Videos: changing Visio and Color Palettes

I created two instructional videos today for our internal audiences. I used SnagIT version 12. The first video was on swapping out Visio files within a Visio Web Part.

The second video covers changing a site’s color palette. We reference a specific color palette we called DSA Hokie, but any color palette can be substituted.


GTD using Outlook and SharePoint

For those who don’t know, GTD is following David Allen’s model for “Getting Things Done.” I have been using his systems for years with varying degrees of success. When I capture everything the GTD way, it makes it easier to figure out where you should spend your time.

Being on Gmail for so long at work I had gotten away from the habit of GTD. I know there are a number of online services and apps out there to manage tasks, but none of them quite got me so far as using Outlook to manage my tasks, because I could move things from emails to tasks, to calendar, etc. One complete system.

When I was due to come back to PC, I must say I sighed a quiet sigh of relief, and I looked forward to getting it. Since I used to use SharePoint for task management at my previous work, I decided to incorporate my task list on my Admin site with my Outlook.

Only thing was, I wanted to have my GTD categories in both systems. How to do that when SharePoint’s custom fields don’t cross over? Modify a field that does.

The two fields that appeared to come over were “Custom Priority” and “Custom Status”. Because SP’s status field is tied into other functions, I couldn’t use it, but Priority was wide open, so I replaced the choices within the Priority list with my GTD categories of Project, Task, Next Actions, etc. It syncs beautifully, and on both systems I can set up a view that groups them by GTD categories. Score!

Using rules to clean my inbox

I love Outlook and its ability to keep me on track. I implement GTD, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and I also incorporate the McGhee Solutions for Productivity which basically takes the GTD methodology but then implements it as fully as possible in Outlook. I have been using their methods since 2007, only moving away from it when I didn’t have Microsoft Office at work.

I am so pleased to have it back again. As much as I enjoy Gmail, it’s just not very good at task management, and even implementing Evernote and TickTick as companions, I never quite got my GTD system working the way I like.

One of the things that makes my Outlook work so well as the capability of assigning rules and categories. In the olden days I didn’t use “conversation” sorting – I found it annoying and cumbersome, but it’s come a long way, and with Gmail defaulting to that, I have gotten used to it more. My old way of moving files from certain people to certain folders doesn’t quite work in my new setting here, because we have a lot of cross-functional teams at my university, so now I find it easier to use categories and then move all the read emails into one folder.

I have a bunch of categories – one for each department, one for each of my supervisors (yes – I have a few), and then one for each of the committees I am heavily involved in.

While I would love to turn on the rules as the emails come into the inbox, I don’t like having unread emails in subfolders. If I can’t see them, I don’t do anything with them. So I will have to disable my rules until I can run my macro from It took me forever to find this macro. I knew it had to exist, because I had used something similar before, but it took me quite a while to locate it.

Now to test it on the inbox. I hope to have a moment soon to do that.

Making Templates for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

Today I made templates in MS Word, MS Excel, and MS PowerPoint. Why? Because of a feature/glitch in SharePoint Online. Site owners – read on.

Creating templates

Using templates in your daily operations is actually good practice. It saves you from needing to open a file, do a save as, and then delete the content before starting over. Working from a template ensures that all documents look the same.

Templates tend do have a t as part of their file extension: Word.dotx, Excel.xltx, PowerPoint.potx

For my Word document, I added the filename, page numbers, and a last modified date to the footer of the document.

For my Excel document, I added the filename, page numbers, and the current date to the footer of the document.

For PowerPoint, I asked one of our CIT designers to provide me with a template and just uploaded it.

All of the templates include corporate colors and fonts.

Once I saved out my templates, I uploaded them to SharePoint for everyone to use. (Note, apparently you cannot save template files directly to SharePoint Online – at least it wouldn’t work for me.)


  • Unfortunately, OneNote is no longer a file, but rather a collection of files, so if you want a OneNote Notebook on your site, you will need to create a blank notebook yourself in the Desktop version of OneNote, and then save it to your sites, using the URL or webaddress of your site to tell OneNote where to save it.


