Tag Archives: Best Practices

Editing Office Documents – which method when

With the launch of Office for iPad, we have yet another method of viewing and editing Office documents. You may not have realized, but over time many different ways of viewing and editing Office documents.

Editing Office Documents - poster

There are two problems. Firstly, you may not be aware of ALL these options. Secondly, you may not have a clear cut understanding of which is suitable in which scenario.
In this article, I will address both these aspects.

Continue reading Editing Office Documents – which method when

The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?

This article assumes that you are using Outlook (and Exchange server) for managing mails. However, the concepts explained here are applicable to any mail / messaging system. However, the remedies mentioned are specific to Outlook-Exchange only and may not work with other products.

Here are some (obvious) facts

  1. We spend a lot of time handling mails (replying to mails)
  2. We also spend a lot of time attending meetings
  3. Most of us are running against time – there is always significant backlog of pending work
  4. Even though we are capable of doing all the pending work, we simply do not seem to have enough time to execute it
  5. Due to this, our capability is not fully actualized – it hinders your growth

Here are some – not so obvious – facts

    1. Everything in Outlook requires at least two parties (sender and recipient)
    2. It is an interaction between YOU and OTHERS (everyone else who can interact with you including all your staff as well as external people like customers, vendors, etc.)
    3. You send mails and others send mails to you. Naturally, the number of mails you mails you RECEIVE are going to be more than mails you SEND.

When you send a mail you are trying to do YOUR WORK. When you reply to someone else’s mail, you are helping OTHERS do their work.

  1. Similarly, the number of meeting requests you SEND are bound to be much lesser than the number of meeting requests you RECEIVE.When you arrange a meeting, you are trying to get YOUR WORK done. When you attend a meeting called by someone else, you are helping OTHERS get their work done!
  2. When you say I spend so much time cleaning inbox, do you realize that you are spending that time helping helping OTHERS ?

Question: When do you do your work?

Very important question. The answer is surprisingly depressing.. the answer is…

Whenever I get time!

And whatever time you have you are literally WASTING in helping others!

Of course, I am not against you helping others. Everything we do is teamwork. But this is a highly skewed version of teamwork.

You are helping others at the cost of your own work!

This is what I call Outlook Paradox

Now let us try to pin down the root cause.

Root cause: false sense of “free” time

When you or others look at your calendar, the time which is not blocked for formal meetings is considered as FREE.

Others are free to request a meeting with you during the FREE time!

The question is – are you really FREE during that time? Is it not the time you get to do your own work?

But somehow, your actual work is never visible in the calendar. That is the root cause of Outlook paradox.

It is surprising that this simple and obvious fact is ignored by billions of people every day.

Solution to the Outlook Paradox

The solution is simple. Stop using Outlook the way you currently are.

Turn the tables. Be focused.

Do your work first and then help others!

That is the concept. In reality we have to follow more specific steps. We will cover these steps in detail in upcoming articles. Here are the steps:

  1. Realize that TASK folder is the most important one!
  2. Focus on your work
    1. List down all the work (personal as well as professional)
    2. Specify the estimated time you will need for each work item
  3. Even if others ask you to do some work, monitor it in Task folder (not in Inbox)
  4. Find time to do your work
    1. Allocate time for your work in the calendar
  5. Delegate work in an efficient and effective manner
    1. Use Task delegation features of Outlook
    2. Use SharePoint Task list
    3. Use Microsoft Project for complex projects
    4. Use OneNote to capture and delegate tasks DURING meetings rather than AFTER meetings
  6. Prioritize mails which you respond to – don’t read and respond to every mail which arrives
  7. Learn to manage mails and tasks across multiple devices

Next article

In the next few articles, we will learn these steps in detail.

For now, just go to your task folder, create a new task and see all the options! Get ready for action…

Fail safe presentation – Best practices

The Need

The more important the presentation, more things will go wrong. If you want to prevent that, you must be proactive. Here are the best practices I have learnt after delivering more than 2000 live sessions!

Here I am assuming that your presentation content is already finalized and that you are using PowerPoint 2010 or 2013.

First step is to make a copy of the presentation. Whatever is mentioned below should be done on the copy of the presentation. This way, your original presentation is not disturbed in any way, in case something goes wrong.

If you are delivering the presentation from your own laptop…

This makes the content and delivery a little safer. But still you need to do the following.

