How to stay afloat in your inbox!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an article. The reason is a job switch, since the project (where this blog is part of) has been completed . I’m glad to be part of the team Industrial Productdesign of Howest as an office manager! This means for you readers that I will no longer be writing hypothetical, but purely from my experience as an office manager. I like to tell you some of my (MS) office stories, mainly the most frustrating ones. ;)  And hopefully I’ll find some tips and tricks solving them. For starters..

Good to know in MS Outlook
A couple of months ago I took a quick MS Outlook course given by my IT colleague, Ms Willaert, of Howest. She has taught me a few tips in Outlook which I like to share with you guys. If you are one of those who plaster relative expensive post-it notes all over your desktop so you wouldn’t forget anything -like I did before – this article is definitely worth your time!
navigation pane

Many people limit Outlook to an e-mail processing program, but the software has much more to offer. If you use every aspect of the navigation bar, including calendar, tasks and contacts, you will see that it is a great tool to organize your professional life. And moreover, it is a flexible program that you can configure to how you want it…

Tip #1: Make Outlook Today your default page
I start my workday in Outlook Today, it gives a great overview of my upcoming appointments and current tasks. From here I can consult my messages as well. Outlook Today is an unique feature, as it consolidates all this important information.

Outlook does not start by default in the display of Outlook Today, but in the display of your inbox. If you like to change these settings to Outlook Today, click on your account name in the bar on the left (to open Outlook Today) and click on ‘Customize Outlook Today…’ in the right upper corner. I like this one a lot!

outlook today

Tip #2: How to get tasks and appointments out of your inbox
On the basis of an email, it is possible to plan an appointment in your calendar or to add a ‘To Do’ to your tasks. To do so: open an email which contains a save-the-date or a to-do, go to Quick Steps on the ribbon and choose -depending on the content of the email- ‘appointment with text of message’, ‘appointment with attachment’ or ‘task with text of message’ or ‘task with attachment’.

Make from an email which contains a ‘save-the-date’ an appointment in your calendar via the Quick Step ‘appointment with text of message’.

You probably have to make these specific quick steps, do this as follow: click in the ribbon on the arrow of ‘Quick steps’ to open the dialog box ‘Manage Quick Styles’ and select in the dropdown menu ‘New, ‘Custom’. In the dropdown menu ‘Choose an action’ you will find these options, click ‘finish’.

Tip #3: How to organize your inbox.
First of all, there are several ways to change the layout of your inbox (tab View > Layout). You have the Folder Pane on the left, the To-Do Bar on the right, the Reading Pane in the middle and the navigation bar below. Each of these can be turned on or off and can be adjusted to your preferences!

Short-term, there are different ways to organise your email. It’s up to you to decide which of the options (or combination of options) below you’ll use. I’ll shortly introduce them:

  • You can organize emails into a folder structure. It is similar to the way you save files in File Explorer. This means that you place an incoming email in a folder off the  (sub)folder pane on the left. You make a (sub)folder by right clicking on -for example- ‘Inbox’ > option ‘New Folder’. There are several ways to place an email into a folder: by dragging, using the shortcut menu, via Quick Steps, by creating a rule,…

    some examples of folders
  • Another way to organise your inbox is by creating and assigning color categories.

    First you have to decide which categories are meaningful to you and create them via the feature ‘Categorize’ on the ribbon. The same categories can also be applied on your calendar and tasks items. Just try to contain yourself from turning your inbox into a gayparade. Less is more. ;)

  •  If it is not possible to deal with an email immediately, you can flag the email. With  a flag you mark an email for follow-up. Flagged items also appear in the Tasks.

 With the feature ‘Filter Email’ on the tab Home it is possible to only show certain items, like mail with a specific category or flagged emails. 

Long-term, you can archive your email according logical time periods.

Further tips:
Unless your job requires otherwise, try to refrain from checking your inbox all day long. Twice a day is recommended, once in the early morning and at the end of your work day. 
I know, this is not as easy as it sounds, but it helps to turn off desktop alerts, these are the notifications that appear on your desktop when you receive a new email. In this way, you don’t let every new message interrupt your workflow and you’ll get more done!
You can turn them off by going to tab file > options > mail. Under ‘message arrival’ clear the notifications you wish.

