Category Archives: Microsoft Office

Experiences using Microsoft To-Do

2019-04-11_21-39-55-MicrosoftToDOFor over a year now I’ve been using Microsoft’s To-Do application to manage and organise my tasks. This has probably been the longest I’ve stuck with a personal task manager for some time, and I believe the app has just the right amount of features for me, sitting somewhere between Outlook tasks and a more in-depth project management/ planning application. In this post I will discuss how I use the app; you might find To-Do is something you want to check out, or if you’re a current user you might find new ways to use it.

To-Do is not a heavy duty time management application, but it does allow you to manage personal tasks, set due dates or reminders, and have sub-steps if required. For example the “Deploy new Server” task might have “Buy Server”, “Rack Server”, “Configure Network”, and “Install Hypervisor” as steps.

I use the one application for both work and personal tasks, using lists to categorise these but not having a separate application to go to for my non-work tasks. This helps me balance my time focused on the job against my personal time. I believe Work-life balance isn’t just about not working in personal time. When done properly doing some personal activities in work time is balanced against when you have to work in personal time. For example I might answer the odd work email when sat on the couch in the evening, but I won’t feel guilty about instant messaging my family from the office. Microsoft To-Do has a number of features that will help here, not least “My Day”.

My Day is possibly the best feature in To-Do, and can be used similarly to a Work In Progress (WIP) panel on a Kanban board. Tasks from the different categories can all be assigned here, giving me a list of what I need to accomplish next, rather than being overwhelmed by a much longer list. This also allows me to mix those personal and work related tasks – I need to check my VMware licenses today, but I also need to book an appointment at the optician (who won’t be answering their phone when I get home tonight).

When using My Day I set the sort order to put the tasks flagged as important at the top. These are the things I’ve marked that must get done- further down the list are the lower priority things I’d like to get done today, but might not.

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When starting up To-Do in the morning it offers me the “For Today” listing, so I can pick the tasks I need in my list at the start of today. These may be items passed over from the day before, one’s I’ve had reminders set for today, or emails I’ve flagged and tweets or websites I picked up the evening before for follow up. With To-Do installed on my Android phone I can quickly share from the other apps, for example Twitter or Chrome to automatically create new tasks for my list.

Looking at how my task-lists have evolved, I have general “Tasks” for work related items and “Personal” for non-work ones. I also have a “Learning and Finding Out” list for all those educational links I want to fit in, and a “Blog” list for blog post ideas.

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In addition to the general work list I have “Delegated/ Parked with Others” for where I have a task which I’ve subsequently passed onto a colleague but want to check back in on progress- things I don’t want to totally disappear from my radar just because someone else is doing the work. I also have a list here for “Project Ideas”; these are those ideas which aren’t quite a task yet, a list of “wouldn’t it be great if we could do x?” or “should we be looking at implementing y?”.

As To-Do is a single-user viewpoint it’s important that it works well with the other work management tools I’m exposed to- project management, collaboration, and service-desk apps can’t just be ignored. My method here is to take those support calls and project actions and add them to my To-Do list, this way I can manage my own time. It’s important to remember that progress updates and documentation need to be recorded in the correct systems, but the use of To-Do as a simple tick list works well for me here.

As someone who has flipped between task management apps and their paper equivalents I’m impressed that I’ve been using To-Do for so long, so if you’re on the lookout for a personal task manager I’d recommend giving it a try. If this app interests you, Microsoft has more details here: https://products.office.com/en-gb/microsoft-to-do-list-app

To Do List

Other task managers are available

Mailbox filling up harddisk? Turn Off Cached Exchange Mode

Microsoft OutlookThis came up in conversation at work earlier today- a user has connected to their own mailbox and those of other staff. They now have a whopping 35GB of Outlook files on their workstation. They are having performance issues. Here’s a 30-second highlight of the solution.

Solution: Turn off Cached Exchange Mode in Outlook, reduce the timespan mail is retained locally, or choose not to cache the shared mailboxes.

What is Cached Exchange Mode?
Cached Exchange Mode is used in Outlook to download a local copy of a mailbox on the workstation to allow for offline use. This is the default behaviour when connecting to Exchange and is great for most users, and in particular if you have a poor or intermittent network connection. However when used by people using massive mailboxes it can take up a lot of local hard drive space- you’ll spot some large “.OST” files in the users profile-  and Microsoft advise that performance can become an issue on large (>25GB) mailboxes.

Example:
My (default) settings on a workstation look like the screenshot below- Cached Exchange Mode is turned on and set to download the last 12 months of data from all mailboxes I connect to with that account and also the GAL. If I look in C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook I see that I have an OST file weighing in just under 1.5GB however my mailbox on the Exchange Server (Office365) is 10GB in size. With these settings I can access all the mail I need to, and if I need to look up anything earlier it goes off to the server to retrieve it- this process is barely noticable if I’m connected to the internet.

If I need to reclaim some local disk space, or hit performance issues, I can reduce this local retention time or disable Cached Exchange Mode altogether.

Cached Exchange Mode Settings

Out of Office Mail Tips- A great feature

Our corporate email recently upgraded to Office365 and one of the many benefits which has come with this is the ability to preview an Out of Office message from a colleague before sending them a mail from Outlook.  I think this is great.

Media Tip in Outlook 2013

Now I can tell the recipient is on holiday before hitting send.

Whilst the feature has been available since Exchange Server 2010, it’s only recently come into play in my environment.

Only today I was talking to a colleague who was complaining that when they went on holiday they’d receive lots of messages from colleagues asking for information or requesting work to be done and on their return from leave they didn’t know what had been dealt with.

Traditionally you may only find out a colleague is away after the email has been sent and the Out-of-Office has bounced back.  Now it’s possible to find out before hitting send and (if appropriate) send the email to someone else instead. Not only does the request stand more chance of being dealt with promptly but also the person on leave comes back to a shorter inbox.

Removing Attachments to Save Space

If, like me, you use your email archive as a record of what’s happened and if, like mine, this means your email box is approaching capacity, here’s a trick that might free up some space.

In Microsoft Outlook (with an Exchange/ Office365 back end) the attachments are stored in your mailbox. Quite often I find I want to keep the content of the mail for posterity, but I don’t need the attachment- for example when I email a document to someone and have the original stored safely elsewhere.

In Outlook 2013 it’s possible to remove just the attachment, leaving the mailbox intact. To do this, locate the email in your mailbox, right-click on the attachment and choose “Remove Attachment” from the context menu.

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You will be prompted to confirm this, and doing so will remove the attachment but keep the message.

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Fahrenheit vs Celsius in Outlook 2013

imageWhen using Outlook 2013, the Calendar conveniently displays the current weather and temperature at the top of the pane. The location can be switched using the drop down on the weather itself (for some reason my English-UK Office setup decided that I was most likely a New Yorker following installation) but changing from Fahrenheit to Celsius is not as obvious.

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