. Sending an email to someone you didn’t mean to, that kind of thing.

Fortunately, most of us have a limited ability to truly mess things up (leaving aside Darwin Awards candidates), but something that most of us will have done at some point, is that unintended sending of mail. The situation could come up for a number of reasons:

  • Someone is copied on the mail that you’re replying to, and you either don’t realise or you intended to remove them from the list but forgot. Maybe you went on to theorise about their capability or speculate on their intent. Normally just embarrassing, could be career-limiting.
  • clip_image003You accidentally add someone to the TO: or CC: line of a mail, intending to remove them, but don’t. This is basic carelessness which can be avoided by not adding people to the TO: or CC: lines of your email unless you genuinely intend to send the mail to them… [coming to a Bedlam expansion pack sometime]
  • You Reply-All by default to emails, maybe asking to be removed from the mailing list. Don’t do that. Seriously.
  • You send an email then just after, realise that a later message has changed the conversation and that, if you’d read that first, you either wouldn’t have replied, or if you did, you’d say something different.

There are a couple of easy things anyone can do to avoid these issues, apart from thinking before sending and maybe re-reading all of what you’ve written before sending it to what you know to be a large group, or with important people on the list.

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  • DON’T put people on the TO: or CC: line as a way of looking them up in the address book; it’s an easy trap to fall into; maybe you just want to check how someone’s name is spelled, or find out who their boss is, etc. If you want to do that, go to the main Outlook window (ie not the email editor, if you happen to have that as a separate window), and just press CTRL+SHIFT+B to bring the address book to the fore. Or, click the Address Book button on the Home tab, or just type the name into the box above it.
  • Try delaying the sending of new messages – in principle, keeping outbound mail in the special “Outbox” folder on your PC until some period of time before actually pushing the message out to the recipients.
    • clip_image007One option might be to delay specific messages, probably more for impact – if you want people to receive mail at a particular time (following an announcement that you know is going to happen at a set time, for example), then you can force that message to sit for a while – an extended time, maybe – before being put into the sending queue. See the Delay Delivery icon on the Options tab within the message window.
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      One downside to putting stuff in the Outbox is that when you’re running Outlook in the default “Cached” mode, then the Outbox is a special folder on your PC – so if something is sitting there waiting to be sent, and you put the PC to sleep or it goes offline, then the message will stay there until the next opportunity presents itself when your PC wakes up and is online.
      There is a slightly more convoluted way of putting delayed mail in the Outbox on the server – see veteran ToW #30.
    • clip_image011To delay every message for just a few minutes, to give you an opportunity to yank them from the Outbox, then create a rule…
      • On the Home tab in main Outlook window, try creating a new rule by going to Manage Rules & Alerts then, and clip_image013choosing New Rule, then under “Start from a blank rule” choose “Apply rule on messages I send”
      • On the new rule dialog, select “Next” to apply the rule to every message sent (on the “Which condition(s) do you want to check” tab), then on the “what do you want to do with this message” page, select the “Defer delivery” option and choose the number of minutes, then hit Finish / OK to apply the rule and return.

Now, when you send a message, it has the property set that delays it for however many minutes you wanted to wait – if you need to send it quickly (so you can disconnect or shut down, for example) you can go into the Outbox folder, open the message, change the “Delay Delivery” option on that individual message and press Send again.

Tip o’ the Week #324 – Delve into something new

 Here’s one of those services that arrived in Office 365, and yet many users will never have noticed, or weren’t sure if it was a preview or some other kind of experiment (having first appeared around 18 months ago). Delve (just as well it’s not called dig or excavate) is a potentially phenomenally useful way of finding out what people you’re connected with are working on.

If you can get access to Delve (either on https://delve.office.com or via https://portal.office.com, depending on your account and level of access), then it’s well worth playing with it for a while, especially if you work in a large company like Microsoft, where all sorts of interesting stuff is being saved onto shared document folders.

One downside of Delve might be that nervous Nellies will stop putting their documents into shared areas in the fear that other people will read them, or that the default-to-open (for their internal staff) culture that typically pervades lots of companies will flip to an access-only-on-a-need-to-know-bassist.

Delve lets you see what documents are popular, what people you are connected with are doing, and lets you search by document content or by author. Want to see what FY17 holds for your org? Wondering what juicy PPTs your VP has been editing lately…?  Have a Delve…


Take back your time with Delve Analytics

Announced recently, the Delve Analytics function (available to O365 users based on their license type), shows you not just what other people are doing, but how you are performing too. The Delve Analytics dashboard and corresponding Outlook Addin lets you see how you’re spending your time, and who you’re spending it with, promising to help you make the most of it.

The Outlook addin surfaces Delve info within Outlook’s reading pane, so as long as you’re looking at colleagues who’re in the same Office 365 environment (which might be an issue in MSIT, where there are several tenants), you’ll see stats about how often and effectively you email with each other.

Here’s one example; judge not any of the numbers…

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Eek. 3h 31m average response time. Must try harder to do less email and do more work.