If it reassures you, you can set up a notification for those emails who are marked with an exclamation mark. And in the end there is an other highly technological marvel where they can reach you, the telephone.

It is a waste of time to get back to an email you already read once, but that you need to read again in order to pick up and answer, isn’t it? Try to read emails when you have time to process them as well. If you really can’t hold your horses, and keep checking those emails, try to deal with the ones where you only need a couple of minutes to answer.. Flag the others so you know you still have to reply.

You don’t need to send thank you-emails, a ‘thanks in advanced’ will do.

Hope these tips will save you time, time which you can invest in reading my other articles, here below!

Based on MS Outlook 2016

How to reference titles in the header or footer

How do you repeat the title of each chapter in the header or footer of your document? If dividing the document into sections, unlink them and edit the sections manually one by one is your answer, this little article is worth reading.

If you’ve formatted your document with styles, the solution is not to use sections but the field Stylereference . This is easy and is furthermore an automatic way to create headers or footers which differ from each other in this area.

Suppose the title of each chapter is formatted with the style Heading 1, this is how you do it:

  1. Double click in the header or the footer and position your cursor where you want to reference the text
  2. The contextual tab Header and Footer Tools appears, click on the dropdown menu Quick parts > Field…
  3. In the dialog box Field, choose Links and References from the list Categories, select StyleRef from the list Field names list and Heading 1 from the list Style name.
  4. Make sure that the Preserve formatting during updates box is checked and click OK
  5. The text of heading 1 appears in the header or footer and varies depending on the current chapter.


I always start a new chapter on a new page, in this way a chapter never ends and begins on the same page. You can set this by formatting the paragraph of the style > Line and Page Breaks > Page break before.

You can use Styleref for each style you’ve used. You can, for example, mention the title of your document in the footer on the left hand page and the title of the chapter in the footer on the right hand page or separate them by an underscore or another symbol in the same footer.

Note that a lot of built-in cover pages of MS Word (you can find them under the tab Insert > dropdown menu Cover Page) contain content controls that are inserted in text boxes. If you like to reference such content control in the header/footer of you doc, you’ll first have to remove it from it’s text box, otherwise it won’t work.

There you have it, another advantage of formatting a text document with styles!

Based on Word 2016

Line things up!

You don’t have to be blessed with, as the Germans say, a fingerspitzengefühl for design to create professional-looking documents. The secret lies in a few basic rules that everyone – with a little bit of effort – can master. Today I discuss one of them: alignment.

Alignment unifies separate elements on a slide or a page. This principle visually organizes the information and shows how items are in one way or another connected to each other.

Slide2This is an extreme example of a poster with no alignment at all. Title, pictures and text blocks are arbitrarily placed on the page and parts that are closely related to each other are differently aligned. The text is aligned in three different ways: left, right and centered. This is practically a felony in the world of graphic design ;) More common is to choose one type of alignment that you repeat throughout the page. Besides that, centered text is generally not a good idea for professional documents, especially for body text, cause this makes reading more difficult. The poorly arranged poster creates a messy look and confuses the spectator.


This is the same poster after applying alignment. By following this easy principle the poster looks more elegant and professional. Each item has a visual connection to another item on the page. Note that the elements are not only vertically, but also horizontally aligned, along a baseline.

Try to align consequently. Use for example the same white space between different elements.

As said before, try to avoid centered alignment, this is not as strong as left or right alignment, and creates a less serious look.


How to align in MS Office
Both in PowerPoint and Word you can align selected objects relative to one another. Furthermore, you can align an element to the edge of the slide in PowerPoint, or in Word, to the edge of the page or margin. In PowerPoint you can snap objects to a grid but unfortunately, the option to align objects to drawing guides is missing. Depending on this choice you can check further alignment options: align left, center, right; align top, middle, bottom; distribute horizontally or vertically.

