The Top 12 Time Management Apps and Tools

Today’s app market offers the full range of apps for personal use and for work. Everyone seems to be trying to complete household chores and tasks at work with the highest level of efficiency.

Time Management Apps

Time has become a valuable commodity that we never have enough of. In response to these needs, developers are coming up with all-new and really cool apps that have the features you’re looking for. You can get to-do list apps, reminder apps, and apps for file storage or note-taking. With the right apps on your phone or computer, you can improve your daily performance and get everything completed much faster. This leaves you plenty of time for relaxing and watching a great movie on Netflix. Below, we reveal our top 12 time management apps.

One: Focus booster

Feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks you have to get done today? There’s an app for that. It’s called Focus Booster and it was designed based on the Pomodoro Technique. Using this technique, you can complete more chores each day and it also helps relieve the stress you may feel due to your busy schedule. Helps eliminate procrastination.

Two: Remember the Milk

With so much information coming at us each day, it’s easy to forget the small things like stopping by the dry cleaners. Remember the Milk is compatible with your computer, Outlook, Gmail and mobile devices. Whether you just need to remember a grocery list or you want to share tasks with your team, this is an easy-to-use app that will help you avoid forgetting something important. It’s pretty straightforward to use. Simply enter a task, due date, priority and other pertinent information, then you’re all set. You can even break tasks down into sub-tasks and assign them to other people. It syncs with all your devices.

Three: Rescue Time

Are you using your time well each day or running around in circles? Rescue Time runs in the background, tracking how much time you spend on certain tasks each day. You’ll get a detailed report on all your daily activities. This lets you see where you could be wasting precious time each day. It’s available for smartphones and computers.

Four: Toggl

This unique timer app is advertised as so easy to use that you’ll actually use it. It works with individuals and teams. This time tracker is often more accurate than time sheets and other software of this type. It enables employees across many different industries to become more productive. Get accurate records of time spent on any project.

Five: Evernote

Evernote is a popular productivity app that has been around for a few years. It was originally used by college students for note-taking in class. The developers have continued to add unique features so that today you can capture, organize and share notes. It allows you to clip pages from the web and everything can be stored in one place. Evernote has added other products to its line including Evernote Business with Spaces. This program works about the same but allows a team to collect, store and share ideas. Create notes, add tables and attachments, use handwritten notes, and even add audio recordings.

Six: Dropbox

An old favorite but still the most reliable program for saving, editing and sending large files. This app is free and most people already know how it works so there’s less of a learning curve. Dropbox is available for laptops, mobile devices, iPad and other devices, so you can access and share files whenever and wherever you need to.

Seven: Mind42

This mind mapping tool has become a favorite of users and is considered one of the best on the market. It is browser-based so there’s nothing to download. This is a great productivity app that helps you get organized by showing you a diagram of what you need to be focused on. You can brainstorm, create a to-do list, organize things and share your map with others.

Eight: SyncBackFree

From 2BrightSparks, SyncBackFree is a great little tool for backing up and copying files in Windows. The app is truly free, plus it’s ad-free. There’s no registration or payment required. The app also claims that they do not collect demographic info about its users. You can schedule backups to occur at regular intervals. They also offer a SyncBackPro and SyncBankSE for enterprise clients. Files can be copied in both directions. Unicode is enabled for non-English file names.

Nine: Pocket

We all get side-tracked while surfing the web. You might be searching for information about a new project and find photos or news stories you’d like to read. Pocket gives you a place to store these items until you have time to go back and check them out. The app is available for iOS, Android and for computers and mobile devices. You can store any type of content and the app works with or without an internet connection.

Ten: MyLifeOrganized

This task management app helps users target the most important tasks. It automatically creates your to-do list and highlights those items that require immediate attention. Track your progress, focus on specific goals and achieve your objectives with MyLifeOrganized. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to rearrange tasks in list form or as a tree. This app can be used at work, at home or for special events like a wedding, business trip, or party. Simply enter tasks and due dates, along with a few other pieces of information and MLO automatically generates a smart list of all the actions you need to complete.

Eleven: Launchy

Launch all your files, folders and documents with this simple app. You don’t need to go to the start menu, desktop or file manager to open your favorite programs. Launchy has been named the best application launcher by major publications.

