Use Weekly Reminders

Keep up with less frequent tasks

Besides the daily routines, you probably have tasks that you perform on a regular basis – just not every day.  To keep on top of these, add them to a list along with an appropriate frequency.

To create the list, perform the following:

  1. With MS To Do open, in the left-side pane, click on +New List.
  2. Rename the list to as appropriate (Other Recurring, Weekly Tasks, Monthly Tasks, etc.), and optionally add an icon.
  3. Use the new item list at the bottom to add the tasks you want to perform on a regular basis.
  4. Click on each item to open the edit pane on the right.
  5. Set a Repeat frequency.
  6. Set the first date that the task should be performed.

These tasks will now appear in the Today tasks (the lightbulb in the top left corner in the My Day view), based on their due date.

A twist on this concept: Recall that Pavlov’s dog demonstrated that the best way to encourage a desired behavior is with irregular reinforcement.  We can put this to practice using our weekly reminders.  However, in this case we change the day around every week. 

For example, consider that your company may require staff to lock their screens before leaving their desks.  To help maintain this, you may perform a weekly walkthrough to verify compliance.  Thus, you set a reminder with a frequency of Weekly.  In this case, after completing the walkthrough change the day of the week for the next walkthrough.  Most importantly, be sure that you report the results of your walkthroughs to the team in a positive way in order to encourage continued compliance.

This is part of a series on productivity using Office 365.

Get a Routine

Create a ‘Daily Routine’ to start each day off right

The second tip takes the ‘top goals’ one step further. Besides the issues that change from day-to-day, there are tasks that you need to perform at the beginning of every day.  Capturing these tasks serves at least two purposes.

For one thing, it has you start your day off proactively rather than reactively.  As an example, your first routine task may be to review your calendar – take a look at any meetings you have for the day.  This way, you will not be surprised when you get a reminder in the middle of lunch for a meeting your forgot about that starts in fifteen minutes.

A routine also allows you do get all of those little tasks of the day out of the way right from the start.  For instance, you may put your phone on silent at the beginning of the workday to keep from disturbing others.  Or, maybe you put your phone on silent when home to keep from waking the whole house up when it rings at two in the morning.  Either way, you can add ‘check phone volume’ as a task you do first thing every morning.

To create your Daily Routine, perform the following:

  1. With MS To Do open, in the left-side pane, click on +New List.
  2. Rename the list to Daily Routine, and optionally add an icon.
  3. Use the new item list at the bottom to add the tasks you want to perform every day.
  4. Click on each item to open the edit pane on the right.
  5. Set a Repeat frequency.  For ‘daily’ items, you can choose either ‘Daily’ or ‘Weekdays’.

To use the list, perform the following each morning:

  1. Select all items.
  2. Right-click and choose Add to My Day.
  3. Check each item off as you work through your daily routine.

As you use this tip regularly, you will likely start finding a lot of items that will help get your day off to a strong start.  When that happens, simply add it to your daily routine.  Personally, I have noticed a big difference in my satisfaction with the day when I was able to start off with my routine.  Those days that I come in fighting fires right off the bat feel like they go on forever all the while making me feel like I am neglecting the ‘important but not urgent’ items.

This is part of a series on productivity using Office 365.

Capture the important stuff right from the start

Use MS To Do “My Day” to capture top goals for every day.

Productivity can start before you arrive at your work space. Many people begin contemplating their day within a few minutes of the alarm going off in the morning. We often have moments of clarity before we get engulfed in the ‘fog of war.’ It is not uncommon for me to see clearly what it is I want to accomplish today before I get my first cup of coffee, only to lose that vision during the morning commute.

The first tip is to use Microsoft ‘My Day’ to capture your top goal at the start of every day.  This is basically what Stephen Covey refers to as a ‘first generation’ time management tool.  All we are doing at this stage is writing down one to three things you are going to accomplish by the end of the day, using the Microsoft To Do application to capture those actions.  Although these tasks are probably ‘tactical’ (or else you could not finish them by the end of the day), they should be strategic in nature – maybe a small step towards a much larger, long-term goal you want to accomplish.

By using To Do, your list is available to you at your desk, your tablet and even your phone. So, while making your morning cup of coffee, you can use your phone to easily capture those things you are definitely going to do once you get to your office.  Because once you actually arrive at your desk, there is no telling what fires are going to distract you from being truly effective today.