You can find the different align options on the contextual tab Drawing Tools > group Arrange > dropdown menu Align. On the tab Home in the group paragraph you can find the options to align text.

Robin Williams (namesake of the actor) discusses the principle of alignment together with other interesting design tricks in her book The Non-Designer’s Design Book, a must read!
For instance, she advices to combine alignment with the principle of proximity, which implies that you adjust the spacing between the items according to their relationship to each other. This results in good compositions.

Hope this leads to better and clear lay-outs for your future documents and maybe an extra book on your bookshelf!

How to make a boring bulleted list visually appealing

If one slide after another is filled with bullet after bullet, try this for a change!

Step 1: Click in the text placeholder or the text box and press Ctrl A to select all content
Step 2: Click right and choose Convert to SmartArt in the menu
Step 3: Choose the type of SmartArt graphic that visualize your information correctly: list, process, cycle, hierarchy,…

Tip: SmartArt is not so flexible and therefore often a pain to modify. Luckily, it is possible to convert a SmartArt graphic to shapes and text boxes. To do so select the SmartArt and press Ctrl + Shift + G twice or go to the contextual tab SmartArt Tools > tab Design > dropdown menu Convert (in the Group Reset) > Convert to Shapes.

The feature Convert to Shapes is not available in Word, but you can copy-paste from one application to another.








A bulleted list in PowerPoint








After converting the bulleted list to SmartArt







After converting the SmartArt graphic to shapes:
any shape can be moved, resized, or deleted independently of the remaining shapes.

How to work out the right size for images in MS Office

Instead of signing up for gym or telling yourself you’ll run at least once a week, try the following New Year’s resolution! Apply the right resolution for your images in the MS Office Suite.

To decide on the image size of your pictures in MS Office, you should always keep the target output at the back of your mind: is the picture part of a Word document that will be printed or is it inserted to a slide that will be projected?

The dialog box Compress Pictures on the contextual tab Picture Tools in Word provides good guidelines.

From this we can conclude that a printed picture should have minimum 220 ppi to look good on paper. But what does this mean exactly?

ppi stands for pixels per inch and 1 inch is equal to 2,54 cm

In terms of print, we express ourselves in centimeters or inches, we talk for example about an A4 of 21 cm x 29, 7 cm. So here is a little problem: suppose you insert a picture of 1024 x 664 pixels in your word document which you will eventually print. What are the maximum dimensions of the picture to make a print at a resolution of 220 ppi?

The answer is 11,82 x 7,67 cm or 4,65 x 3,02 inch. In this case these are the limits for a good print quality. (The calculation for e.g. the width in cm is 1024/220*2,54)

Forget about ppi, centimeters and inches to determine the resolution of your PowerPoint images. You just have to base the size of your digital images (in pixels) on the dimensions of your projection device (screen of projector). For example, if you project your presentation on your HD widescreen laptop with a screen-resolution of 1920 x 1080 (=1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels high), a full-slide picture should have a resolution of minimum 1920 x 1080 pixels to look sharp. If the picture fills only the right half of the slide, the resolution should be 1920/2 x 1080 or 960 x 1080 pixels. Simple enough, right?

If you like to show a full-slide picture on a projector, your image should at least be 1024 x 768 pixels as this is quite a common resolution for projectors. Though, mind you, these days a lot of projectors are being welcomed in the high definition world, so if you know this is the case, just use 1920 x 1080.

And we haven’t started about 4K yet. ;)

How to number your slides

Sometimes it’s handy to have slide numbers to refer to. How to number your slides is fairly easy so I’ll keep it short and simple!

Go to the tab Insert and click on the command Slide Number in the group Text. The dialog box Header and Footer opens. Tick Slide number and choose Apply or Apply to All et voilà, a slide number appears on the slide(s).

dialog box header and footer








If this does not work, you will have to change some settings in the Slide Master View.
Go to the tab View and click on the command Slide Master. The first larger slide in the slide thumbnail pane on the right is the Master Layout. This slide controls the associated layouts underneath and is the key to a lot of settings and automatisms, like slide numbers.