Advanced / site owners:

In document libraries, out of the box, there is no way to just add a link to a document that lives in a differerent library or even a different site. You can add that capability by adding a “Link to a Document” content type to your document list. Cool right?

However, when you do this, it breaks the well-loved feature of the “New” icon, and it now only shows Document, which is a Word Document. Because we like to work in different types of documents, we need to have the other types available to us also. So, I created the templates complete with our corporate color scheme, and in the case of Word and Excel templates, page numbers and file names in the footer to help make it easier for us to work with printed documents.

Creating my own SP color scheme

You may wonder why such an advanced post about creating your own color scheme is so early in the game, but it just happened to be part of a project I am working on. We are in the process of creating public versions of sites for the division so that links from the home page actually go somewhere. Our college has its own color scheme of course, and so we wanted to get away from the standard blue scheme. I am not at the stage yet where we will be creating actual custom looks for the site, but the additional color scheme is at least a good start.

The easiest way to accomplish the creation of a color scheme file is to download the SharePoint Palette Tool from Microsoft. When you open the file, it starts off blue. Put in the color that you want to base your scheme from (in our case #660000), and then hit recolor.

From there, you can customize some of the “sub colors” within each block, and I spent a bit of time on the last block of colors, changing all the accent colors individually. Also, we like to have a splash of #FF6600 on our site, so I made the background of the item selection orange, as well as the selector button.

To save, just go to File, Save. It’s a little odd, since we normally have a Save As… function, but File, Save, is really a Save As, and you can choose where to save the file, and then name it whatever you want.

Deploying the Color Scheme

You deploy the color scheme at the site collection level. I have yet to find where to load it at the site level, so if you know, please reply in the comments below.
It lives at /sites/****/_catalogs/themes/15 with **** being your site collection level site name and you can just drag your newly named file directly to that location.

Then, for each site to which you want to deploy this scheme, go to Site Settings, then under Web Site Galleries choose composed looks. From there, choose “new item” – don’t try to do a quick edit, because a required field is missing from the list view.

For this initial deployment, I just copied the basic settings from an existing item profile, just changing out the name of the color scheme, and set the “order” to 5, so it would show up at the top of the list. It took a couple of tries, but I am glad to report, that it was pretty easy going overall.

There are plenty of tutorials out there by Microsoft and other SP users, who do a much better job of laying the steps out with accompanying images, that I suggest you search for a step by step tutorial on this if my instructions were somewhat vague.

Setting up my “Control Panel” in Outlook

In a previous post, I mentioned that I generally follow the advice of Sally McGhee and John Wittry in “Take Back Your Life: Using Microsoft Outlook 2007 to get organized and stay organized” when setting up my Outlook. They have a slightly different twist on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, which is a method of task and time management that I have followed for close to a decade now. You will see me refer to GTD more than once in coming posts, I am sure.

A great resource for setting up your Control Panel is “Office 2013 All-In-One Absolute Beginners Guide.” It contains step-by-step instructions for setting up things as I am about to describe.

Set up your To-Do Bar

From the View tab, click on To-Do Bar and turn on the Calendar to-do bar, then turn on the Tasks to-do bar. I personally don’t like seeing the agenda – I just like seeing the calendar in the top, so I slide the tasks section up to where it just shows the calendar and hides the agenda. I don’t use the contacts bar.

The tasks to do bar is really my bread and butter. It shows all the emails I have flagged, and any tasks I have set for myself. It does not include the tasks I keep in SharePoint, but that’s for a different post.

Folder Pane

I also customize the Folder Pane and choose Options, a maximum of 4 visible items and choose Compact Navigation. I don’t like wasted real estate on my screen if I can help it, and so I now have four icons at the bottom of my window. Not that it really matters, but I have Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks listed as my top 4.

Follow Up Default

The next step is setting my default follow up to be next week. Click on the follow up button and choose Set Quick Click. Choose your default option.

Views for different purposes

I set my calendar to show a work view. You can manage your views or control panels by folder, or by type of work you’re doing. So, I saved one for my default view when I am in emails and applied that to all the folders. Then I created a different view for when I am in calendar mode.

