Spring cleaning: Mailbox clean up with AutoArchive

We have been using email for decades now. A lot of things have changed. But one thing has not – most of us don’t have the discipline of managing the mailbox in an optimal way.

I am not asking you to do a spring cleaning of your mails. I am showing you immediate actions you can take to make your mailbox management (and communications) more efficient.

Run AutoArchive NOW

Do you remember this dialog popping up randomly when you are busy? Nobody in the world has chosen YES here Sad smile

clean inbox with Outlook AutoArchive

Many of us got irritated and chose the option Don’t prompt me about this again!

There goes your chance of keeping the mailbox clean and light.

The idea is simple. AutoArchive does many things which are good for you. So just run it periodically. You have not run it before? Then run it now.

I am assuming Outlook 2010 or above.

Choose File – Cleanup Tools – Mailbox Cleanup

Mailbox Cleanup

Now a bigger dialog appears… You can explore other things later. Just click on the AutoArchive button.

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And let it do its job. It may take a long time. Status is shown on the status bar.

What does AutoArchive do?

To know what it does and to tweak the settings, go to File – Options – Advanced – AutoArchive options…

Look at the options and tweak them as required. Basically, it moves old items and puts them in a new PST file – ARCHIVE.PST.

Make sure you click the Apply these settings to all folders now option.

Later you can right click on a specific folder – go to properties and customize the settings if required.

AutoArchive settings

What is deleted?

Only deleted items which are older than the cleanup limit (default 6 months) are deleted. Everything else is moved to the archive PST file. No mails or calendar items are deleted. Contacts folder is never archived – that means all your contacts are always available in the main mailbox.

Finding archived items

You don’t have to do anything special for this. Outlook search indexes the Archive PST files as well. So these are available for navigation as well as regular search.

If the archive file is big, indexing may require some time to finish the job. It is a good idea to check the indexing status and if many items are pending.

To check the indexing status, go to Inbox – click inside the search box – on the search Ribbon, choose Search Tools – Indexing Status.

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The dialog below shows the pending number of items.

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Ideally there should be zero or very few items to be indexed. If a large number of items are shown here, leave the machine on overnight and check in the morning again. That should give enough time for indexing to finish the backlog.

Remember: Archive is not available online

The pst file is created on the PC on which you run the AutoArchive. Therefore, items which have been moved to the archive folder will NOT be available to you when you are working on a mobile phone or any other mailbox only device.

Finally – One Best Practice

Best Practice: Whenever you finish handling a mail, it should not remain in the Inbox.

Delete it. Or if you want to keep it, keep it in a PST folder. Not in the main mailbox. If you follow this simple rule, you will never face a problem of mailbox filling up every now and then.

By the way, Office 365 subscription gives you a mailbox that is 50 GB in size… did you know that?

Outlook: How to delete all old appointments in Calendar

Calendar view shows only Day, Week, Work Week and Month views. You can only select all appoints within a month. Even in the month view, CTRL A does NOT select all appointments.

In short, any bulk operation you want to do for appointments is a pain.

Solution is simple. Just change the view in Outlook.

Outlook delete all old appointments

Now all the appointments and meetings are shows as a simple list – like Inbox or Tasks..

Now you can sort, filter, multi-select any number of items and perform any operation you like – for example, Delete 0ld appointments or archive to another folder or PST.

AutoArchive does this automatically

Most of us don’t want old appointments to waste space in the mailbox – because the space is limited. The smartest way to clean this up is to run AutoArchive. We will cover this in the next article.

How to share calendar with external parties?

Often we need to arrange a meeting with some external party. Both are busy people. How do you share your free time with the other person?

Within the company, if you are using Exchange and Outlook, you can see each other’s Free / Busy time. But for external parties, this facility is not available.

