MSDN blog – 240 Free Microsoft Technical books

Microsoft’6558.image_thumb_529B9DB2s MSDN network is giving away a mess of free technical books. There are a number of guides on Outlook/Excel/OneNote plus a bunch on Sharepoint which isa hot topic where I work.

Many of the books are aimed at IT pros and not end users but there looks to be some nuggets of insight. I’ve already looked at Skype for Business – Meetings and think that it will get added to the ‘welcome package’ we’ve put together for new hires.

I’m also going to look at the Office on Windows 8.1 as I’m struggling to get Excel working on my phone and the How To Recover That Un-Saved Office Document is something we all need occasionally.

Hurry up and see what’s available and if you find something surprisingly good please share it in the comments.

Question from a reader; how would I set up a system for financial sales?

This week I got an interesting (if long note) from someone – we’ll call them AP.  I thought it would make a nice blog item and hopefully we’ll get some comments and ideas from more than just me.  I’ve changed some details to anonymize the commenter but other than that it’s as is/where is.

I read your Outlook /GTD article, and I was wondering if I trouble you for some of your time to see if you can help me with some items.

I work in financial sales. My company has a very stringent email retention policy, and they are also very adverse to using any sort of CRM.

I am responsible for sourcing & executing deals. I also have ADD so, having a system is CRITICAL.I have been trying to find a way to track: 1) Project Tasks (ie Deals/Prospective Deals), Sourcing Tasks (reminders to call brokers/principals), Meeting Tasks (arranging & following up), as well as keeping track of emails, reminders, etc…

I have also been using Evernote as an “External Brain” to keep notes on my deals. Each Deal has its own processes (eg. Initial Review, Submit Offer, Due Diligence & Closing) and any where along these processes the deal good die.

I need help seeing my way through a system w/i Outlook (using GTD?) and/or Evernote in order to be more efficient.

Pls let me know if you have thoughts or ideas…


Ok, so AP is trying to manage their sales funnel in Outlook and doesn’t want to add on any software.  That’s fair and frankly in my experience many of the CRM tools in place are really all that helpful.  I’ve worked on a number of systems from Siebel to Salesforce – it’s just more software IMHO unless it’s done really, really well.

Breaking it down I see this as trying to track items in three dimensions:

  • Stage within funnel
  • Individual Project
  • Kind of task

In a pure GTD implementation “Kind of task”, would be handled by the Context such as “Calls” or “Office”.  We could use a category in lieu of context OR we could use folders.

The other idea is that Outlook already has some of the Kinds of task baked into already.

Meetings are already available – you can assign a category to a meeting so that’s a possibility.

Tasks can have a category too.


Here’s how I would structure things:

Set up a series of categories named –

  • @Project Tasks
  • @Sourcing Tasks
  • @Meetings

Set up another series of categories named by customer/deal AP is working on

  • ^alpha
  • ^bravo
  • ^charlie

(using the carat or the @ symbol is a way to group the categories together since Outlook defaults to an alphabetical list)

I’d then go ahead an create some quick tasks.  The first few would be to assign a category to an email from the first set.  I’d then setup a second row that would assign categories from the list of projects available.

Lastly I’d set up some quick steps so that AP could file the email into a task/meeting/to-do as needed.   Or just file it away.

Of course getting the items categorized is only half the battle – there is still a need to create views within Outlook to show all the Tasks that correspond to.

A view could be created that showed just the ‘@Meetings’ Category.  I’ve attached a screen shot of the filters that can be applied to a calendar view.

Calendar Filter view - categories
Calendar Filter view – categories







And to a task view:

Task categories filter
Task categories filter

I’m not sure that this gets to 100% of the original question.  Usually I try something, fail, try something a bit different and eventually get to 97% of what I want to do.

Microsoft releases 130 eBooks for free on their MSDN blog

Just a quick post as I’m busy and tired today but here’s a good link to a bunch of free eBooks by Microsoft. Most of them are technical and aimed at IT pros but I’m sure there are a lot of accountants that are looking at using and deploying SharePoint and Dynamics at their work.

Mid-week Macro – custom menu buttons in Excel

Like the last post in this series, this week’s isn’t strictly about a macro, it’s about doing something useful with a macro. We’re going to create a button in the Quick Access Toolbar (the section above the Ribbon) that will run a specific macro with one click.

There are a couple of ways you can run a macro, the most obvious is to go to the Developer section of the ribbon bar then click on Macros. You can create a button that sits in the worksheet itself and runs a macro when clicked. Excel also allows you to add buttons to the menus at the top of the window. This last option is great for macros that are used for formatting or other routine uses.

To start with move the mouse to the top of the Excel window and right-click. You should see something like this:

01 right clck

Select the Customize Quick Access Toolbar option and you'll now see:

02 Quick Access dialog

Select Macros. At this point I’ll make an aside and comment on how many non-macro options you have. (this is where I finally found the option to automatically paste values, something I do all the time. It was much easier to find in Office 2003)

Now select the macro you wish to run when you click that button. Click on the Add button in the centre column (another aside – this is where you can remove buttons. You would select the item in the right column and click Remove)

03 add the macro

When you do this you’ll be asked to pick a button. You can select what ever you want but I suggest that you pick something relevant and memorable.

04 select button image

I’ve selected an arrow button for my DEL_cel_shift_left macro. Now that I’ve thought about it I probably should have selected a button that pointed the other way.

