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8 Tools That Make You More Productive With Microsoft Office

8 Tools That Make You More Productive With Microsoft Office

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook: these are what make Microsoft Office the most used suite of tools on the market. But even Office has its limitations. There are issues that you run into on a daily basis that take time – time that could be better spent on other things. While you may have amazing apps that increase your productivity in other areas of your life, you may not be aware that there are also some great add-in tools for Office. Some of them are even free. Here are eight of the best, ready for quick download and immediate use.

1. ShapeChef

ShapeChef is a great tool recently published by Wulfsoft. It provides templates, diagrams, graphics, and a huge set of icons for PowerPoint, and the collection keeps growing. The ShapeChef site gives you an idea of all that it has to offer. There are packages from individual to large organization, and the licenses never expire.

ShapeChef adds a library pane to your PowerPoint window for quick access. The elements are organized into categories, or you can use the search feature to find what you want. Once you have found a suitable image or icon, drag and drop it from the library pane into your PowerPoint slide. It’s that easy.

There are other benefits too. You can add your own images to the library and, of course, share with others so that everyone benefits from your creations. This feature makes it easy to maintain consistency throughout your team or organization.

The best part? No more searching all over the web for an appropriate image and worrying about attributions.

2. FlowBreeze

If you are sick of trying to develop flowcharts with drawing tools and arrows that never quite end up in the right place, you can give up all of that hassle by using FlowBreeze. This incredible tool is an add-in for Excel that makes it easy to create flowcharts that look completely professional.

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All you need to do is enter the text and the tool automatically generates the shapes for each step. Each shape and piece of text is formatted and the symbols are perfectly aligned with connecting arrows put in place automatically. Even better, there is a “text-to-flowchart” wizard that will convert an existing Word file into a chart. With FlowBreeze you can:

  • Start creating quickly using the easy-to-follow startup guide;
  • Use 84 built-in formats to style your own symbols;
  • Choose from 21 formats for connectors: straight, elbow, or curved;
  • Insert pictures right onto the symbols;
  • Export finished flowcharts in your choice of five picture formats; and
  • Save charts as Excel files so that others can view and edit them.

After a 30-day free trial period, you can purchase either a single-user or site license. It’s a one-time payment.

3. ASAP Utilities

Definitely not a new kid on the block, ASAP Utilities is an Excel add-in that fills the gaps and helps with those things you can’t do with plain Excel. It has been around for 17 years and was just updated to its latest version (5.6) in December 2015. You really have to visit the ASAP Utilities site and view some of the videos that demonstrate all of its features. Then hop on over to the customer reviews page and see what the pros currently using it are saying.

There are over 300 features – too many to name here – but suffice it to say that you will save bundles of time using them. For example, have you ever wanted to transpose a column into multiple rows so that you could create a table? ASAP Utilities makes it so easy.

While the number of features may seem overwhelming, you can just pick and choose those you need as you need them. Follow the simple instructions, and ASAP Utilities will save you both time and stress.

4. Wikipedia Add-In

So, you are writing along, composing maybe an essay or a piece of content for your blog, and you need some basic information about an artist, a city, or a book. You could stop what you’re doing, go online and access Wikipedia to get that information, and then copy what you need, go back to your Word document, paste it in, and then rephrase to put it into your own words. Talk about a lot of interruption to your flow of work. And so unnecessary.

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With the Wikipedia Add-in app, you can access Wikipedia information right from your Word file, saving time and hassle. When you type in your search term, the app automatically searches the Wikipedia database and provides the results in a task pane. You can then choose to view text, images, or both. Even better, you can select a quote and it will be automatically inserted into your Word document.

There are a few system requirements for this free app: Internet Explorer, plus Word or Excel 2013, Word or Excel online, or Word or Excel for iPad. That’s it.

  • The Wikipedia add-in is available in over 20 languages.
  • If you are looking for the quickest way of accessing reference material, there is no better tool than this.
  • To get started, just access the site and click “Add.” Done and done.

5. Office Tabs

Working with multiple documents at one time is a bit of a hassle in Microsoft Office. You have to go back and forth between different windows to gather and insert information into Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.

Office Tabs lets you open all the documents you need at once in a single window and view each document as a tabbed file. And it works with all editions of Microsoft Office from 2003 forward. There are three components to the tool: Tabs for Word, Tabs for Excel, and Tabs for PowerPoint, so you can pull up documents from any of those three sources to view together.

The tool allows you to work with all of the files and then close them all with one click (it’s still possible to close them individually, if needed). You can also save pending changes for all documents with a single click on “Save all.”

Just a few of the other features include:

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  • The ability to customize your tabs using any of the eleven styles provided;
  • Whole file names (currently, if your file name is too long, it will be cut off; Office Tabs will display the full name);
  • Small file size, so the performance of Office is not slowed down in any way; and
  • Lots of shortcuts.

Access the site, take a look around and download either the free basic edition or the enterprise edition, which obviously offers additional features. With a permanent user license, you also get free updates and support for two years. You’ll find a tutorial on the site too.

6. Kutools for Outlook

This one offers a huge number of features to be used with Outlook designed to streamline your email-handling and save you so much time. Basically, Kutools for Microsoft Outlook provides features to simplify all the mundane tasks that you have to perform every day, such as:

  • Creating automatic “out of office” replies;
  • Creating automatic CC and BCC customizations for those forwards;
  • Forwarding several emails at once; and
  • Sorting through junk mail with better filters.