  1. Run the entire presentation without any network.
    1. Check all embedded file links. These files should open without network connectivity.
    2. Check all videos. These are embedded and therefore should run without network.
  2. Keep a copy of the entire presentation on USB drive. DO NOT just copy the presentation. See below for instructions.
  3. upload it to OneDrive, DropBox or any other storage on internet.
  4. OneDrive (or SharePoint if you have corporate network) is the best because the presentation can be shown reliably on a browser in case everything else fails.

If you are going to carry the presentation and deliver on some other PC / Laptop / Tablet

This is a dangerous situation. We must assume that you will get only a PC with some Windows version running. PowerPoint version is not guaranteed. Here are the best practices.

If you have videos, make sure you use Office 2010 and Insert Video feature

Till Office 2007, videos were never inserted – the files were linked. So if you carried the presentation file only, the video was always missing!

If you have inserted videos, use the Optimize Compatibility button

Carrying or embedding a video does not guarantee that it will run on any PC. It needs the right kind of codec to run. Of course you have no interest in learning what is a codec. Therefore, PowerPoint makes it simpler for you by converting your videos automatically to a format which will run on any Windows PC.

Choose File menu – Info – check if you see an Optimize Compatibility button.

Presentation tip - Optimize Media Compatibility

If you don’t see it, very good. One thing less to worry about.

If you see it, open it and choose Presentation Quality. It will do something. Let it finish.

Technical Note: For those who are interested, PowerPoint checks if the format requires a codec which other PCs may not have. Most common is QuickTime. Then it converts the videos which are already in your presentation to WMV format by re-rendering them. All the special effects, animation, trims etc will be preserved. It asks you to choose the quality. Choose High quality for important presentations, Medium for most presentations. Low quality is only for mobile device delivery. You may not realize it, but this is a very complex activity which is completely simplified for us by PowerPoint.

Check Hyperlinks to web sites

Connect to internet from a mobile phone or some other connection and check all links to external web sites. Do NOT use corporate network. Sometimes you link to web pages / images which are inside the corporate network and these don’t work outside your office.

If there are linked files and pictures, Package the presentation

DO NOT just copy the presentation file.

Choose File – Save and Send (2010) or Export (2013)

Presentation tip: Package Presentation for CD

In the dialog, click Options button

image

Make sure you put a password and Inspect the presentation for notes, comments etc. (See this article for details)

Embedding fonts and linked files is a very good feature. It ensures that your presentation will run on any PC containing PowerPoint.

Carry PowerPoint viewer

This may sound like an overkill but it is an absolute necessity. Many conferences and seminars use laptops provided by the AV agency which is running the show. These people often have very old operating system and PowerPoint versions.

If you have used new features in your presentation, most of it will either not run at all or will be horribly disfigured.

Download PowerPoint Viewer. This is the latest version as of today. It works with presentations created in all versions of PowerPoint.

Check this on internet before downloading to ensure that you are downloading the latest version.

Other things which make a difference

If your job depends upon delivering presentations – mine does – then you need some extra precautions to ensure that your presentation runs EVERY TIME without a flaw.

In this case you have to do some simple and some extreme things:

  1. Bandwidth at the venue.
    This is a tricky item. You cannot control it till you reach the venue. But at least then you should check this one out thoroughly. If your presentation depends upon live bandwidth, you must test everything as soon as you arrive at the venue. Perform a full rehearsal and repeat just before the beginning of the session if possible.
    Hotels usually provide insufficient bandwidth. I find it easier to buy a local SIM card with large Internet Top Up. Unfortunately, due to thick walls of ball rooms and conference venues, the 3G / 4G may not work. You must test it before the presentation.
  2. Carry a projector. I carry my own. Epson EB1775W. 3000 Lumen and very good for upto 100 participants. This supports WiFi so you can put it anywhere and not worry about cable length. Unfortunately, I am not able to use the WIFI on Windows 8.Presentation tip: Carry your own projector
  3. Carry an plug which can connect two VGA cables. Very often the length of the VGA cable is short. It forces you to sit at the wrong spot. So carry a spare cable (10 USD approx) and a male-to-male VGA connector (costs approx 1 USD)imageThis Gender Changer is an invaluable piece to have. Many customers have two VGA cables but don’t have this adapter. With it you can extend the cable length.
  4. Batteries. Carry at least two AA, two AAA and one 9 volt battery.
    Why? Because the microphone batteries die in couple of hours. If you conduct long sessions, the batteries are a lifesaver. If you don’t carry them, it becomes a chaotic situation. You are mid way into your presentation. Everything stops. Someone scrambles to find the AV guy / gal who is invariably missing from the scene by now. They don’t get new cells, someone rushes out to buy them or request from admin… it is hilarious and sad. Just buy the cells and carry them.presentation tip - extra battery
  5. A laser pointer and clicker is useful. I use a special mouse which has all of these so I don’t need to carry it.
  6. Power Adapter is necessary if you travel internationally. The composite ones are good but usually don’t fit into artistically restrictive crevices even in the most sophisticated conference rooms. It is best to buy the dedicated adapters (2 pieces at least) as soon as you land in a country. Convenience store on the airport is the best bet as stores within the city usually do not keep such adapters.
  7. Finally, a printout of your presentation may be all that you have in case of power failure or some technical glitch.
  8. If you are using a tablet, make sure that you are carrying the VGA / HDMI adapterimage

What if everything fails?