This is part of a series on productivity using Office 365.

Sharpening the Saw

I vowed to use 2019 as an experiment in rebuilding my productivity process in order to address these weak points.

A year ago I found that although the method I was using with OneNote was not necessarily broken, it certainly was not as effective as I needed it to be.  Here is how the original recommendations stacked up with regular usage:

  • Keep It Stupidly Simple – As the amount of data captured increased, the notebook-minimalism approach just did not work.
  • Quick Notes as the Inbox – This worked well, with Quick Notes becoming the clearing house for nearly everything.
  • Set Up Send To – So, if Quick Notes is still a good idea, we still need to set up the Send To feature.
  • Use Meeting Notes – Still a good idea.
  • Tag Actions – Actions still need to be tagged, but custom flags (even a few) became a maintenance burden.
  • Date Actions – To take advantage of sorts, we had to change our system settings for dates.  This had some impact on other applications, such as Excel.
  • Search People, Place and Things – Still a good idea, especially if compared to a plethora of custom tags.
  • Keep OneNote on OneDrive – Mostly yes, but in itself it is not adequate for sharing and collaboration.
  • Daily Routines – Still a key part of staying productive.
  • Work Journal – This turns out to be a personal tool that does not necessarily apply to everyone.

So, I committed to use 2019 as an experiment in rebuilding my productivity process in order to address these weak points.  Now, the list looks more like:

In the coming weeks I will be posting more about each of these.

Tag Search in ONWin10

I use ON16 on a day-to-day basis, but keep checking back on the ONW10 version.  When I went in today, I found the tag search was available.  However, I found it still falls short.

The search appears to based on the label for the tag.  For example, if you use the out-of-the-box tag “Critical” (!), you have to enter “critical” in the search box.  So, you can search for custom tags but you do it by the tag label, not from a drop down of available tags.

The implication here is that ONW10 does not differentiate between a box that is checked versus non-checked.

Dated Checklists

In a previous post, we looked at how adding dates to tags allows viewing To Do lists sorted by when the action should be done.  One way to take advantage of this is by using a preparation checklist.

In my case, I have certain tasks that I perform in preparation for delivering a classroom session.  In particular:

  • 25 days prior to the class: Send a quote for the class, reconfirming the class as originally scheduled.
  • 3 weeks prior to class: Review any special requirements for the class, such as setting up scenarios in the training sandbox.
  • 2 weeks prior to the class: Confirm travel plans
  • 1 week prior to the class: Print/ship participant materials
  • 2 days prior to class: Dry run and review content
  • Day before class: Stage my instructor materials

In order to capture these in my daily plans, I use an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the dates, counting back from the class delivery date.

Excel Sheet with date calcs

In this case, B1 contains the class name, with the scheduled date in B2.  Cells B5:B13 contain the lead times for each of the preparation tasks in column A. Cells D5:D10 rolls back weekend days to the previous Friday. Finally, E5:E10 simply combines columns C and A.

Once the dates are calculated, E6 becomes the title of the OneNote page.  Cells E5:E10 are copied and pasted into the body of the page. I then add checkbox tags to each item.

Opening the Tags Summary pane, the checkbox items are listed and sorted by date, with the first task in the sequence at the top of the list.  As more classes are added, the Tags Summary builds to include all preparation items.

This process minimizes the chance of getting so caught up in preparing for a class that the upcoming classes are neglected.

Disknowledge

I just read an blog post by Kate Starbird, regarding the Alternative Media Ecosystem.  It makes me think of parallels with the challenges of Knowledge Management.  Dr Starbird’s research looks specifically at crisis events and the networks used to distribute information regarding the events.

Downplaying the nefarious players in the disinformation world, I do see a couple of parallels.  First, the purpose of the entire news industry is the distribution of information, as is the purpose of knowledge management systems.

Second, both systems have old school elements.  For news media, it is the so-called mainstream media outlets. For corporate organizations, this is typically the training department.  As well, both have alternative outlets for information.  News media has blogs and e-zines, that operate with minimal costs.  Corporate organizations have tribal knowledge – information held by those with practical experience.

Right now, we are in an environment where the mainstream and alternative outlets are in many cases at odds with each other. This seems to be a cautionary tale to guard against the formal training organizations not acting as the Goliath to David’s informal networks.  Neither wants to be accused of spreading disknowledge.