Twelve: Focus@Will

Developers of Focus@Will claim that users can increase their productivity by up to 400 percent. This is the perfect solution for those who get distracted easily while studying or working. The app combines music with neuroscience to boost productivity. Those with a touch of ADHD will find this app very helpful.

Calling All Architects

Do You Want to Save Time, Money and Beat Out the Competition? We Have Some Important Information to Share

Architects Computers

As you know, your architecture company is under constant pressure from economic shifts, a shrinking talent pool, and a fiercely competitive marketplace. When it comes to information technology you need solutions that don’t cost a fortune and can really make a difference.

One such solution is 3D modeling software. You can easily develop 3D designs with automatic features and without a lot of experience. There’s software for beginners, as well as more sophisticated solutions for experienced architects.

3D modeling software enables you to produce detailed and realistic results, and it’s the best solution to help you save time, money and efficiently modify your models as needed.

Are you looking for better collaboration with your team? Some forms of 3D modeling software use the cloud. They allow you and your coworkers to work on a computer model at the same time.

When IT solutions like 3D modeling are used wisely, they can provide a strategic advantage for your architectural firm. You can win bids, manage projects efficiently, and complete them without cost overruns.

The following are some 3D CAD modeling software solutions you might want to consider:

ArchiCAD is architectural CAD software that uses BIM (Building Information Modeling) that allows you to produce both 3D and 2D drafting, visualization, and modeling. It enables you to complete your building designs via the high-quality photorealistic renderings of both interiors and exteriors.

Revit is a BIM solution that allows you to collaboratively design buildings and infrastructures with your team. Authorized users can access centrally shared models to work together on designs and save time.

AutoCAD Architecture is a complete and practical tool that allows you to do both 2D design and 3D modeling, so you can better visualize your project. With it, you can create realistic-looking models with a blend of solid, surface and mesh modeling tools. AutoCAD Architecture is also useful for 2D drafting and drawing. Plus, it allows you to communicate and collaborate with others on the same project.

AutoCAD Civil 3D provides all the benefits of the solutions above but is better suited for civil engineering and construction professionals. You can produce civil designs, connect to AutoCAD Civil 3D to Revit, and rework and complete your designs with structural modeling.

3D Studio Max (3DS Max) although mainly used by those in the video games industry, is great for by architects who require previsualization. Training is available online if you want to give it a try.

Chief Architect is a CAD software for 2D and 3D rendering. It’s very easy to use, and you don’t need to have 3D modeling skills. The interface is intuitive, includes smart building tools, and lets you easily create a 3D structure. You can also export 360° panorama renderings that you can share with your clients.

SketchUp is also easy to use. It will help you save time and can be used for 3D modeling. You can create walkthroughs and flyovers to present your work to clients. It can also be scaled for accurate 2D drawings.

Rhino 3D is mainly used for industrial design and architecture. It provides great accuracy for models. It can be used along with Grasshopper, a graphical algorithm editor created by Rhino’s developers and made for 3D geometry and visual language. It’s designed for structural engineering, architecture, and fabrication.

CATIA is used in various sectors such as aerospace, automotive, high tech, and architecture. This software allows you to create complex and very accurate models. It has a practical collaborative environment as well.

Solidworks is a 3D modeling software mainly used by engineers. It can be a great solution if you want to create a quick design. You won’t be able to perform complex renderings, but it’s capable of designing a building and to obtain overviews of your architectural projects.

When using any 3D software programs, don’t forget about your IT security.

In this age of rapidly expanding IT networks and Internet economies, data and network security are of increasing importance. For architectural firms, managing your reputation and providing optimal customer service is of primary importance.

Data breaches are now commonplace. Imagine turning on your computer and finding that ransomware has locked down all your designs. Every minute that you can’t retrieve them means lost time and money and potentially lost clients. It’s essential that you protect your firm’s IT assets from malware, viruses and other forms of cyber attacks. To do this, you must adopt the following best practices for IT security.

Data Encryption

Stored data and across-the-wire transfers must always be encrypted. Architectural firms benefit from data encryption and user authentication tools to maintain the confidentiality of product designs, test-market results, and patent applications. Encryption is essential to protecting this sensitive data, as well as preventing data theft.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

We live in a digital age where technology is used for most business operations. Disaster recovery and business continuity planning can prevent the catastrophic effects of data loss. Architectural firms must retain project documents for legal purposes, for future alterations, and historical documentation. If this data gets lost or stolen, a backup and disaster recovery plan prevents total loss of important documents.