Trying to make a list of free slots in next few weeks manually is obviously a lengthy process…

That is why there is an elegant way available to share calendar with someone outside your organization in just few clicks…

  1. Go to the Calendar… let us say it looks like this for next two weeks.image
  2. Now right click on the calendar and choose Share – Email CalendarOutlook share calendar with external parties
  3. Choose the duration and level of detail you want to show. Usually there is no point in showing more than couple of weeks because the schedule is bound to change.image
  4. Click OK. Now a new email message is created with a calendar showing free and busy dates. Ctrl Click on each date to see the availability.
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  5. Clicking on the hyperlink jumps to the details for that day.image
  6. This way the other party can find mutually convenient time without trial and error!

Key Learning: Right Click > Read Each Option >Learn!

Use Thesaurus for better communication – Shift F7

thesaurus shortcut Shift F7

This keyboard shortcut opens the thesaurus in Office products (including Outlook).

So what is the big deal?

Well… many of us know that the thesaurus exists. But we rarely use it.

Start using it more frequently.

Scenarios where thesaurus should be used

  1. Stinker Mails: Replying to mails where some kind of fight is happening or you are really angry with someone and writing a stinker … Press F7… choose the right words carefully. See the difference it makes.
  2. Writing copy for mailers, brochures, etc. Using the right word matters because this is going to be seen by thousands of people.
  3. Presentation titles: These are seen first. The space available is less. If the title is not relevant and powerful, audience will not read the rest of the content. Therefore, use F7.
  4. Resume: This is probably the most important document in our lives. So pay attention to it.

Warning: Don’t use big words. Use the right words!

There is a danger of using the Thesaurus. We tend to choose heavy, sophisticated, complex words instead of using simpler words. That is NOT the purpose of using a thesaurus.

The idea is to use the most suitable and impactful word in a given context.

If you are not sure about the usage, you can click on the word to get more details…

thesaurus in Office

Remember to hear pronunciations as well

Many of us pronounce common words in a wrong manner. In most cases, people around us either don’t realize it, don’t care or are too junior to tell you about your mistake. So that reduces the clarity of verbal communication – especially if you need present to a large group of audience on a frequent basis.

In any case, it is a good idea to hear the pronunciation and correct yourself if you notice a problem.

Did you know Right Drag Drop works?

This article assumes that you are a right handed person, if you are a left handed person, you have to use the other mouse button (secondary mouse button).

Drag and drop performs most popular action

When you drag and drop items, the most commonly expected logical action happens. For example, when you drag a file from one folder and drop it into another folder, it is moved.

That is called the DEFAULT ACTION.

Another example is… when you drag a number from the corner of the cell, it automatically adds further numbers.

This is a good thing in most cases. But if you don’t like the default or standard action, then you have a problem. To solve this issue, there is RIGHT DRAG DROP.

Press the RIGHT mouse button while dragging

That is called Right Drag (Drop). So what is the big deal? What benefits do you get?

right drag drop

Right Drag Drop shows you all the actions available

Here is what happens if you right drag drop a file… The item in bold tells you what is the default action.

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Right drag a number in Excel

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Right drag a shape in PowerPoint

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Right drag a mail from Inbox and drop it into Task folder

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The list is endless…

Simple rule: Try right drag drop and learn more Smile

How to show Bottom Up approach in PowerPoint

Example

Suppose you are talking about global warming – and want to show that action can be taken at various levels – starting from the lowest level – each individual.

Here are the bullets you have added…

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You want to talk about each item one by one. Therefore you added animation.

Select the text box – Animation – Add Animation – Appear.

Now when you run the slide, each click will expose one bullet at a time. This is good because you get time to explain each level. Therefore the audience cannot read ahead of what you are speaking.

There is only one problem. You want to show the approach BOTTOM UP… but the animation is going TOP DOWN Sad smile

Solution : Animation Pane (it eliminates the pain!)

Click on Animation tab – Animation pane. A window (pane) appears on the right side.

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Currently it shows only one entry but actually it has many entries which are collapsed to reduce clutter. The double down arrow can be expanded to show the animation for each bullet.

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The animation is simple – each item is triggered by a mouse click. The problem is the order.

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Can it be reordered? Of course… you can simply drag drop the animation sequence to reorder it. But wait… just because it works does not mean it is the best way.

In fact it is the worst way – why? Because repetition is inefficient!

Open the dropdown at the end of the animation entry and choose Effect Options…

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Notice that there is a nice tab for text animation.