If it Ain’t Broke, Break it!

It’s been a while since we restructured our OneNote to fit the ‘SecretWeapon’ methodology (https://thesecretweapon.org/).  Overall, this has been a qualified success.

As we come to the close of the year, and the start of a new one, it is time to take inventory of the past, and gaze into the future.  Looking backwards, we started to see the impact the very large notebooks is having.  In some cases, it has resulted in corruption of a notebook (very bad).  Generally, though, where we see the practical impact is on mobile.  It appears that anytime that OneNote does a full stop on a mobile device, it has to perform a reload of data.  When we are out and about, and internet speeds can be choked, this can be quite a nuisance.  In particular, it truly interferes with the “quick note” concept – that is, get things out of our head quickly and get back to what we were doing.

Looking forward, Microsoft definitely talks to collaboration being the key to the future.  As such, our notes should be available to anyone who would benefit from them. For instance, our notes on a specific project should be shared with the whole project team.  However, if we are using the single notebook approach then we cannot share just a subset of our notes.

So, these two perspectives – large notebooks are slow notebooks, and visible information is good information – require some deep thought on how to properly organize the OneNote environment.  The biggest drawback is simultaneously the biggest strength of the ‘big notebook’ strategy: we don’t have to remember where we put something because Search is smarter than we will ever be.  If we break up our big notebook and put the pieces in Team sites scattered across the ether, we have to tell Search all of the places our something could be.  Further, we must load all of those notebooks  into OneNote before we can search them.  Ooof.

In that spirit, we are going to use 2019 as another experiment – an experiment where we break and then try to renew the Keep It Stupidly Simple (KISS) rule. We will break out notebooks and put them up for display.  While doing this, we will work on KISS strategies on how to find things when we need them.

Column Formatting SharePoint: Severity Levels

The Microsoft website has a detailed description on how to Use column formatting to customize SharePoint.  In particular, it shows how to apply formatting based on the value in a field using a CSS class.  Unfortunately, the article does not list the severity levels available.  A little poking around at the style sheets uncovers the following severity codes:

  • sp-field-severity–good
  • sp-field-severity–low
  • sp-field-severity–warning
  • sp-field-severity–severeWarning
  • sp-field-severity–blocked

Also of note, the example code for that section does not properly reflect the necessary code to reproduce the example.

Status field with done colored green, blocked colored red, and in review colored orange

"class": "=if(@currentField == 'Done', 'sp-field-severity--good', if(@currentField == 'In progress', 'sp-field-severity--low' ,if(@currentField == 'In review','sp-field-severity--warning', if(@currentField == 'Blocked','sp-field-severity--blocked', ''))))"

If you read the JSON, the example overlooks the Has Issues condition.  The JSON should actually read:

"class": "=if(@currentField == 'Done', 'sp-field-severity--good', if(@currentField == 'In progress', 'sp-field-severity--low', if(@currentField == 'In review', 'sp-field-severity--warning', if(@currentField == 'Has issues', 'sp-field-severity--severeWarning', 'sp-field-severity--blocked'))))"

As well, the icon section leaves out Blocked. It should be:

"iconName": "=if(@currentField == 'Done', 'CheckMark', if(@currentField == 'In progress', 'Forward', if(@currentField == 'In review', 'Error', if(@currentField == 'Has issues', 'Warning', 'ErrorBadge'))))"

Excel: Banding alternate rows, even with conditions

Excel tables have a nice little feature that lets you band alternate rows to help visually read the data.

However, to use this, you have to convert the data to a Table.  Since this is not always practical, there is an alternative using Conditional Formatting.

The formatting rule is:

=MOD(ROW(),2)=0

This applies the formatting you choose only to those rows that when divided by 2 have no remainder, i.e., even numbered rows.  This is especially useful in preventing the shading from go all haywire when the user deletes a row.

But what about conditional formatting on larges swaths of cells that hampers banding?

Easy enough. You can combine formulas to make the conditions still work with banding.

The formulas are as follows:

=AND(C11="Sales",MOD(ROW(),2)=0)

=C11="Sales"

=MOD(ROW(),2)=0

Quick tip: The banding with condition formula needs to be above the condition-only formula, with the standard banding formula at the bottom of the conditions list.

This gives you conditional shading that is continuous with the underlying banding across the full data set.