Auditing

It’s important for architectural firms to regularly conduct IT audits to monitor, identify, alert, and block the flow of data into and out of a network. In addition, auditing can help locate and correct errors in business processes.

Anti-Spam Software

In order for an architectural firm to utilize their design software, computers and electronic devices must be up and running properly at all times. For any anti-spam software to be successful, it must be kept up-to-date. Keep in mind that anti-virus software isn’t enough; architecture firms must also use a comprehensive endpoint security solution, including anti-virus, personal firewall, and intrusion detection.

Security Awareness Training

Educating your users is the most important non-hardware, non-software solution available. Informed users behave more responsibility and take fewer risks with valuable company data.

Just like you design quality architectures, your IT provider will design a secure architecture for your network that keeps your data safe. So, before you invest in CAD software, set up a consultation with your local IT Managed Service Provider.

From Typo to Top Spot, Why Yoast Rules SEO

Is “Yoast” a typo? Are we raising a “toast” and just missed the “t” and hit the “y” key? Or is there a deeper meaning behind the name of the SEO superstar?

Yoast SEO

WordPress users love WordPress. It’s an incredibly straightforward platform with a simple user interface, which makes sense given its humble beginnings as a blogging application. Bloggers have used the free solution since 2003, enjoying the flexible and friendly features. Though it did begin as a blogging platform, its evolution into a content management system (CMS) was a natural progression. It’s estimated that as much as half of major global brands have websites run on WordPress. If you’re keeping count, that’s a staggering number of websites.

WordPress offers a plugin architecture for users that encourage plugins to extend features and functionalities of WordPress, catering to the needs of the user. At last estimate – though still in 2018 – there are over 50,000 plugins available for WordPress users, each offering customized functions and features to enable tailored experiences for specific needs. In fact, WordPress highlights available plugins for users, complete with a rating system and biographical details – similar to a product offering on Amazon!

Available plugins range from contact forms to an importer that allows users to bring in blog content from other blogs. Others include a WooCommerce plugin for e-commerce sites, and an on-page Google Analytics plugin for users to track site metrics. The second most popular plugin on the WordPress plugin dashboard is Yoast SEO, with more than 5 million active installations and a 5-star user rating by nearly 20,000 users. We were curious about the most popular plugin and had to know. Yoast SEO falls just behind a plugin called Contact Form 7, with the same number of active installations (but a lower rating by only 1,500 users in comparison).

What is Yoast SEO? Was someone thinking of toast and made a typographical error? The keys are right next to each other on the keyboard – is that what happened? Nope! The founder of Yoast SEO, Joost de Valk, pronounces his first name “Yoast” – it’s as simple as that! The firm that developed Yoast SEO is based in the Netherlands, by a team that is dedicated to its users and the community at large. Yoast SEO creators believe in open source software, where the code is readily available to anyone that wants to modify the code for customization.

Yoast SEO is an amazing tool that WordPress users add as a plugin to optimize their content for better search engine rankings. The Yoast SEO plugin helps users by making sure the right keywords are included in their content if they want to tag that content with those keywords, as well as reviewing word count and other elements that are important to better search ranking. The results of a search are based on Google’s infamous algorithm that determines the position a page ranks in search results returned in Google. The Googlebot crawls billions (and billions!) of pages across the Internet to index and adds to its search results. What are some of the factors that Google takes into account for ranking web content in search results?

Word Count

Word count is one of the most important content factors since Google – the king of search engines – takes length into consideration when the Googlebot crawls pages to index. The number of words in a page is a good indicator of the quality of content – sometimes. A thousand words of gibberish or just words strung together with zero relativity are always possible, which is why this isn’t the only factor Google relies on for a page’s search position.

Keywords

Keywords are equally important for more reasons than just Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. When the Googlebot is crawling through those billions of web pages, the byproduct is the indexing of the words it finds and their locations on a web page. This process also reviews all the “hidden” words in content, like the tags used and various content attributes within the code, like alt text and title tags, and all of these are used to relate the keywords to the content, a stronger indication of content quality than word count, but together with word count keywords boost a search engine result position.

