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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 March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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