Feedback from last week’s training sessions

One thing that’s always good to do whenever you offer training is to ask for feedback. You can plan all you want at the white board, but at some point, your customers are going to have to have some input into what you’re doing. If we don’t know what we did well, we won’t know what to repeat. If we don’t know what didn’t work, then we don’t know that we need to improve it. Makes sense, right?

As a Distinguished Toastmaster, I have given more than 50-odd speeches and continue to lead sessions and discussions in my daily capacity. I am used to evaluations and people telling me what I can improve, because if I don’t know what to improve, I don’t grow.

I used the same feedback form for both the LEAP into SharePoint presentations and SPOCK meeting, with some basic questions.

The first eight questions have the answer options of Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree.

  1. The facilitator clearly and effectively communicated the material.
  2. The facilitator presented the material in an interesting and engaging manner.
  3. The facilitator established good rapport with the attendees.
  4. The supporting materials (handouts, visual aids, etc.) were helpful to my learning experience.
  5. The activities (exercises, discussions, etc.) in this workshop were helpful to my learning experience.
  6. The material in this workshop is relevant to my job position.
  7. I will be able to apply knowledge and skills I have gained from participating in this workshop to my job.
  8. The amount of information presented was appropriate for the time allotted in this workshop.

The next four questions are open ended.

  1. What was the least effective part of this workshop?
  2. What part of this workshop do you think will have the most impact on your job performance?
  3. Would you recommend this workshop to others? Circle Yes or No. Why or why not?
  4. Please share any additional comments regarding your experience participating in this workshop.

I also asked them to indicate which session they attended, since I had multiple sessions. This question wasn’t that useful but it helped gauge if there was a change between sessions.


For LEAP into SharePoint day, the response was that the info itself was informational and helpful but that they would have liked it to have been more hands-on, with them actually using the software. OR, alternatively, show them the actual site. This makes sense, since it’s an online system.

I had created a slide show on PowerPoint. I could have done a live show, but you know how technology is when you’re under pressure. Somehow those bits and bytes know when you’re under the gun, and THAT happens to be the time that your wireless crashes for everyone.

To be fair, had we made this an interactive, hands-on session, it would have been an all-day affair because we crammed so much information into this 90 minute session. We’re now looking at creating hands-on versions with less content which will fit into a 90 minute session.

The responses to the SPOCK meeting were overwhelmingly positive because it was designed to be hands-on. The largest complaint appeared to be that there wasn’t enough time to complete the task. Considering that there were 60-90 slides, that wasn’t entirely surprising, although most of the participants managed to complete their task in plenty of time.

For some, the complaint was that we had two simultaneous tutorials, but most didn’t care because they were working from their own PowerPoint anyway, at their own speed. All appreciated the step by step instructions. Just a note, if you are going to do it this way, you need step by step instructions, with screen shots at every step.

General comments

Having conducted many training events before, I know that it’s important to think about the amount of content you cram into a session. It’s also good to have some activities for people to do, but just bear in mind that they often take 2-3 times as long as if you did them yourself.

I timed myself for the dept and committee page setup. From start to finish, creating the site, modifying the settings, setting permissions, and then populating the data, it took about 30-45 minutes per site, with much of the delay just coming from waiting for SharePoint to finish “working on it”. For each of these sites, I had already created the sites, modified the settings, and set permissions, so all that was left to do was populating the data, which for me takes about 15 minutes per site, but that’s because I know where all the buttons and bells are, and I don’t need a PowerPoint to tell me what to do. Giving them 60 minutes for this task seemed reasonable, but at the same time I knew that for some people, we would be crunched for time, just due to the level of competence that exists in the organization with basic computer skills.

At the end of the day, it was more important for people to go through the motions of completing the tasks, than it was for the sites to be perfect. It took me about 3 hours to go through each of the sites and correct the minor issues. Where the layouts were completely wacky, I had some puzzles to solve and in one case, I just deleted the site and recreated it because I had no idea where the person had gone wrong, but we knew that it had happened during the training, and I just told the person to keep going, go through the motions, learn how to add apps, remove apps, edit apps, and that I would fix the layout issue later. Fixing layout issues usually means going into the HTML which is not exactly where I want our site owners to go at this stage of the game.