Title and URL

A web page’s title is the first thing a user sees when looking at search results in a browser. This is not necessarily the title that is shown on a web page as the headline announcing the page content. This title is what is in the code of the page and shows on the browser tab. This title should relate to page keywords and content to help boost a search position. If your primary keyword is in your title, it adds credibility to – or, optimizes – your content and boosts your search position and ranking. The title is sometimes also in the URL of a web page, but it can be slightly different. So long as the primary keyword is still present, any slight alteration won’t negatively impact your position.

Description Snippets

Why do snippets matter? Snippets show the description of your page content in search results, which Google shortens as it needs to based on screen space or other factors. The bottom line with descriptions and snippets is to include critical keywords, place them early in the descriptions.

Traffic volume

Google works very hard to ensure the user’s search experience and maintain impeccable quality standards. This much is clear given Google’s position as King of Search. When Google serves search results, all of the above factors work to improve the overall search experience. The cogs in the machine are always turning and working to make sure that not only the user gets the best search results based on its determination that the content is relevant to the user’s search query, but also that when users click links to pages, Google is driving quality traffic to sites.

Now you’re thinking, how does Yoast SEO use all of this information and help me with my content? Yoast SEO has a plethora of built-in features that optimize your content:

  • Snippet Preview
    • This handy little feature shows users how their snippet will look in search results in desktop, mobile, and even social media.
  • Integration with Google Search Console
    • Users can see exactly how to expect site and pages to perform in search engines, presenting the opportunity to fix errors before they affect search traffic
  • Readability
    • This is a great feature that scores your content based on readability factors. Users create the content and tend to have difficulty seeing an outsider’s perspective. This score helps users better understand if sentences are too long, or if too many sentences start with the same word or phrases.
  • Frequent Updates
    • The Yoast SEO plugin is often updated to keep up with Google’s algorithmic updates, to help users keep content optimized using current requirements and best practices.

Do you have the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress? There are paid and free versions, and it’s absolutely worth it to get the free version! Instructions are simple:

  • Within WordPress, visit “Plugins” and “Add New”
  • Search for “Yoast SEO”
  • Activate Yoast from your Plugins page
  • A prompt will ask you to start the configuration wizard
  • Follow the wizard, and you’re done!

Familiarizing yourself with the Yoast SEO plugin will be even more simple after reading this, and you’ll start to notice your search rankings improve quickly, within 30 days of starting this process. Maintaining quality content will automatically help boost ranking, but Yoast SEO is the go-to tool for further optimizing and reviewing the factors that will impact search results most.

IT Is Changing – IT Budgeting Is Too.

When was the last time you thought about technology and the role it plays in your business success? Strategic IT Budgeting and planning for the tactical use of technology resources will bolster your business efforts to establish a competitive advantage. Just as you develop and adjust your annual business plans, you should do the same when it comes to IT planning and budgeting.

IT Budget

Budgeting for IT Has Completely Changed

Technology is now a part of nearly everything you do, and it involves much more than computers. With the advent of artificial intelligent (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, business intelligence (BI) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, the line items for IT may take up quite a bit more space on your balance sheets than before.

With information technology changing so rapidly, it’s sometimes difficult for business owners to anticipate what they will need for optimal performance in years to come. In the past, it was easy to budget for technology. You simply purchased the number of computers and software programs you needed to handle the basics. Today information technology is central to most all of your business processes. What you choose and how you choose to use it can mean the difference between success and failure. But how do you anticipate what you’ll need tomorrow?

The Increasing Dependence on Information Technology

In today’s competitive environment, businesses must rely on technology in order to compete and survive in the marketplace. With computers, the Internet and the availability of more software applications, productivity has been increased for many. Technology helps employees become more efficient, quick, and precise.

Information can now be relayed instantaneously, coworkers can collaborate on projects in real time from wherever they are, and businesses now have the ability to more easily spread their services throughout the world. We can no longer function without our computers, laptops, tablets or phones. Even our smartphones have the capabilities and apps that allow us to run our business from anywhere we have cell service.

You can cut labor costs by using computers and software programs for payroll, project management, and accounting. Instead of budgeting for hours of labor, you now need to budget for computers and programs. In the long run, this is money-saver for businesses of any size.

IT Budgeting Must Be a Priority

With IT shifting from just another piece of equipment in the office to the core of business operations, you should designate it as a central part of your budget. This also means that you must assess and clearly define how IT aligns with your business objectives to decide what you’ll need for the coming year(s).

