612 – New Year, New You (someday/maybe)

clip_image002The years go by so fast, let’s hope the next beats the last”– a sentiment that rings so true over the last couple of new year celebrations. Whether setting resolutions to do new things, read more, lose weight, be a better human etc, we all tend to reflect, even if just trying to do the same things as before but a bit better. Steve Clayton’s Friday Thing for the end of December had some great tips on things to do and try in the coming year.

If we can’t reduce volume of professional communications (be that emails, Teams messages, whatever – just look at Steve cleaning his mailbox and removing >100,000 Sent Items from a single year), then maybe we could do a better job of managing the stuff that we have to deal with. Much ink has been spilled on how to be more effective and how to get things done, but one useful time/focus management principle to revisit is sometimes known as Eisenhower’s Matrix, of which a variety of depictions exist:

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The premise is that any task has separate degrees of importance and urgency; we tend to prioritize urgent and overdue things versus things that are actually important. Discipline in task management can give us the clarity to not worry about seemingly urgent yet non-important tasks, and to stay focussed on things which are important, regardless of their urgency.

Carve out 75 minutes if you can – because this stuff is important – to watch Randy Pausch’s lecture on Time Management, with the context that when it was recorded, he knew he only had weeks left to live: talk about prioritizing important vs urgent.

How you put time and focus management into practice will differ depending on your own style and what tools you want to use. For the Windows / Microsoft 365 user, there are a few quick wins to consider:

  • clip_image005If you use flags in Outlook to mark messages needing your attention, think about setting a “Follow Up” search folder as the top of your list of Favorites. You can even make the Follow Up folder the default one so Outlook always opens that instead of your Inbox. You could try setting up a scheduled task to open your Follow Up folder every day (since most of us don’t restart our PCs very often, Outlook will typically stay running; this way will make sure you’ve got Follow Up open first thing every day)

  • Take better notes – remember that you can quickly create a OneNote notes page from an Outlook appointment; we’ll see some improvements coming to the original OneNote client in 2022, so if you’ve switched to using the Metro Modern Store app “OneNote for Windows 10”, then it’s worth revisiting the original. Do check out the fantastic OneCalendar addin to desktop OneNote, which helps you look back on notes you took.
  • Remember that Outlook Tasks and Microsoft To Do integrate with each other; see the Ignite session for how to use them more effectively. You can also highlight action items (from your meeting notes?) in OneNote, and quickly create Outlook tasks. While Tasks and To Do items don’t quite have full interop, there are 3rd party solutions out there and there are lots of templates in PowerAutomate which can do groovy things with Tasks, notifications and so on.
  • The Windows 11 Clock app has a nice new “Focus sessions” time management feature, to help you concentrate on important tasks, and it now supports signing in with Microsoft 365 credentials so you can see your corporate Tasks / To Do items in the list.


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    clip_image009To help maintain focus, you can quickly set your Teams status to Do Not Disturb by hovering over the application icon on your Taskbar and clicking the appropriate status.

    If you’re easily distracted, you could also switch Outlook to Offline mode so you don’t get any new email whilst you focus – a good alternative to closing Outlook down altogether, since you may need it for whatever work you’re doing.

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    clip_image013Go into Outlook, under the Send / Receive menu, click the Offline button on the taskbar and you won’t get any more email until you click the Offline button again to reverse the process and re-emerge later.

529 – To Do: Switch off Wunderlist

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Nearly 5 years ago, Microsoft acquired a German developer called 6wunderkinder, who built a cool, cross-platform task management tool, Wunderlist. Over the half-decade since, the back-end of Wunderlist was basically rebuilt so it could run on Azure (instead of its previous cloud platform), and many of the team who had developed Wunderlist moved to working on the Microsoft To Do app suite.

The To-Do To Do apps have evolved hugely over the last couple of years, and collectively are being positioned as the natural successor to Wunderlist.

clip_image004This week, Wunderlist was finally closed down. If you still have the app, you can carry on using it but the data won’t be backed up or synced and you won’t be able to migrate it. You can export the data from the service, and To Do has built-in Wunderlist migration tools that bring more-or-less everything across. Other task managers are also available.

The Microsoft To Do service has clip_image006integration with PowerAutomate (previously known as Flow).

The To Do team also updated the mobile apps (as announced on their blog), with a collection of new features and views of tasks, and the Windows app has also been tweaked lately too. New features include new Smart Lists, such as “All”, which shows everything in one huge list, grouped by category.

“Tasks” across different apps are being integrated more and more – To Do now lets you create tasks from flagged emails, or integrate tasks from Planner. Teams is going to rationalise tasks into a single UI too.

See here for more tips on using To Do.

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 376 – Toodle-oo, Wunderlist!

clip_image002Toodle-oo (like it’s synonym, toodle pip) is, if you’re not otherwise familiar, a charming and olde-wurlde English way of bidding farewell. It seems somewhat appropriate, as Microsoft announced plans to retire Wunderlist in favour of a new app that’s been in the works for a while, with the codename Project Cheshire.

Reviewers who had an early look at Cheshire around a year ago, commented on the fact that it’s kinda similar to Wunderlist, in that both are trying to achieve the same sort of thing. As the product now called Microsoft To-Do was announced, it became clear that the team behind Wunderlist has been working to evolve some of what they’d done before, bringing tighter integration with Office 365 and the promise of more groovy features to come.

Right now, To-Do (to hyphenate, or not to hyphenate?) is in Preview, which means it’s not fully featured (eg sub-tasks that you might use in Wunderlist haven’t made an appearance yet), and as well as a web version, there are Windows, Android phone & iPhone apps – others are due though we’ll see whether the same breadth of coverage as Wunderlist provides is maintained. The Preview nature also means that Wunderlist isn’t going away soon, but it will eventually give way to To-Do, or http://todo.microsoft.com

clip_image004Start by signing in, and looking in the top left menu – if you have used Wunderlist before, it can import your existing tasks, thought it might take longer than you think. It’s a one-way process, so try to make sure you don’t keep adding stuff into Wunderlist, though you can choose to sync only selective task groups, so you could potentially re-import to get only new stuff. Be careful when running an import for the 2nd time – the process doesn’t merge sections that already exist, so if you’ve imported already, you might end up with lots of Project (1) type lists and tasks.

The preview version of To-Do also supports importing from the alternative todoist. The web client has an import command from the context menu under the user, but you may need to go to the Settings pane in other clients, or else just go to https://import.todo.microsoft.com/ and be done with it.

imageIf you sign in on a machine that’s already set up for Office 365, your default login to To-Do will be your O365 credentials, and it will automatically show you Outlook Tasks as to-do items… and synchronizes with Tasks as the back end for To-Do is Office 365.

You might need to play around a bit if you also use To-Do with your Microsoft Account – the one you maybe logged into Wunderlist with, for example…