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9 small-biz owners share the Microsoft Office hacks they use to increase productivity

By January 17, 2023No Comments

(This column originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)

According to Microsoft Corp., more than a billion people use the company’s Office products (now known as Microsoft 365) both at work and at home. And although the company does have its competition — most notably Google’s Workspace — Microsoft products still remain one of the most popular business applications worldwide.

However, if you’re like most of my clients (and myself), you’re probably not taking full advantage of all the features that Office has to help increase your team’s productivity. I asked a few of my local IT friends and Microsoft partners to share secrets to help you better use Office this year. (Note: Some of these features are dependent on the version of Office that you have.)

How many times have you received an email that you want to follow up on a few days later? You can do this with automation. Outlook allows you to set a follow-up for yourself when you send an email. Or you can mark a to-do for yourself on an email you have received. All you have to remember is when you’re writing an email, set Outlook to automatically create a to-do item in another Office productivity tool called Microsoft To Do so that you can follow up at a later time. You can then mark the task complete either from the email or in Microsoft To Do. This way nothing falls through the cracks. — Keith Tessler, CEO of CMIT Solutions of Cherry Hill & the Main Line

If you’re wondering whether your system has been compromised, you can use a little-known feature in Office to help. It’s called “ impossible travel,” and it can be used to detect anomalies that indicate that a user is compromised. The logic behind impossible travel is simple: If the same user connects from two different countries and the time between those connections can’t be made through conventional air travel, it’s an impossible travel. Knowing this can help prevent cyberattacks such as account compromise and ransomware attacks. — Andrea Grainger, marketing strategist at ANP

Do you find yourself retyping responses to commonly asked questions, or using the same information repeatedly in your documents? By using Quick Parts in Office, you can create, store, and then insert reusable pieces of content again and again, like frequently used phrases or blocks of text, so that you can create documents more quickly and easily. All you have to do is save the content in a Gallery and then access it in Quick Parts to save time. — Lynn Thames, owner of Thames Computer Consulting LLC

In Excel, you can use the “ Data from Picture” feature to take a photo of a table of data (like in a magazine) and have Excel automatically import it as rows and columns in a spreadsheet right from the picture, saving significant data entry time. The second is letting Word transcribe an audio file into text. It takes only a few minutes, and it includes time stamps and other tools to help you review and correct any errors. — Adam Rice, consultant at Ask Adam LLC

Instead of using tools such as SurveyMonkey and Google Forms, try Microsoft Forms. It’s very comparable to the functionality of SurveyMonkey, but at no additional cost since it’s included in the Office subscription. MS Forms is easy to learn, easy to use, easy to send out, and easy to compile responses. On top of that, it includes various settings that allow users to set up parameters related to security, audience, dates and times, and reminders. — Brian Pickell, owner of KPInterface

Too few people use the rules capability in Outlook. This can be a particularly helpful tool for consultants who are often working and interacting with multiple clients and multiple contacts at those clients and working on multiple projects at one time. Creating rules about how emails are sorted and labeled can help you keep your inbox more organized. Outlook’s Focused Inbox is also helpful with email organization. — Rick DeLello, owner of Informed Systems Inc.

One of the most valuable features in MS Office, specifically in MS Excel, is the ability to create formulas to run calculations as well as program drop-down menus. These features are fantastic for creating dynamic documents where data need to change, such as expense reports or Gantt charts for project scheduling. For a small business, this is a must-use feature because it allows you to keep important information documented and organized, while also keeping down expenses for project management software. — Ian Kimble, founder and executive director at Black Tech Philly

In Office 2000, a paper clip helper named Clippy would give you tips and tricks. Today, there’s an updated AI (artificial intelligence) version of Clippy. This offers on-demand help and includes a feature called “ Tell Me.” It acts as a search bar and can help you easily check the definitions of a word. For example, you can enter the name of a coworker and get a contact card, or easily search for file names to open documents, or easily put document links. — Anthony Mongeluzo, president at PCS Inc.

Now it’s my turn. Back in the day, many of my clients used walkie-talkies to communicate with each other and their employees, particularly in larger locations. That form of communication seemed to disappear in the days of mobile phones. But now it’s back! You can configure Teams in Office to act just like one of those old-school walkie-talkies for immediate access to your key people wherever they are. Texting and calling by phone is fine, but this form of communication is quicker. — Gene Marks, founder and president of the Marks Group

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