With a single click, you can also:

  • Search for all emails from a sender, an email address, or a domain;
  • Reply to or forward several emails all at once;
  • Delete all emails from a sender or with a specific subject line;
  • Delete duplicate emails, contact names or email addresses; and
  • Block senders, subjects, or by body keywords.

A lifetime license will also give you free upgrades and support for two years. Multiple licenses come with discounted pricing.

If email takes up a large chunk of your work day, you need this tool.

7. E-Mail Follow-Up

This is another very simple add-in tool for Outlook. If email is an important part of your professional work, then you understand the frustration of sending an email, expecting a reply and then not getting one, or even forgetting that you sent that email and needed a reply. It’s an easy thing to forget when you’re busy. And failure to follow-up can affect productivity down the road, when you realize that you cannot move forward without that response.

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E-Mail Follow-Up will make sure that you never forget about that needed reply. When you send your email, you can schedule a reminder to send a follow-up email. If you receive the reply, or even a phone call, before the calendar date you set, just delete the follow-up reminder from the calendar. It’s simple, streamlined, and will save you time checking and re-checking your sent emails to see when you sent messages and to whom those messages were sent.

This tool will add just two buttons to your Outlook message editor. For a single-user license ($24), you will get lifetime use, new versions, and support for one year. You can download a free trial version first to see if it works for you.

8. Onetastic for OneNote

Free is always good, and that is exactly what Onetastic for OneNote is. If you already have Microsoft’s digital note-taking app OneNote and love it, you will be thrilled with this add-in that gives you even more functions. Onetastic allows you to:

  • Perform repeated tasks automatically,
  • Download additional macros as needed,
  • Set up calendar views for your OneNote pages,
  • Crop or rotate printouts and images,
  • Set up custom styles, just as Word does, and
  • Set up menus and tables of contents.

Videos and tutorials are available on the website, along with an FAQ section.

We are all looking for ways to boost our productivity, especially at work, and we all use lots of different methods for getting more organized and less stressed. Now, however, there are tools that can streamline the work itself. That’s a big plus.

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Elena Prokopets

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Last Updated on October 17, 2018

7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

How is your memory? Is your cognitive function as strong as you’d like it to be?

If not, then you’re definitely going to be interested in the memory improvement tips I’ll be sharing with you in this article.

Despite what you might think – or have been told – improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it. (Don’t worry, as you won’t need to make any significant lifestyle changes.)

So how to improve memory? Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve your memory significantly.

1. Meditate

We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts and figures into our conscious minds.

Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. And research suggests that the more information and distractions, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory.[1]

Fortunately, meditation can help you out.

Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

If you need help in shifting into a meditative state, I recommend trying an app like Headspace – which can assist you to achieve this in a convenient and structured way.

And don’t forget, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

2. Get plenty of sleep

If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then I’m guessing you’re not remembering well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities – including your memory.

How much sleep should you be getting?

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Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation, you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things.

Now, I’ll be honest with you, maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!). But if you care about improving your short-term and long-term ability to remember things, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

Are there ways to hack the sleep cycle?

Yes, there are.

Try these three things:

  • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
  • Don’t eat too late
  • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory…

3. Challenge your brain

When was the last time you challenged your brain?

I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or undersleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and memory games.

To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself, has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-thinking ability and memory.

There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

  • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
  • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
  • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live – while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it, try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

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4. Take more breaks

When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctively remember working all the hours under the sun – and many under the moon too!

At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat and tears.

However, I was wrong.

Taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

Let me explain.

Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it – in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

Namely, extended study sessions are rarely a good thing, as your ability to retain information naturally declines after a certain period of time.

It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

It’s the same with your brain. If you overload it with information, you’ll suffer from mental fatigue.

What’s the answer?

Make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

If you don’t want to be as regimented as that, then take breaks as soon as you find yourself losing the ability to focus on the new material. Your brain will thank you – and your learning aptitude will move up a level.

5. Learn a new skill

I love this quote, as it’s 100% true – but frequently overlooked:

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

Let me give you an example of this:

Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day – many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you – rather than letting you work in your own way.

Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like, and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction in to learning a new skill (computer coding). It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career – and the ongoing learning made the call centre job much more bearable.

Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking our new information. And when learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly, becomes a habit too.

6. Start working out

If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory.

Regular exercise increases blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. And a well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

“But I just don’t have the time?,” I hear you say.

Not a problem.

A research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise, offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines.[2] So, if you’re short on time – now you know what to do.

Interested in getting started?

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Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

  • Join a gym
  • Join a sports team
  • Buy a bike
  • Take up hiking
  • Dance to your favorite music

7. Eat healthier foods

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

This applies to your brain too.

The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health too.

Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery and dark chocolate. But anything high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory.

Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain – leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

Want to be mentally healthy? Then eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

  • Turmeric – helps new brain cells grown
  • Broccoli – protects the brain against damage
  • Nuts – improves memory
  • Green tea – enhances brain performance, memory and focus[3]
  • Fish oilfish oil supplements can increase your brain power

Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

Final thoughts

I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be of help to you.

You don’t need to implement them all. I suggest just trying the ones that appeal to you.

But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested. I’m confident you won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

Reference

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