Imagine, Microsoft thought of your needs 20 years back and provided that “in reverse order” checkbox, which displays your bottom up approach very nicely.

Show bottom up approach in powerpoint

You had a problem all along – the solution was with you all along.

But you never found it Sad smile

Moral of the story?
All that you need is already there.
Just look for it!

Create Interactive Presentation with Custom Shows and Hyperlink

When do you need this?

If you have a presentation which covers multiple topics and you want to have the interactivity to move from a main menu page to any topic, this article is for you.

We will use this presentation as an example…

Use this presentation for practice. Download Presentation

Interactive Presentation with custom shows and hyperlinks

White colored slides are the base presentation. Second slide is sort of an agenda and menu slide. You ask the audience which topic they want and then click on the desired option.

Blue slides are for Word, green for Excel and pink for PowerPoint.

If you clicked on, say, Excel icon in second slide, then PowerPoint should show slides 6,7,8 and then COME BACK to slide 2.

Hyperlink is NOT the answer

Usually you will put hyperlink on the Excel icon to jump to slide 6. But you know the problem – it will just go to all slides after 6 and spill over to the PowerPoint slides. To avoid that we put another link on the 8th slide which gets you back to second slide.

Pathetic.

There is a better way – using Custom Shows. Please read the previous article to understand how to create custom shows.

The solution

Step 1 – Create custom shows for each topic

This is easy. Just create three custom shows called Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Step 2 – Insert hyperlink to the CUSTOM SHOW (not to a specific slide)

Now click on each icon – in this case Excel and choose Insert Hyperlink…

Insert Hyperlink in PowerPoint

Choose the CUSTOM SHOW in the hyperlink. The Show and return option is your best friend Smile … but you never noticed it till now. Ha ha… why? Because most of the times this option used to be inactive – why? because this option requires you to select a custom show. And you did not ever create a custom show… why ? Winking smile never mind.

Insert Hyperlink in PowerPoint

Now you can run the presentation in an interactive manner.

What if you want to return to the main menu slide while you were half way through the Excel custom show? Don’t worry… just press Escape. It will go to the base slide. Next escape will stop the slide show (as expected). So remember, if you are in custom show, escape takes you one level back.

Sections v/s Custom Show

Office 2010 onwards, you can add sections to presentation to segregate various topics. These are similar to Custom Shows but following things are different.

  1. Sections are linear. Custom shows can contain slides in any order
  2. Every slide must be in some section. Custom show can contain only a subset of slides
  3. Hyperlink can be used only with custom shows – not with sections

I will cover sections in another article later.

Create short version of a long presentation with PowerPoint Custom Show

The need

You have 1 hour to present your proposal to your customer. You start the presentation and then she gets a phone call… urgent meeting with chairman. Now she says… “I am really sorry… can you show me the key things in five minutes?” You have no choice Now every moment counts. And what do you do? You start skipping slides and groping in the dark to find the really important slides. In the process you are WASTING the precious time available and irritating the customer. You need to have the ability to show a shorter version of the presentation – on demand… without trial and error. Of course, Microsoft has thought about this need and provided a solution, 18 years back Sad smile

The solution: Custom Show

Concept is simple. Create a Custom show. Choose only the key slides. Save it. Run the custom show instead of the entire presentation. Very simple.

  1. Slide show – Custom showsPowerPoint custom slide show
  2. New …PowerPoint Custom Shows
  3. Choose the slides you want from left side and click AddAdd slides to PowerPoint custom show
  4. You can add slides one at a time or multiple slides in one go
  5. This image is for PowerPoint 2013. Older versions do not have the checkboxes for selection, but you can press Ctrl Click for multi-select.
  6. Remember, you can add the same slide multiple times (Agenda slide, for example)
  7. Slides can be added in any order – not necessarily in the original order in ppt
  8. You can reorder the slides after adding them to the list on the right side
  9. Click Ok

Running the custom show

If you know that you need the shorter version BEFORE you started the presentation, then Open the custom show drop-down and run the show. If you have already started the regular presentation and are now short of time, just right click and choose Custom Show.
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Practical usage scenarios

  1. Always keep a shorter custom show ready for all long presentations.
  2. If you have different topics covered in a presentation, you should create a separate custom show for each topic. This allows you to jump between topics during the presentation
  3. If your main topic requires the audience to know some other pre-requisite topics, keep that topic as a custom show. In case your audience does NOT know the pre-requisite topic well, you can always jump to it quickly
  4. If your agenda is like a menu and you want to ask the audience about which topics to cover in what order… custom show comes in very handy. (See Next Article)

Quick Parts in Word: Stop copy pasting from old files!