Screenshot master layoutClick on the command Master Layout on the tab Slide Master and tick the placeholder Slide Number > OK. Now the Master Layout has the # sign which you can format and position as you want (take the look and feel of your organisation into account).

Master Layout






Each layout positioned beneath the Master Layout has Title and Footers (i.e. date, slide number and footer) as default placeholders. You can tick these placeholders’ checkboxes on or off on the tab Slide Master. So if the slide number does not show up after you’ve adjusted the Master Layout, tick Footers (which include slide number) for each associated layout.
show or hide the footer placeholder

As of now you shouldn’t have any issues displaying slide numbers in normal view. Close the master view, go to the tab Insert and click on the command Slide Number in the group Text. Tick Slide number and choose Apply or Apply to All.

How to make a tri-fold in MS Word

A lot of informational or promotional brochures are made in-house, often by an office, communication or business manager and often in MS Office. Although MS Publisher is the most appropriate application of the MS Office Suite to design a brochure, I explain in this article how to do the job in MS Word. For the reason that most office workers are more familiar with MS Word, also because the wordprocessor uses styles, which are a great help when it comes down to formatting textual content and simply because it is possible!

Starting from a blank (A4) document, this is how you make a trifold.

Go to the tab (Page) Layout, group Page Setup and adjust the following things:
Change the Page Orientation into Landscape.
Open the dropdown menu Margins and choose Narrow
(=1,27 cm or 0.5 inch for Top, Bottom, Left and Right margin)
Open the dropdown menu Columns > More Columns…the dialog box Columns opens.

The Number of columns depends on the desired number of folds: choose two columns if you want to make a bi-fold and three columns if you want to make a tri-fold. Since this article is about tri-folds I choose Three.

The distance between the columns has to be twice the space of the Margins. So if you have margins of 1,27 cm or 0.5 inch the Spacing has to be 2,54 cm or 1 inch.

As a trifold has 3 equal-size panels on each side it is important that the option Equal column Width is checked.

Check also Line between so you can see the fold line between the different columns or panels of the tri-fold. When you’re done with formatting and ready to print, you can uncheck this option again.

Click on OK

Now the document has the settings of a trifold, you can start designing. But which content belongs where? It is difficult to imagine the end result when looking at the blank pages on your screen. So, I advise to take a piece of paper, fold it as a trifold and number each panel to the order in which you would open it. The video below is a guideline.


Thus, the document is to be formatted as follows:

Tips to design your trifold further:

  • Activate your Show/Hide marks (tab Home, group Paragraph)
  • Add column breaks to ensure that each panel of your trifold contains information that stands by itself and makes sense (tab Page Layout, dropdown menu Breaks)
  • Like always, use the color palette and the fonts that are associated with the brand of your organisation. Hey, what did you think? ;)
  • Use Styles to format headings, standard text, list paragraph, quotes,… this is after all one of the advantages of working in MS Word. You can create a new style set or reuse a style set of a previous brochure (on condition that it is consistent with the corporate identity). Go to the tab Design and Save as a New Style Set… or choose a Custom Style Set.
  • Be creative! Change the background colour, insert several similar shapes and fill it with pictures, highlight special text in coloured text boxes/callouts, put one big picture behind the text of panel 2, 4 and 5 or panel 2 and 3 (as suggested in the video),… whatever you do, try to fit all elements within the look and feel of your organisation

On Pinterest you can find lots of examples to inspire you!

I’ve made a basic template for my colleagues of Howest to get started, containing styles and with the right Theme Fonts and Theme Colours. All content is adjustable.

Howest_template trifold
Howest_template trifold 2

And this is an example of a tri-fold I’ve made with the template, it’s in Dutch.

Howest_voorbeeld trifold

Howest_voorbeeld trifold 2




How to format your Excelsheet and improve your productivity

These days it’s all about christmas lights and glühwein, but for many it’s also the end of the fiscal year. And sadly, that means that we are faced with many figures, calculations and formulas. Besides the glühwein this complex data might make your head spin, especially when the info is poorly presented. Time to clear your mind and your doc!

