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.

Weekend Activity: Propose with PowerPoint

Speak from your heart. Create this amazing graphic in few minutes and impress your beloved!

The output

image

The text is transparent. So you can put some background animation and it will show through the text.

How to do it?

Watch this 2.5 minute video to find out how easy it is.

It uses a new feature (PowerPoint 2013) where you can use two objects (shapes or text) and subtract one from another.

View this in YouTube with 480 p resolution in full screen mode to see menu selections and actions with greater clarity.

Heart inscribed with text

How to enhance it further?

Add some animated background behind it and the impact is amplified thousand times!

Here is a sample for you to download and learn from.

See what you can achieve in just 109 kb of presentation! Download

propose with Powerpoint

Outlook Tasks: Take an appointment with yourself

Please read the previous article before you read this one.

Remember. Your work is higher priority than work with others want you to do.

Where is your pending work listed?

Usually scattered across multiple locations : Mind, Notepads, Tissue papers, Mobile notes, mails, minutes of meetings, etc.

That is not a good idea because you can’t see all the pending work in one place. If you don’t see something you don’t end up doing it.

Step 1: Create Outlook Tasks

Go back to your core job description or KRAs or organizational commitments sheet – whatever you have signed up for. Take each item from there and break it down into smaller pieces of work and add them to tasks. Using color categories mark them as Core work.

Outlook Tasks

Think of all the other pending tasks and add the to task folder as well.

Anything in this color is additional information and optional reading. You can move to the black area ahead without losing context.

Common mistake: Adding work to Calendar

Calendar and Task are two different things. If you are blocking specific time for whatever reason, put it in the calendar.

Work is different. We decide What to do and When it should be completed (the deadline). However, we don’t specify when exactly it will be done. That is called a TASK.

Calendar is for meetings, events, leave , seminars, off-sites, fieldwork, training programs, etc. Here we block time to say EXACTLY WHEN something is going to happen. If it does not happen, it may be rescheduled but that is not very important.

Step 2: Block YOUR time to do YOUR work

This is a genuine problem. We simply don’t have time to handle all the mails, attend all meetings and handle all tasks. But now that we know that tasks are the priority, we must focus on them.

If others see that your calendar is free, they are bound to send meeting requests. So before that happens, make sure that you block your time for your work.

  1. Open the calendar. Better to be in the Work Week View
  2. Right click on Tasks folder and choose Open in New Window
  3. Make the tasks window smaller so that you can float it above the calendar window and see both
  4. Look a the tasks. Choose which ones are important
  5. Decide which date and time you want to do that work
  6. Drag the task and drop it on that date
  7. Adjust the time based upon your estimate of how long the task will require

Now think what you just did.

Remember, dragging the task to calendar is just a convenience. It DOES NOT mark the task as complete. When you finish the task, you must go and mark it as complete in the task folder.

“I took an appointment with myself to do my own work” = Time Management

Sounds funny. But this is the simplest form of time management.

Homework

Start creating the task list and drag the tasks to calendar to block time. Start it immediately.

Creating tasks is your first task Smile

Next article

In the next article we will understand how you can refine your work in Outlook using custom fields.

Busy responding to emails? When do you do your work?

Yes I am serious. That is the simplest best practice you can follow in order to manage Outlook better.

When you send a mail – you are doing your work. When you reply to others mails – you are helping them do their work. Agreed?

Similarly, if you attend a meeting called for by others – you are helping them get their job done.

The Outlook Paradox: Busy responding to emails?

Now to be fair – you should do your work first and then help others do theirs. Right?

So the number of mails you send must be more than the number of mails you reply to. The same concept goes with meetings.

UNFORTUNATELY

… that is not so. The ratio is always against you.

That is why we waste so much time responding to emails in Outlook and there is no outcome at the end of it.  Just take a look at your Inbox and see how many unread emails you have? How many meetings you must attend in the next 5 days?

It is no wonder that many people brag about aving cleared all their mails.  Having zero unread email has become a rare achievement in the modern workplace itself.

Altruism??

You wasted time but did the other people benefit? Not really. Because from their point of view also the same imbalance exists!

In short, we are just hampering each others life and we call it TEAMWORK Sad smile

The net result?

You spend so much time helping others that your own work (KRA, Responsibilities, Dashboard) suffers. You are capable of doing everything you have signed up for. But you simply don’t have the time.

Solution?

Don’t blame Outlook. In fact, Outlook has a perfect solution for these issues. It is just that we have never utilized Outlook to our advantage.

In the next article, I will give you a simple and practical way of handling this modern day dilemma called email management.

Till tomorrow, I will give you a hint. Look at all the folders in Outlook and see which one is fully under your control.

Artificial Intelligence at work: Remove Background (Office 2010 and above)

Quick Feed

Remove Background is available across Office tools from version 2010 onwards. It helps you remove unwanted parts of pictures quickly and easily – without using any external photo editing software. If you like these examples, go ahead and read how to do it.

Before After
image Cow after remove background
image image
image image
image Toy after remove background

How to remove background?

Very simple.

  1. Click on the picture – Choose Picture Tools from the top menu (ribbon)
  2. Choose the first option from left is Remove Backgroundimage
  3. The picture will not be analyzed and some part of it will become dark pink.
    Dark Pink part will be removed and become transparent.image
  4. It shows an adjustable rectangle in the picture. Resize it so that the area of your interest is fully within the rectangle.image
  5. Now click Keep Changesimage

This works for simple pictures. For more complex pictures it requires some adjustments.

Refining the background removal

The logic of detecting what is foreground and what is background is based upon very sophisticated mathematics. It is very intelligent. But in case of complex pictures it needs some help from you.