Proper IT budgeting will help you lay a foundation for success for the future. Using the right IT solutions can help you:

  • Accelerate your business growth.
  • Increase your operational effectiveness.
  • Ensure optimal productivity from your employees.
  • Overcome operational challenges.
  • Increase collaboration and communication.
  • Reinforce your efforts to win new business.

Your IT Budget Should Be a Key Component of Your Business Plan

  • Think big and in terms of the innovative measures you can employ to increase productivity, efficiency, mobility, collaboration, and communication.
  • Every department in your business should adopt this philosophy when considering what they need to improve operations and cut costs.
  • Consider the value IT solutions bring to your business. For example, Backup and Disaster Recovery solutions will pay for themselves many times over when compared to the cost of losing your critical data.
  • Include key players in your organization when planning your IT budget. Your purchasing department may have different goals and requirements than your sales or distribution teams. Ensure you consider all initiatives and how innovative technologies will help them succeed.
  • Remain open-minded. What worked for you in the past probably won’t be enough in the year(s) to come. Consider your business’s changing needs and how new technologies might align more closely with them.

Assess and Clarify Your Business Requirements Before You Begin

Before you start, you must determine what your business will face in the coming year(s).

Will you be:

  • Launching a product or service that requires a new fulfillment process?
  • Acquiring another company or participating in a merger?
  • Adding employees to your staff who will need additional hardware and software?
  • Processing and storing additional confidential, proprietary or personal data that needs protecting?
  • Moving to a larger office, or adding satellite offices in other locations?

Consider the Following Requirements When Budgeting for Technology

  • Industry and Government Regulations: Will you need additional resources for data backup, vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, HIPAA, FINRA, PCI/DSS compliance?
  • Cybersecurity: With all the new and evolving cyber threats will your current IT security solutions be enough? This is an ever-increasing need due to the growing cyber threat landscape. Will you need managed firewalls, antivirus solutions, security awareness training for your employees, mobile-device-management, remote 24/7 security monitoring, Security as a Service or other solutions to protect your IT infrastructure? Most businesses need these and more to ensure their data remains secure.
  • Productivity and Collaboration: Software as a Service (SaaS) applications like Microsoft Office 365 provide your business the capabilities a larger-sized business enjoys, with popular applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and much more packaged together in a subscription-based platform. Plus, you and your employees can access it from wherever you are on your smartphones, tablets, laptops, or desktops.
  • Communications: Many businesses are switching from desktop phones to VoIP systems. With VoIP business phones you and your employees can make and receive calls remotely via your smartphones, retrieve messages via voicemail-to-email, and stay connected even if power and Internet access go down.

Consider All the IT Components You’ll Require

Hardware – This is the backbone of your IT infrastructure – The actual technology equipment you need to run your business. Be sure to include installation costs and maintenance in your calculations for items like the following:

  • Workstations
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Servers
  • Cabling
  • Firewalls
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Business Phones
  • Warranties
  • Licenses
  • Renewals
  • Hardware Implementation

Software – These are the business applications you’ll need to run your business. Be sure to include licenses and support contracts for your on-premise solutions.

  • Business Software and Applications for your Workstations, Laptops, Tablets, and Smartphones
  • Server Software
  • Anti-Virus, Anti-Spam, Anti-Malware Software
  • Backup Software
  • Routine Software Implementation

Subscriptions – These are any costs associated with subscription-based services like cloud solutions. They include options like Workstation as a Service (WaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Security as a Service (SecaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and more.

Services & Support – This is the cost for services required to support all of your IT operations. It may encompass expenses for in-house IT employees, or contracts with a Managed Services Provider who will maintain all your IT infrastructure needs. Expenses may include:

  • Salaries and benefits for IT employees.
  • Monthly fees for an external IT provider (MSP).
  • Annual costs for vendors of owned software/hardware.
  • Outsourcing for selected services like monitoring, help desk, security services, data backup.
  • Data network expenses (Virtual Private Networks, Wide Area Network connections, Internet Service Providers, Broadband Connections).
  • Training for internal IT staff and industry certifications, Security Awareness Training for employees.