In this article I’ll explain how to display data in an Excel worksheet and which formatting can be set automatically.

The first step to a clear and professional looking worksheet starts, like always, with the theme. Change the theme of the default template into the customized one (that you’ve made) of your organisation (to do so: go to tab Page Layout > dropdown menu Themes > your theme). The corporate fonts and colours are now integrated in the file and also, content like shapes, tables, charts,… that you have inserted or will insert will be based on that specific theme.

Further formatting depends on the kind of information you would like to format:

How to format text into a worksheet
Don’t start each line of text at the beginning of a new row.
It is frustrating to do and confusing for co-workers who want to edit the text but don’t know which cell they have to adjust.

each line of text starts at column A: A4, A5 and A6. The cells next to A4, A5 and A6 are empty.

Don’t resize a cell either to insert all text. That one big cell will be a pain to format the rest of your content. Instead, make it easy on yourself and enter (a) paragraph(s) of text in a text box. Also, in this way you have more functionality at your disposal (text and paragraph editing tools)

If you don’t like the look of the text box of which the outlines do not cover the cells perfectly, you can uncheck the Gridlines on the tab View. But it’s better to do this after you’ve done with formatting, cause they are quite handy when it comes to Ranges of cells and Tables.

How to format typical Excel content like a cell, a range of cells, tables and charts

The most popular commands are displayed on the tab Home.  For more options, right click on the cell and choose ‘Format Cells…’, you can format Number, Alignment, Font, Border, Fill and lock or hide cells.

But it would take a long time to format each cell manually. For different sorts of content you can use cell styles or set a New Cell Style… (tab Home). If you use these cell styles consistently you’ll obtain a well structured worksheet that enables you to identify the following information at first glance: Good, Bad and Neutral / Data and Model / Titles and Headings /… there are also Themed Cell Styles and each style can be modified.


You can quickly change the look of a table via Table Styles on the contextual tab Table Tools. These are based on the theme of the document, but if these don’t fulfil your needs, you can also create a New Table Style. Click on the dropdown menu Table Styles > New Table Style… Unlike Styles in Word, it is not possible to copy the direct formatting of a table straight away to create a new table style. You can set the New Table Style as default table style for the document.

A Range (of cells)
As you can format a table quickly via Table Styles, it is clever to convert your range of cells into a table, give it the right formatting, i.e. table style and convert it back again to a Range. The formatting of the table will be maintained. This workaround might save you quite some time!
To convert a range into a table: select the cells, click on the tab Home > Format as Table or on the tab Insert > Table. To convert it back again to a range, click on Convert to Range on the contextual tab Table Tools.

Tip: Unlike the cells of a table, you can merge cells of a range (tab Home > dropdown menu Merge & Center) If you want to merge cells of a range, first give it the right formatting (by converting it into a table, choose a table style and convert it back again to a range, see above) If you convert a range with merged cells into a table you’re asking for trouble!

Header 1 Header 2 Header 3
Cell Cell Cell

Merged cell

Cell Cell Cell

Range with a merged cell

Header 1 Header 2 Header 3
Cell Cell Cell

Merged cells

Cell Cell Cell

After converting the range with the merged cell into a table: the merged cell is unmerged.

Header 1 Header 2 Header 3
Cell Cell Cell

Merged cells

Cell Cell Cell

After converting the table into a range again: the formatting of the table is preserved, but the merged cell stays unmerged.

Tip: If you want to clear the formatting of a Table or a Range, click on the dropdown menu Clear on the tab Home and choose Clear Formats.

The same for tables goes for charts: they are based on the theme of the document, but you can also adjust a chart and save it as a template.

Before you unpack your christmas gifts don’t forget to pack the workbook as an Excel template: go to the tab File > Save As > Save as type: Excel Template (.xtlx). Now you have a template which you can reuse year after year, you just have to open it as a normal Excel Workbook (.xlsx) and replace the content.

If you want to print the workbook, take a look at the Page Break Preview on the tab View to see how your file will be printed.

Happy holidays!