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

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. ;)

To bear in mind when designing slides

Things you might have heard before, but are a good reminder.

  • Pictures are superior to text!
    Maybe you remember in primary school how you showed the rest of the class pictures when you had to give a talk, those pictures from back than are the slides of today. You do the talking, the slides are there to visually support your message.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words, at least a good picture! So be picky in selecting images, use high quality and vivid photos.
  • Limit text on your slide, get rid of details and include only the essentials (you can mention details in your speaking notes)
  • All text should be short and snappy: use powerful single words, short sentences or a few concise sentences.
  • Bring up one main idea per slide: don’t overload your audience with too much information at once, give them time to process all information.


Get rid of boring Word docs!

In the beautiful brochures – which are made by the communication department of Howest in the Adobe suite – text is sometimes surrounded by coloured frames. It is one of the ingredients for a fresh Howest look.

Luckily, this types of style elements are not exclusive to the Adobe suite. You can perfectly integrate them in MS Word to spice up long, dull documents. Though the method of working in Word may differ from the one in Adobe and is not always so obvious.

Take the coloured frames for example, you may think – just as I thought – to integrate them via the feature Text Box on the tab Insert. This is okay for normal text, but I noticed that text boxes do not work for numbering like in multilevel styles and footnotes. If you put such “special” text in a text box, the numbering of the list is no longer correct.

A solution to integrate this element without losing the numbering? Insert a
Rectangle (tab Insert > shapes) instead of a Text Box, give it a lively colour and put it behind the text via the feature Send Backward > Send Behind Text on the contextual tab Drawing Tools.

The document above is made in Word. Besides little style elements like the coloured frames, the page number in little triangles, the text balloons, … the document catch the eye by using a lot of colour and contrast!

By integrating these little style elements you are one step closer to a fun and readable document!

How to round the corners of several rectangles equally?

Aiming for a consistent look, you like to apply the same round corners for the picture as for the text box below. This seems logical, but it’s not so obvious in MS Office…

Both picture and text box are Rounded Rectangles: one with picture fill and the other one used as a text box.

When you select one Rounded Rectangle, a yellow diamond handle appears in the upper left. By dragging this handle, you can adjust the rounding of the corner.

But when both Rounded Rectangles are selected, no yellow diamond handles show up. In other words, it is not possible to round the corners of both shapes simultaneously.

Nevertheless, it is possible to resize several shapes, change the fill and the outline, the shape, the text fill, the position, the text wrapping,… of several shapes simultaneously. So why is it not possible in this case? That’s a shame.

If you want several Rounded Rectangles with the same size, copying one shape with the desired curvature is a good solution.
But when you resize a copied Rounded Rectangle, the radius of the corners does not remain the same. So this is not a solution for the given example, of which the text box is a lot lower than the photo frame.

Is there a way to resize a Rounded Rectangle without the corners changing?

Knowing the exact degree of the rounding would be a great help, as it would enable you to apply the same radius to all round corners, but such indicator does not pop up (cfr. the Adobe suite).

Trying to imitate the same curving by sight seems the only way to get equally rounded corners. It does not take much effort to do this once, but imagine this rounded corners are part of your corporate identity… adjusting each rectangle individually would take up a lot of time. Besides, this working method gives you no control on the exact degree of curve so consistency is virtually impossible.

Feel free to share any insight on this problem or another workaround!

Based on MS Office 2013

How to make coloured headings: PowerPoint versus Word

One of the most striking elements of the corporate identity of Howest University College West Flanders are the pink (magenta) text bars, as you can see in the folder below.

The layout of this folder is made by the communication department in the Adobe suite. But what about MS Office? In other words, how can lecturers of Howest implement this style element in a presentation or in their course material? I tried it out in PowerPoint and Word!

This post seems very much focussed on the branding of Howest, but similar headings are very popular in the world of graphic design. I collected a few examples on Pinterest.

In Word this style element can be introduced as a heading that you can add to the styles gallery if desired. Select the text of your heading and click on Shading on the tab Home. Choose the colour of the shading. (For your convenience you can install the corporate colours as theme colours, so you don’t have to set the RGB values of your corporate colours each and every time.)

Depending on whether you only select the text or the entire paragraph, this is the result:


In PowerPoint this style element can be used as the title of the presentation, to emphasize the central idea of each slide, to present a quote,… But unlike Word the feature Shading is not available for text in PowerPoint (if I am mistaken please correct me!) Also different from Word is that text in PowerPoint is always inserted in a text box or a placeholder (slide master)… So the way to achieve the same look is by colouring this boxes with the function Shape fill on the tab Home or the contextual tab ‘Drawing tools’. Resize shape to fit text ensures that the pink box corresponds to the length of the text (to do so: right click of the mouse on shape, format shape, size and properties, text box).

This is the result in PowerPoint:

If you take a look closer and compare the end result of the two methods, you can notice a tiny difference between the pink bars in Word and the ones in PowerPoint: the headings in Word look more cut off than the text boxes or placeholders in PowerPoint. This is because text boxes or placeholders have a left, right, top and bottom margin of which you can adjust the spacing. This does not seem possible via the feature Shading in Word.


Of course, it is also possible to introduce the pink bars as a text box with margins in Word, but since Word is a word processing program it is more logical to implement this style element as a heading style in the Styles gallery.

Based on MS Office 2013

How to get your favourite image in a shape

My colleague and I used to have a very complex way of inserting an image into a shape. While I was listing all these steps for my new blogpost,  I came to realize that this complex process did not meet the standard MS Office usability. My hunch was confirmed when  I searched for an easy method of working and found one! I’m glad to share this shorter method with you.

Insert a shape (to do so: go to the tab ‘insert’ > ‘shapes’), go to the contextual tab ‘drawing tools’, click on the dropdown menu ‘shape fill’ and choose ‘picture’. Select the picture you like to insert.

picture in shape_1

Now the image is in the shape, but does look stretched or squashed and may not positioned the way you want.

To fix this, there’s just one more small thing to do: select the shape, go to the contextual tab ‘picture tools’, go to the crop function and choose ‘fill‘ in the drop-down menu. Now the dimensions of your picture are respected and you can position the picture as you prefer.

picture in shape_2
Tip: Use the shift key!

Based on MS Office 2013