Consider this picture where the rectangle already encompasses the object of interest.

SNAGHTML8f5631d

It has removed most of the image but some part of the twig is still retained. Now we need to assist the Remove Background feature.

The menu gives you multiple options.

image

In this case, we need to specify – visually- that the branch (twig) should have been removed. For finer adjustments – it is a good idea to ZOOM IN to the picture.

Click Mark Areas to Remove and then just draw a line across the unwanted portion. Be careful not to extend the line into the areas you want to keep.

SNAGHTML8fb0ade

Few such adjustments are enough to get what you want.

The Science behind it

The mathematical algorithm behind this feature is very complex. It is called GrabCut. It was created by researchers from Microsoft Research. For those interested in the details, the research paper can be downloaded from here. We must thank and appreciate the researchers Carsten Rother, Vladimir Kolmogorov, and Andrew Blake for creating this amazing feature.

Practical Example

Download and view this presentation. Run the presentation. It has only one slide. Click on the slide to run the animation. The text appears to originate from behind the buildings.

How is that done? Edit the presentation and learn how it was done. This is a smart way to use remove background to achieve an impossible sounding effect.

image

Skyline Presentation Download

Tight Wrap in Word – How to wrap text around images with irregular borders

In the last post, I had posted a quiz. We already have a winner (Nicholas) and the gift will be sent to him.

The question was the difference between SQUARE and TIGHT wrap around a picture or object in Word.

If the picture is rectangular – which most pictures are – there is no visual difference.

But if the picture has an irregular shape, TIGHT option wraps around the shape and SQUARE wraps around the rectangle.

Here is the difference…

image

Things are much simpler if it is an irregular shaped clipart…

image

Question: How do you create a picture with irregular borders?

Most pictures have rectangular border. If the picture has a transparency around an object, it has irregular borders. Most standard pictures, captured from cameras or downloaded from Microsoft Clipart are rectangular with NO transparency.

So how do you create transparency to retain what we want?

Here is an example.  The original picture in the above logo was like this – with a white background. (I have put a border to illustrate the boundary of the picture)

MaxOffice - Only image - white background

The white area around the actual logo is unwanted – and therefore, should be transparent. How do we do that?

  1. Click on the picture (double clicking the pictures opens the menu)
  2. Choose Picture Tools menu
  3. Choose Remove background (Office 2010 and above)
  4. Now PowerPoint attempts to guess what could be the foreground and what should be removed. It indicates the outcome as an altered image as shown below. The pink portions would be removed (make them transparent) and rest would be kept.image
  5. Readjust the inner rectangle to enclose the logo completely within it. Click on Keep Changes Button.Remove background
  6. Now it is a transparent picture. Whatever was shown in pink color has been converted to transparency.
  7. Now using the TIGHT option wraps text around the irregular shape.Tight wrap in Word

Refine the wrapping with Edit Wrap Points

Tight wrap edit wrap points

Next article

We will cover the amazing Remove Background feature of PowerPoint in detail.

Irritant: Text and Picture layout problems in Word?

New series

Our Copy Paste series is not yet over. But I am starting another one based upon feedback from readers. In this series, I will cover common  problems and solutions, starting with perhaps one of the most common irritant: Text and Picture layout problems in Word.

There are already many such sites for quick troubleshooting or Tips and Tricks. That is like spoon-feeding. This blog is not a quick fix.

Therefore, after giving the immediate solution, I will also explain the concept behind it and related features. This way, you learn something specific as well as something larger and generic. It amplifies the benefit and makes you more capable and confident.

Problem 1 – Text does not wrap around a Picture

When you insert a picture which is smaller than the width of the document it just stays there and space around it is wasted. If you type something before it, the picture moves. Very irritating! You want the text to wrap around nicely.

image

Quick Fix

  1. Click on the picture.
  2. Picture Tools menu appears in the Ribbon.
  3. Click on it. Choose Wrap Text dropdown
  4. Click Square
  5. That’s it

text and picture layout options in Word

If you realize that you need to set the Square option often, click on the last option Set as Default Layout. Now onwards, when you insert a picture, the desired layout is applied  automatically.

Text and Picture Layout Knowledge

  • When a picture is added, it behaves as though it is text – because that is the default setting In Line With Text
  • It basically means that the picture is treated as text (like a large font text).. Therefore it moves around when you edit the text before it
  • There are two modes in which pictures (or other objects) can be treated by Word
  • As text or as a floating object
  • Clicking on SQUARE option makes it a floating object and also specifies how it interacts with the document text.
  • Word is smart enough to wrap the text around
  • If you move the picture, the text will readjust

Exercise

  • Try different modes and see how it behaves. You will learn the usage.

More Picture Layout Knowledge

Look at the dropdown.

First option is treat the Image as text.

Next section (from Square, Tight, Through, Top and Bottom ) controls how the text wraps around the text.

The third section (Behind or In Front) decides the object position with respect to the text. Behind text is like having a paper on which you put a sticker and then printed the text on it. In Front of text is like you printed the text and then put a sticker on top of it.

More options of course give you more sophisticated options. If you need to do precise arrangements in layouts like newsletters, professional reports, case studies, brochures – you must know every option there. You will be surprised to know how sophisticated it is.

Final option is obvious. If you have changed the settings and you like them, then set those as the default.

Win Prizes: Answer this Quiz question

image

Question: What is the difference between Square and Tight and when is tight option practically useful?

Post your answers as comments to this blog.
First right answer will get the gift voucher by mail.
Please mention your email id in the reply.

You can redeem it against any Amazon.Com purchase. It never expires.

Quiz closes on 11:59 PM, 19th November 2013 Indian Standard Time.