No worries. Just go on stage and express yourself from your heart.

No amount of technology, tools and accessories can substitute for depth of knowledge, experience and passion to add value to the audience.

Top 3 Efficiency Habits: Use Word Styles, Excel Tables and PowerPoint SmartArt

Office has thousands of features. And contrary to popular belief, all of them are useful to everyone under certain circumstances. Learning these things is not complex but time consuming.

My approach is to help you learn these things in a simple and intuitive manner. In future articles I will show you some easy methods of learning Office while you work.

But let us start with three very important things you must know.

No negotiation. No option. Absolutely Mandatory. Trust me on this!

Word Styles, Excel Tables and PowerPoint SmartArt.

I would like to know if you already use these features. Please vote. Just three clicks!

Word Styles

Problem

We spend too much time on formatting and too little on the core content.

Solution: Let Word handle the formatting

Don’t do formatting manually. Word is better than you. That is why it is called a word-processor. Let Word handle the formatting.

Most common formatting is to show titles and subtitles in a document. Word has already created formatting for up to 9 levels of topics (headings). Just use it.

How? By choosing the appropriate style.

Styles are just ready to use formatting which is created by graphics experts. There are 9 styles – Heading 1 to Heading 9

While creating a document, you know which of the paragraphs are Headings or Topics or Titles. As soon as you type the paragraph, choose the style.

word styles, excel tables and powerpoint smartart

Main topics get H1, sub topics get H2 and so on.

How to select styles quickly

  1. Click the style in the Home tab – Styles drop down (it is called a Gallery).
  2. Or use keyboard shortcuts CTRL ALT 1 for H1 CTRL ALT 2 for H2 and
    CTRL ALT 3 for H3
  3. Or use the shortcut Shift Alt Up arrow to apply Higher styles, Shift Alt Down arrow to apply lower styles

Benefits

  1. Automatic table of contents
  2. Live navigation pane
  3. Ability to create PowerPoint presentation automatically
  4. Automatic numbering
  5. Ability to rearrange the document by just drag drop of headings
  6. Expand / Collapse headings to make long documents easier to manage (2013 only)
  7. and many more

We will cover these benefits in the upcoming articles.

Excel Tables

Problem

Excel is a very dangerous piece of software. We use complex Excel files to take critical decisions – personally as well as at organizational level.

All of us know that Excel contains two primary things. Data and Formulas (Charts are visual formulas, Pivot Tables are automated formulas)

When you add a formula Excel calculates the results. Usually we do not cross check the results for every formula. Which is very dangerous.

Why? Because, when you add more data, you must update all the related formulas. Often we forget to do that. Due to this, the formulas may be outdated but you or others may not notice that. If you trust a formula which is showing outdated results, your decisions will be wrong.

Solution? Excel Tables

I will explain it in the upcoming articles. But to cut a long story short, Excel tables automate the process of updating formulas when you add more data.

If there is an outdated result, Excel shows an error marker (Green mark on top left corner). Unfortunately, most people in the world have never bothered to find out the meaning of that poor little green mark. We simply ignore it and take the risk of looking at wrong information.

Excel tables

Benefits

  1. The primary benefit is auto-update of formulas and references
  2. Automatic formatting of tabular data
  3. Automatic copying of calculated column formulas
  4. Automatic copying of calculations when more data is added
  5. Automatic display of headings
  6. Automatic copying of formatting, conditional formatting and validations
  7. Ability to use Table and Column names in formulas
  8. Ability to integrate with SharePoint and Visio

PowerPoint SmartArt

The purpose of PowerPoint is to present your case to the audience to achieve the desired impact. The impact could be sales, training, convincing, debating, explaining, and so on.

Problem

Most presentations are boring and uninteresting. If your audience loses interest in what you are showing or if they cannot understand it clearly, your objective will not be achieved.

There are thousands of ways of making better presentations. But one of them stands out.

