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It’s the same almost every year: Summer ends too abruptly, and we race headlong into fall without much planning or preparation. We end up with just enough time to get things done, but little for learning how to do things differently and more efficiently.

Right now, early September, is your window. Use this time to retool your work processes, and to learn new software features or ones that have long been right under your nose. Here are a few ideas to get you started—they require little effort but deliver substantial returns.

1. COLLABORATE IN REAL-TIME WITH THE DESKTOP VERSION OF EXCEL While you may have been working at half-steam during the summer, Microsoft sure wasn’t. The company released a handful of Office 365 collaboration features in August that promises to make you more productive.

Chief among them is co-authoring in the desktop version of Excel. (This feature is now available to Office 365 subscribers who have updated to Version 1707 Build 8326.2058 or later.) You may already be familiar with live collaboration in Excel Online, plus desktop and online versions of Word, PowerPoint and OneNote—the capability has been available for nearly two years. Its utility is enormous, and even more so when it’s used in full-featured desktop applications.

For example, instead of sending files back and forth or taking turns editing a file saved on a network or cloud drive, this feature enables you and your colleagues to get to work much more quickly. With the file open, you simply go to the sharing pane to grant Edit or View privileges, quickly find a colleague’s email address and presence information, and send an IM to begin working simultaneously.

Be sure to take a practice run with colleagues to ensure you understand the feature’s nuances. Trying it out for the first time while under a tight deadline could result in frustration.

2. STOP LETTING EMAIL BE THE BOSS OF YOU A few things we know for certain about email—we spend too much time on it1, we get too much of it, and it often makes us feel stressed and overwhelmed. Although there are countless books, websites, and apps devoted to helping people tame email and take back productivity, you can get a jump on your larger productivity goals by taking a few small steps today.

Revisit any email rules, categories, flags, search folders, Quick Steps, Quick Parts, and other features or automated tasks you may have already set up. Are they working as you envisioned? How can they be improved? Keep or modify what you need, and delete what you don’t. If you haven’t yet used any of these features, block out time to learn them. Also, be sure to check your junk email filter settings.

Other tools that can help increase your productivity include the scheduler, which enables you to set the time a specific message is delivered, the Send to OneNote feature, and templates.

3. USE SKYPE TO COLLABORATE PURPOSEFULLY Communications platforms like Skype are now central to workplace productivity. They enable you to collaborate in real time despite geographic limitations, they make it easy to share documents, to work together with colleagues and others on files, and to conduct productive meetings. They enable you to view your colleagues’ availability and set your own. And, perhaps most notably, they help you cut down on email overload.

But, like most technology, you need to put in a bit of effort to get the most out of Skype. If your experience with the application is limited to instant messaging and basic meetings, make a plan to learn some of Skype’s other features—including screen sharing, file sharing, and integrations with other applications such as Outlook.

Set aside time to learn a few things you didn’t know within some of your core applications. By doing so, you’ll make the transition from lazy summer to frenetic fall an easier one.


1. A 2012 McKinsey report found that employees spend more than a quarter of their time in the office reading, responding to, or writing emails. Researchers also report that the average person checks email more than 70 times a day.

Image: Freepik, designed by Vectorarte

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