Project Costs – These are initiatives to transform or improve operations to support the growth of your business, and may include:

  • IT Consulting and Planning.
  • IT Project Implementation.
  • Additional software and/or hardware.

Identify the Gaps Between What You Have and What You Need

Now it’s time to compare your current IT capabilities with what’s needed to meet your business requirements for the upcoming year(s). Once you identify the gaps, you must align them with what your budget allows. You might not be able to purchase all of them. Make a list of the “must have” and another of the “would-like-to-have” technology assets. Go for what will give you the best return on your investment (ROI), and what you “must have” to keep your data secure and business running efficiently.

Implementing Your Solutions

Implementation planning is critical as it lays out the steps you’ll take to complete your IT Budget for the year. You should contract with an IT Managed Services Provider to help you acquire, install and deploy your new IT solutions. The best ones will offer a payment plan that allows you to pay for the services you need on a monthly basis. And, don’t choose just any company, or one according to their prices. Also, make sure they aren’t a “fix-it-and-go” company. You want an IT partner who will be with you 24/7. Ask your business associates for referrals, check the testimonials on the MSPs’ websites, and certainly interview more than one.

The following are some things to consider when selecting an IT provider.  

Can they provide for your IT needs?

Consider your current IT support needs and how these might change in the coming year. Also, consider how these needs will change beyond next year as your business grows. Make a detailed list of your IT service and support requirements and objectives to determine if the IT provider can meet, and even, surpass them.

Look for an IT company that’s located in nearby

This affects the speed at which the company can respond onsite when IT emergencies arise. They should have the ability to handle all of your concerns and provide solutions thoroughly and effectively.

Do they offer fixed-rate managed services solutions?

To keep your IT budget under control, look for an IT Managed Services Provider who provides fixed-rate, all-in-one IT services. This is the only way you can accurately budget for IT services in the coming year(s).

Choose an IT company that provides 24/7 support, as well as onsite and remote service

With around-the-clock service and support, you’ll always have the assistance you require when IT issues arise. Also, ask if they can remotely identify and block cyberattacks, and address IT problems before they cause downtime, breaches or data loss.

Are their service technicians certified, knowledgeable and experienced?

Visit the company’s website to assess the experience they have, how long they’ve been operating and what services they provide. Check the testimonials on their website and online reviews. Ask if you can contact some of their customers to ask their opinions about the service they receive.

Ensure you’ll receive the value you require from an IT MSP

The cheapest provider isn’t always the best. Before you sign a contract with an MSP, ensure it includes any and all contingencies that may arise and details about how services are priced and delivered. Your IT provider must also be capable of aligning technology services to meet your budgetary guidelines and ensure that you’ll receive maximum value from your IT investments.

Look for an IT company that offers training on software, hardware, and security

It’s essential that your staff is thoroughly trained on your systems and software, as well as Security Awareness Education to avoid being victimized by hackers. This will increase their confidence, capabilities, and productivity, and provide a first-line of defense against cyber threats.

Will they assign a dedicated account manager to your business?

This is a representative from the MSP who will act as your main point of contact. This person can get to know your business and your requirements in detail, to ensure you receive the exact service you need.

Do they provide monthly reports?

You must stay informed and aware of the performance of your IT assets. You’ve invested a lot in them, and you must be kept apprised regarding their capabilities and value. These monthly reports should highlight which solutions are performing well, and which ones need improvement.

Can your MSP act as your IT Consultant and Strategist?

You can greatly benefit from an IT Consultant who operates as an extension of your business. They can liaison with vendors and provide strategic technical advice to ensure your IT investments are providing what you need. They can assist with your IT budgeting and help you plan ahead and take advantage of the best prices.

IT Budgeting is an Ongoing Process

You shouldn’t think of IT budgeting as having a start and finish. It’s an ongoing process with a series of do’s and don’ts. No plan is 100% correct, and if you run into obstacles you should modify your budget. Budgets are often modified after they are prepared as we discover things we didn’t know before. You must find what works, what doesn’t and make adjustments along the way. Your IT budget will go through cycles as your business needs grow and change, and as the opportunity to take advantage of new, innovative technologies emerges.

Microsoft Is Calling Every Single User For Feedback

Are you an expert at using Microsoft products? Microsoft wants to hear from you — and wants to make your feedback part of an update — but first, they need to know what you think. How can they find out?