Common activity

Often we need to open an existing document, copy some part of it and paste it into another new document. Why does this happen? Because that part of text (or content) was reusable across documents.

There is a much better way to reuse text – called Quick Parts.

Solution

The solution is simple and takes only two steps:

  1. Create Quick Parts and
  2. Use the parts

Creating quick parts

Be on the lookout for text which is reusable. Select it and choose Insert – Quick Parts – Add to Quick parts gallery.

Quick Parts in Word

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You can now specify a name for the content. You can even create different categories – by activity or department, for example. Notice that this content is stored in a special file called BulidingBlocks.dotx.

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Reusing the content

Now the content is stored. You can use it in any document quickly.

Insert – Quick Parts – the content is now shown as a drop-down list. Click on it to insert it into the current document. That’s it.

Using Quick Parts

Works in Outlook also

Outlook uses Word. Therefore, the same functionality is available in Outlook as well.

Quick parts for Word and Outlook are independent of each other. For Outlook it is stored in NormalEmail.dotm file

Techie Stuff: Deploying a common building blocks file

You can easily standardize the usage of building blocks across the organization.

  1. Create a building blocks template
  2. Store it in a shared location – SharePoint or File share
  3. If it is SharePoint, map the document library as a drive in the login script
  4. Use Group Policy to change the Building Blocks template path setting to point to this mapped drive
  5. That’s it.

There is more

We also have similar use concept for tables – Quick Tables, textboxes, headers and footers. All these are stored in the same building blocks file.

PowerPoint: Manage complex slides with Selection Pane

The pain

PowerPoint slides can get crowded. If you have multiple overlapping objects, reaching the objects which are behind other objects is a very problematic area. You have to either struggle with Send to Back / Front or move the overlapping objects manually. Both methods are a compromise.

The solution: Selection Pane

Since Office 2007 Microsoft added Selection Pane. Once you know how to use it, you will wonder why you did not know this earlier. It will save you hours of struggle.

Home – Select – Selection Pane.

Powerpoint Selection Pane

It is so simple but so effective. It shows a list of all objects on the slide. The object on top is physically in front of all objects. The object at the bottom is behind all objects.

Each item can be hidden by clicking on the icon of the eye.

Selection Pane

So if you want to select and work with an object at the bottom, simple hide the objects on top.

Warning

If an object is hidden, it will not be shown in the presentation. Therefore, after your work is done, remember to choose SHOW ALL.

Change the names

Selection Pane also allows you to change the default names given to objects. Naming objects makes it easy to animate them and rearrange them. When you are creating complex slides, keep the selection pane open and change the name of an object as soon as you add it.

Powerpoint Animation Pane

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Reorder objects easily

Reordering objects is much easier using Selection Pane rather than struggling with Send to Back / Front.

You can use the up/down arrows or drag drop (2010 onwards) to reorder items. Grouped items can be moved together.

When to hide the objects permanently

If you use custom shows, you will need to see the titles of slides. If there are slides with the title textbox removed, you cannot see the title. The list only shows you slide number. This leads to a lot of confusion.

In such cases, add the title but hide it. That way the title is shown in Custom Show dialog but it is not visible in the presentation… best of both worlds!

Put it in QAT

This is a very useful feature. Add it to the Quick Access Toolbar. Other good candidates for QAT are Alignment dropdown, Format Painter, Animation Painter, Clear Formatting and SmartArt.

Also available in Word and Excel

Although it is most useful in PowerPoint, remember to use it in other products as well.