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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

Elena is a passionate blogger who shares about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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