Author: Colette Fuller – Senior Learning Technologist, Centre for Collaborative Learning

Anyone making their first steps back to the office after almost 18 months? Some of you will be very keen to get back (me!) and some may be less so, and some may be looking forward to a new hybrid mix of office/home working. This is another way of working that many of us won’t necessarily be used to, but it might be a good option moving forward.

We had a big change when we started adjusting to working from home last March and we may have created new habits or practices that maybe we felt a little uncomfortable with, or even surprised about. For myself this was a return to paper. This was particularly strange for me when I was used to doing most of my work online and using different apps to manage my workload. Somehow working from home was a different in terms of my technology use and I quite liked making notes and writing lists of jobs to do and ticking them off! The psychologists out here may have a reason for this! I found it awkward typing onto my screen whilst I was in the middle of a meeting – I couldn’t focus on the people in the meeting and type at the same time, so I quickly started filling notebooks.

Luckily these past few months I have been going back to my favourite apps, getting more use out of them, scanning important notes, and generally getting myself more in order. These steps have made me reflect on colleagues’ experiences of managing their workload in multiple locations and how things might change when you do make that return to the office.

So here are my favourite apps and tools to make that transition a bit easier and hopefully help you feel a little more organised and in control. All these apps are available via Microsoft 365, in the Microsoft Store, and on both Android and Apple devices. I would be really interested in hearing your tips and favourite apps and what works best for you too!

OneNote

The infamous notebook app! This is one of my favourite apps, for many reasons. It’s a great app for collecting research, personal notes, documentation, and emails related to different work streams and projects. It’s ideal to store digital print outs of articles and reports (especially when wanting to keep paper to a minimum) and when you feel you need to empty your brain and get all your thoughts in order it’s a good place to do that too. Since lockdown I have used the Lens app (see my list further down) to scan handwritten notes and I am able to convert these to text too. I could talk about OneNote for hours, it has so many uses.  

OneNote help and learning.

Microsoft To-do

If you really like ticking off tasks, then the To-Do app may appeal to you. You can store lists of jobs, allocate deadlines for them, order them in different lists, and tick them off your list with a satisfying ping! This also works with Outlook, and you can mark emails which have some actions to complete too. I am the sort of person that remembers random tasks when I am stood in a queue somewhere, so I find it helpful that I can quickly add it to my list on my phone, which I can then look at when I’m next online. What I also find useful about the To-Do app is that I can quickly access completed tasks, almost like an archive which is useful for one to ones and appraisals, when providing a summary of work you’ve been involved in. Maybe making your notes and summary in OneNote!

To Do Help and learning

Microsoft Planner

If you manage a team, manage a project or lots of tasks with other people, a useful app for you might be MS Planner. This is a brilliant tool for managing team tasks. You can create buckets to store tasks in, allocate them to individuals, and then monitor progress as work progresses. What I really like is the visual aspect of MS Planner, it displays progress in chart form, and it’s easy to see the status of tasks, which are running late and enables you to keep on top of things. This has full integration with MS Teams – if you already have a Teams space for your project then you can add your Planner in there too, so a handy one-stop shop for everything for your project.

Planner help and learning

Microsoft Lens

Microsoft Lens is invaluable when you have lots of bits of paper and you need to digitise them. If like me you have pages of notes in a paper notebook, various print outs, maybe handouts that you’ve been given on courses/conferences and you’d like to keep them?  This is where the Microsoft lens app is really powerful. You can take a photo of these notes with the app (almost like scanning on a printer but better!) The app will allow you to choose what type of content it is, so a piece of paper will be cropped and you can add filters to it to enhance it. You can then save it in lots of different formats, I like to put it in OneNote. You can then even copy the handwritten text to typed text if that looks neater for you. Getting rid of all those paper notes is very satisfying! Try it!

Microsoft Lens for iOS

Microsoft Lens for Android

Microsoft Sticky Notes

This is such a simple little app which is really useful when you just need to make a quick note or pop a reminder on your screen. It’s a digital version of the good old post it note. You can choose from a multitude of colours to keep your attention on your desktop and add various formats to them. A great extra with Sticky Notes is that they also appear in OneNote, so little sticky notes can grow into a OneNote page.

Get started with Sticky Notes

Supercharge your apps!

All these apps are great to use independently, but what I really get enthused about is how powerful they are together. Many of these apps are integrated so quite a lot of the time you can access in one app – so less jumping between apps makes work feel more streamlined!

  • Outlook on the web has some excellent features which don’t exist within the desktop version (although I hope they will in the future). One of these features is the To-do integration, so you don’t need to even leave the app to access your tasks – you can also drag emails into the To-do pane and it will automatically create them for you. You can then also toggle between calendar and to do items, and it will highlight any deadlines on those tasks in your calendar.
  • Another handy addition is the OneNote feed. As I mentioned earlier, sticky notes appear in OneNote as they may develop into OneNote pages, but you can also access these notes in Outlook too.  
  • If you like the To Do app, and use Planner with your Team – then you might like to know that you can add an app to MS Teams called ‘Tasks by Planner and To Do’ this brings together your personal tasks from To-Do and team tasks from Planner in one place, again less toggling between apps.
  • One last thing is the new integration of To-do in Teams, so you can mark a chat or a post as a To-do and it will appear in your list – now that IS useful!

Last but not least…these are some great features which exist in multiple apps and might just help you with your productivity.

Immersive Reader

If you have reports, long documents to read on screen then Immersive Reader is a great tool use – this will enable you to focus on smaller portions of text which might be a bit easier on your eyes, easier to read, or you can use the ‘Read aloud’ option, if you’d rather listen to what’s written.

OneNote Learning Tools

Listen to your Word documents

Dictate

Another useful option if you need to draft a document or write an email. If you are struggling to get words down, then just dictate them instead. This can sometimes be a good way to get started, to get some content down and you can correct it later – the dictate feature exists in Word, Outlook (desktop) and OneNote for Windows 10 and online.

Dictate in Microsoft 365

Focus Plan

Some of the insight features built into Office 365 can help you with your personal productivity. The Focus Plan in Outlook can help you schedule time for your top-priority work by planning up to four hours every day to focus. You can of customise it to meet your own needs. I switched this on, not really with any idea of how it would work, but I do appreciate the 2 hours allocated each day with no Teams or chat notifications – I can just get on with my work, and then look at messages when I get a chance. Worth a try!

Using Focus Plan

Tips for using these apps

If you are new to these apps and are feeling like you want to try something new, please don’t expect to use all of them at once! Feeling forced to do something in a different way can be a challenge, so pick one that appeals to you the most and give it a try, maybe practice with a colleague, see what it offers you, and if it will save you time and effort.

Be patient, it can be hard to change habits so take your time. However, utilising some of these apps will hopefully help you when working in different locations; whether that’s at home, in a café, in the office or whilst travelling. I’d like to think they will help you feel more in control of your workload, or at least your task list, not necessarily whether you can complete it! Give some of them a try and let us know what you think.


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