Solution: SmartArt

That is called SmartArt. It is a very quick way of converting text (bullets) to appealing and high-impact visuals (diagrams). PowerPoint offers around 130 diagrams – intelligently created to help us depict various type of information (Lists, Processes, Hierarchy, Relationships and so on).

Creating a SmartArt Diagram is very easy. But choosing the right one in the right place does take some amount of practice.

SmartArt

Benefits

  1. Easy to create visually appealing diagrams
  2. Automatic formatting and resizing
  3. Eliminates the need for manual alignment, formatting and animation
  4. Automatic diagram creation from multiple pictures of different sizes

PowerPoint SmartArts

We will cover SmartArt in detail in upcoming articles.

How to Copy Paste efficiently – Part 1

Copy paste

Copy paste are the SECOND most commonly used keyboard shortcuts across Office tools. But it never works exactly the way you want. I could not find any detailed and easy to understand explanation about various ways of copy pasting. Hence I am starting with this series.

If you are in a hurry, just read the Summary at the bottom.

Guess what is the MOST COMMON shortcut used?

Undo shortcut

Yes. UNDO is the most common action performed by ONE BILLION people everyday!
I am sure you also use UNDO everyday – without realizing one very disturbing and demeaning fact.

Why do you need to use UNDO so often? If you did something by mistake and then used UNDO, it is fine.

But usually, you use UNDO because you wanted something to happen and then something else happened. You don’t want it that way. Therefore you press UNDO. But what you originally wanted is still not done. You will now get that done in some other manual, round-about way.

So think again… what is that UNDO telling you?

“Undo means you don’t know how to do.”

So here is a simple way of improving your efficiency. Every time you are about to press Ctrl Z… STOP there. And think a little. What can I do differently so that I will get what I want. This way I will ELIMINATE the need for UNDO in that context next time onwards.

Every UNDO is a learning opportunity!

The most common reason why we need to UNDO is COPY PASTE gone wrong.

Therefore, we will discuss copy paste in detail in this series of articles.

The concept

We copy SOMETHING from SOMEWHERE and paste it SOMEWHERE ELSE.

Copy paste concept

Copying is easy. Whatever is selected is copied and put in the clipboard. But what about Pasting at the destination? There could be many ways of pasting it.

Copy Paste dilemma

Depending upon the content and your needs, various formats may be used for pasting. Common formats are text only, picture, grid and so on.

The problem is when you press CTRL V to paste, which format should Microsoft apply by default. Microsoft finds out the most commonly desired format by surveying users and that becomes the default.

For example, if you copy any Excel data and Paste it into PowerPoint, the default format is a TABLE. Why so?

Because Excel is anyway like a huge grid (table) and PowerPoint does not understand Excel format but it understands what a Table is. Therefore, that is the default.

What if you don’t like the default paste format?

No problem. Microsoft has already thought about it. That is why there is PASTE SPECIAL.

Paste special

It shows all the available formats for pasting – including the default.

The wrong way… which incidentally the most common way!

Copy paste the wrong way

The right way…

Copy paste the right way

Microsoft realized that this inefficient behavior is rampant and is leading to inefficiency. So they provided another solution…

After the default paste, one small little icon appears automatically and hopes to attract your attention.

Copy Paste drop down

It did attract attention but in the wrong way. Everyone hates it. Nobody knows why such icons appear in the first place. In fact it it difficult to get rid of them. They just linger around irritating you even more!

Let me vocalize what that icon is trying to tell the world…

Copy paste drop down explained

When you click on it (or press imagekey) it shows you most of the options which you get in Paste Special. You can then choose the one you want.

In fact, to help you choose the right option, you just move your mouse cursor over each option. It temporarily pastes it in that format and shows you the result visually. If you don’t like it, move to the next one. When you find the desired one, click on it. (In case you are interested – this is called Paste Preview)

image

Unfortunately, most of us never noticed this great feature and therefore, never benefited from it.

Notice the keyboard shortcuts as well. Even in today’s TOUCH world, keyboard shortcuts are the most efficient way of working. So if you wanted Keep Source Formatting… notice that (K)

You could have directly pressed image

Microsoft still continued its effort to make our lives easier. Since 2010 onwards, they modified the Right Click menu to add all the Paste Options in it – complete with the live preview.

image

 

Summary


If you want to copy paste in the most efficient way… here is the right method.

image

While choosing formats, notice the keyboard shortcuts and start using them for even more efficient and accurate copy paste.

In the next article we will cover nuances of various pasting formats – Paste Sepcial – Deep Dive for Excel.