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.

Mind Like Water

Mind Like Water.

small goals are achievable goals.

I also like this simply because of the title, I’ve been recited this all week as my team gets busy doing the annual plan.

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.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix: How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks and Make Real Progress in Your Life

If I’m truthful I’ll tell you that I’m not a big fan of the Stephen Covey ‘7 Habits’ program. Maybe it was the trainer I had 20 years ago, maybe it was the group I was with but the four days I took to attend that seminar were four days I don’t remember fondly. Honestly I would have gotten more out of 4 hours of yoga and meditation.

There is one exception to this, a chart that for some reason has stuck with me and been one of the few concepts I’ve come back to in my career. It’s the Covey decision matrix that helps you sort work into categories. I’ve recently discovered that Covey based his work on the process that Dwight Eisenhower used so I’ll give the credit to the former president.


Not Urgent


Crises, deadlines, ‘fires’

Planning , improving, building relationships

Not Important

Interruptions and meetings


Most of the time we focus on urgent items – mistaking urgency for importance.  How many times have you had a request to ‘drop everything’ and do some bit of analysis that is going to be backup to some PowerPoint deck. Is that analysis going to create more benefits then what you were working on?

While we have to work on important and urgent items, most leaders don’t give their staff time to work on important and non-urgent work. This is where your staff is going to be able to improve that process that always fails.

In a prior job I inherited a 3 month backlog of work. When I got the right staff in place it took us 3 months to catch up and get up to date – but that was with 60+ hour weeks – we were in Q1, neglecting the work due tomorrow for the urgent work due today.

After 6 months I carved out some time for my team to work on a possible solution – so that they would be able to work without interruption I got them setup on a different floor. In three days they had revised our Excel workbooks and with another three days worth of work by them and some other teams we were able to upload information machine to machine. That gave us fewer errors, faster cycle times and less low value work. By the end of the first year my team was able to meet a three-day SLA. Twelve months earlier the team was taking two months to turn things around and set up projects. The shortsighted thought was that I was losing 10 days of effort to reality was I gained multiple person years.When you do something 100 times a week gaining 10 minutes a cycle adds up.

While it’s hard to say no to your boss – do you give feedback to explain why what you’re doing has benefits? And are you working on enough long term 2nd quadrant items?

And if your boss do you push your team to get out of Q1 and get into Q2? It’s my belief that part of being a good boss is pushing your team to do this even if it’s outside of their comfort zone.

Below is a good link to read more about the Eisenhower decision matrix.

Sync your budget folder and have it available whenever and wherever

If you’re in a planning role chances are you’re always looking at what the buildup for your budget was/is.  This sometimes occurs when you aren’t on the network.  I’ve had to look items up while on the train, at someone’s desk and during a natural disaster.

While VPN and WiFi make much of this easier than before there is still some benefit in having the files locally on your laptop.

You can use the built in Microsoft offline files capability to keep an synchronized version of the folders you need locally.  This doesn’t move the files outside of the corporate firewall like a Dropbox or SkyDrive does – it’s all done on your LAN.  Assuming that your laptop has the relevant security there isn’t a potential data leakage issue with this process.

what you'll see when you right click on the folder
what you’ll see when you right click on the folder

To turn this on navigate in Windows Explorer and right click on the folder you want to be available.  Select ‘Always available offline’.  That’s it.

I strongly suggest you do this at the end of the day and that you leave your laptop connected on the wired LAN.  You’re going to be copying the entire folder so you want to do it the fastest way possible and not slow you down.

Do you ‘shine’ your inbox? The upside of nothing in your inbox – quick and easy deletion of junk

I don’t know if clearing your junk mail out of your inbox is a ‘sort’ or a ‘shine’ task in the Kaizen 5S list but it’s definitely in there. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and I keep at it all day.

Somehow I’m on a lot of mailing lists.  I get emails from people wanting to discuss my developer needs, how I can optimize my company’s cloud services et cetera, et cetera.  And I quickly file that all with the delete button because none of this has anything to do with my job.

One thing I’ve discovered is that by getting my inbox down to zero items (that’s not zero unread, that’s zero as in empty) it’s exceedingly easy to see and purge that junk mail.  Of course I could (and I do) use Outlook’s ‘Rules’ function and move mail automatically to Junk or delete it.  That’s an easy and fast function to use – but I get enough ‘new’ junk mail it’s just as fast to highlight the items individually and delete them.

Deleting items is a crucial part of processing your email – we give it short shrift because… I guess it’s because deleting something doesn’t feel like accomplishing something like responding to a note does.  But leaving that email in place just adds to the confusion that’s your inbox – purging is just as important as flagging something for follow up.

It’s like keeping your desk relatively clean – the more organized it is – the easier it is to see what needs to get done.  So whether you classify it as a sort or as shine function it’s important to keep doing it.