05 result

Once you click on the various OK buttons you’ll now have a new button at the top of your Excel window. Click on it and you off!

07 final result

As I mentioned before you can also create buttons for non-macro commands.

OneNote now available for Mac

I’ve been a fan of OneNote for a while now. Its tight integration with Outlook and the other MS Office products is great in a corporate setting. The one area that it was lacking was a Mac native application. Sure you could use the web app – but that was limited.

But that limitation is gone now – Microsoft has now released an OneNote Mac app. Better yet – it’s free.

I’ll update this blog once I get a chance to use the application and can test it somewhat. Until then you can download it through the App Store –

OneNote – add some ‘everywhere’ to your workload

There was a series of ads for a local TV station back in the 80’s and 90’s, the tag line was ‘City TV – Everywhere‘.  Sometimes work seems to be with us everywhere and sometimes I’m okay with that.  I’d rather leave a bit earlier and catch up on some things later that night when I’m fresh instead of missing a train and struggling to finish something when I’m not at 100% after a long day. This post is about one of the tools I use to do this – Microsoft’s OneNote.

I happen to use OneNote, this posting less about why I choose this particular tool and more about specifically what I use OneNote for and how I’m managing it.

First off OneNote is part of the core MS Office applications – that means it’s part of all the MS Office packages you can buy – even the heavily discounted student versions.  OneNote mimics the layout and ‘feel’ of a conventional planner.  You have notebooks (we’ll key in on that later), sections and pages.  In a way it’s like a conventional ring binder – you can add and subtract pages at will.

OneNote's general layout, I have 4 notebooks, this particular notebook has a number of sections across the top.
OneNote’s general layout, I have 4 notebooks, this particular notebook has a number of sections across the top.

What breaks the paradigm is OneNote’s ability to be synchronized across cloud services or file servers.  Imagine a planner that you can have with you at work, at home, on the road or in your bed.  Have access to all your notes always and have access to them offline as well.

That anywhere access is what I use the most – currently I’m writing this post on a Mac and using a web app (typing in a browser), later I might want to use my tablet and tomorrow I might want to edit it a third time over lunch off of my work PC.  OneNote is going to automatically sync up the versions and I can work seamlessly.

Up to this point everything I’ve said about OneNote is the same with Evernote it’s biggest competitor (well except for the included in MS Office, but there is a free version of Evernote so it’s a push).

What I like about OneNote is that I can set up different kinds of sharing of each notebook.  You can share a notebook on a fileserver.  That’s a nice secure method – it’s inside the corporate firewall and you can password protect the file too.  Do things like that and no information is stored out on the internet.  I use this kind of sharing for our month end checklist, being financial information I don’t want that information stored on a third party service.

I also store one notebook on a cloud service – this one has no proprietary information.  It has my blogging ideas and backup.  It also has some work things that I want to work on.  A memo on changing a process – there’s nothing confidential there but it’s the kind of thing I’d like to polish over a couple of days.  It’s something that I can do off of my personal tablet.  The alternative would have been to email it to myself and mail it back again.  That’s not very productive and isn’t particularly secure either.

The ability to work off of something that’s not my work PC is the real benefit.  How many times are you bored and sitting in the waiting area while the kids are at their weekly dance/music/swim/riding lessons?  You might not want to carry a full fledged laptop, but bringing along an iPad or Surface isn’t much.  Play a bit of Hearts, type up some stuff from work and surf the internet.

OneNote also has a built in screen capture capability.  For my Mid-week macros posts that is how I’m capturing those screen shots.  It’s a one keystroke function and it’s been very helpful for doing post-implementation cleanup on a recent system rollout I’ve been involved in.  Unlike some screen shot capture programs you can get the screen shot and type up the notes – what was the problem, why is it a problem, etc. right with the picture itself.

There are a number of other features of OneNote that are great but I’ll end things here.  Hopefully you get a sense of what OneNote can do and many get some ideas as to how it can work within your daily work routine.

How a ‘5 minutes a day’ Mentality Makes a Difference

Two or three minutes a day doesn’t sound like much, even when you consider that 5 minutes a day adds up to 3 days a year. It’s such a small time period that many people won’t try to save that much.  They’ll say it’s not worth it.

But it all adds up.  If you can save 5 minutes a day on your email (and you can) that’s 5 minutes you can use to do something else.  Maybe you can invest that 5 minutes into saving some more time, maybe the investment becomes catching the earlier train on Friday.  The savings is yours, you just need to be open to finding it.

I’ve found that looking for the small time savings becomes a habit.  It’s becomes a mindset.  Spend a bit of time making a macro – maybe the payoff is only for that one workbook – but if you get really comfortable doing macros they’ll get done faster.  This week I needed a macro to work around some data issues.  I probably won’t use that exact code again but it’s in my toolbox and I’m exercising my VBA muscles.

It’s like a vlookup in Excel, once you do a lot of them they become second nature and they’re no longer hard to do.  Record enough macros and you’ll remember all those funny bits of code and come back to reuse them.

Make enough Outlook Quick Steps and you’ll start making them for anything.  I made one for year end accruals, something I needed for 2 weeks.  It was faster to spend 3 minutes making a rule then having to process 3 emails in the normal manner.

When it’s faster to make it and then use it compared to the alternative you’re in the really productive zone.

So don’t say ‘I don’t have enough time’, in today’s fast paced world you need to make some time to save more time.