I began a career as an IT trainer in the late 1980s at a time when Office applications were only just beginning to take over workplaces. Over the years I have seen quite a few changes in new releases of the applications, many improvements but also some backward steps. Those of a certain vintage may remember the Office Assistant – Clippy – a sometimes amusing but more often annoying animated paper clip ‘helper’!
Anyway, thankfully most of the changes have been for the better. I’ve been lucky enough to work as a trainer and learn many of the ‘hidden’ time savers to be able to pass some on to course participants – and anyone else in the office and at home willing to listen.
In the mid-90s, I joined TP3 (then Pollak Partners). After working as a trainer in a large government department, I thought I pretty well knew all there was to know about Microsoft Office applications.
I was wrong. It was such an eye opener to sit in on my first Pollak course. There was so many ‘light bulb’ moments. I particularly remember seeing that ‘aha’ look on the other course participants’ faces as one by one, they each managed to pick up a small gem that would ‘change their lives’ back in the office.
I’m sure those of us who’s first childhood toy wasn’t a tablet will have experienced this joy at one time or other in our working lives. Anyway, I quickly got hooked and have been involved in IT training in one form or other ever since.
When I had to think about my favourite tips and timesavers for this short article, however, I found it really hard to narrow it down to a favourite few.
So here are just a few of my favourite MS Office tips in no particular order:
Adopt an action-oriented email approach with decisive Ds
Each time you view your inbox, quickly scan the new emails, make an assessment of what needs to be done with each one and then TAKE ACTION.
- Delete: any junk or frivolous emails immediately – be ruthless.
- Do: If it can be done in two minutes or less, do it.
- Delegate: If it can be delegated to someone else, delegate it.
- Defer: If it can’t be done immediately or delegated, defer it by creating a calendar item using Drag & Drop.
- And finally, Don’t: use email unnecessarily. Wherever you can, try to use instant messages, the telephone or just get up and walk over to talk to someone.
Format Painter & F4 Repeat
I love this one, particularly because I hate wasting time fiddling about with formatting.
I use the Format Painter to copy formatting from one thing in a document to another, whether it is a letter, slide deck or spreadsheet. I use it a lot for consistency with headings in a document.
I first select the formatted heading I like the look of, then click on the Format Painter (looks like a little paint brush on the ribbon), and finally, I click on the other headings that need to have the same formatting applied.
When I want to copy the formatting to more than one heading, I double-click on the paint brush to keep it ‘locked’ until I am finished applying formats. I then end the process by pressing the Esc key. Format Painter picks up all the formatting from your first thing, whether it’s a shape, cell, picture border, or piece of text, and applies it to the second. This way, you can spend your time getting the first thing right, and apply the same formatting wherever you want with a couple of clicks.
The F4 key does something similar in that it repeats your last action. Whether the last action was to bold a word, delete a paragraph, add a line, almost any editing action is repeated when you press F4. Try it out. By the way, these features also work in PowerPoint and Excel.
Select region using Ctrl + *
This is so simple, yet so effective. If you need to select a list of data in Excel that needs to be formatted, printed, copied or whatever, and the data set is reasonably large (runs over a screen or more), don’t waste time fiddling about with the mouse. Instead, click anywhere in the list and press CTRL + *. The data set is selected instantly like magic.
Pressing B during a slide presentation
Pressing the B on the keyboard during a PowerPoint presentation will temporarily make the screen go black until you press it again to resume the show.
I like this tip because we all know how tedious some presentations can be. By breaking the show temporarily you can re-engage an audience and bring life back to a long presentation. Blacking out the screen temporarily can provide a refreshing pause during a presentation and helps to change the state by switching the focus of attention away from the screen and back to the presenter. Try it next time. I think you will be surprised how positively people will react.
I hope you find some of these tips useful. You can of course get plenty more tips like these from our experienced MS Office trainers at any of our Microsoft Office public training courses.