Microsoft Feedback

How often do you use a Microsoft product? Are you a daily Microsoft Word user? Is your primary email client Microsoft Outlook? What about SharePoint? The list goes on (Teams, Flow, you get the idea). And those are just the software products! Maybe you have a Surface Book, too? Or a Surface Book 2?!

One of the great things about Microsoft is they love user feedback. Software updates are often based entirely on suggestions from users on what features they’d like to see, what improvements can be made, and how to make daily use easier for users in general. The main goal is to increase efficiency with the Microsoft product while increasing productivity at the end user perspective. This is a win-win-(win). That last “win” was in parentheses because it’s silent – Microsoft sees increased dependence and therefore long-term customer loyalty, which translates into an ongoing revenue stream. That’s understandable.

What’s often less clear is how Microsoft tries to collect user feedback. No, they don’t really call users at home. Well, actually, they might – but in this case, the most effective way to communicate a suggested feature is through the Microsoft Excel Community, a forum of over 16,000 members in which to communicate about all things Microsoft Excel. If you’re in search of a feature, this is the place to peruse. Formula got you flummoxed? Need help with a pesky pivot table? Is a macro making you crazy? You’re most likely to find your answers here. The best part is that this community has super users, and we don’t mean users who wear capes. One such super user has over 400 posts, and these users can be found under “Experts” – a clear indicator they know what they’re talking about in Microsoft Excel!

There is also an active Blog, where Microsoft posts content about Excel. Content ranges from posts aimed at beginners, like how to use general features for newbies, to content focusing on new features released to satisfy the needs of super users (“experts”). These Blog posts are great for deeper insights and step-by-step instructional processes, but the forums are the better space for finding tips and suggestions for specific needs.

Microsoft loves to hear from users about what’s working and what can be improved and encourages engagement through a custom portal on their Community page. Roughly halfway down this page, on the right-hand side, users will see a vivid green box — the green will be instantly recognizable as “Excel” green — with “Submit your ideas”. Clicking on this will open a dialogue menu for users to submit as a digital version of a suggestion box.

Trust us when we say, Microsoft listens. This is their way around getting you on the phone for a personal interview. Recent updates have been made that actually result from feedback in this manner. Users can submit ideas, and other users can “vote up” suggestions. The recent features that have been added to Microsoft Excel have gotten anywhere between 200 to over 1,000 votes from users supporting the suggestion. This is one of the most effective ways to communicate directly with Microsoft – because they’re watching this forum closely.

Stalker Level: Microsoft

Based on user feedback, Microsoft recently updated Excel to include features expanding the use of foreign languages. Before the update, users would attempt to import a CSV file that included text strips that did not contain traditional Latin characters, like Arabic. Users would then get an error message that this information would be lost in the text encoding process upon opening the file. Users affected by situations like this need no longer worry as CSV UTF-8 file formatting is now permitted.

  • This error dialogue used to pop up all the time in situations like this, no matter how many times a user followed the same process. Excel now allows you to select “Don’t Show Again” to disable this warning for the same user. But even if a user only accidentally clicks the “Don’t Show Again” option, this can be toggled on again. Microsoft is trying to allow users to cater their Excel experience to their custom preferences, and it’s starting to show.

Another feature that came into existence through user feedback via the Community is the improved pivot table experience. Users can now alter pivot table settings and then establish these as the default settings for pivot tables at the user level. No more re-formatting pivot tables with each file! Users can even create a pivot table in a new worksheet and import the settings from the existing table data, to save time. Microsoft realized how big of a time saver this would be, and jumped at the opportunity to satisfy a huge community user base with this update.

A cool feature Microsoft just released for Excel Online is an improved search experience. Remember when you would open the “Find” dialogue box, enter your search parameter, and then Excel would show you the next location? And then to find the next location, you had to repeat the process? Well – good news! The search window no longer disappears with each search query. BONUS: users can search within the pivot experience, as well! These filters work on Excel Online just like in the desktop version.

When Microsoft makes an update to any of their products, the goal is to improve efficiency and productivity, as already stated. That’s why they began including the Quick Access icons in the toolbar at the top of the application window several versions of Microsoft Office ago.

  • Did you know the Quick Access toolbar is customizable? Users can change the icons that live in this section, at the very top of the document window. This is where your magical “undo” button is, by default. If you select the drop-down arrow just to the right of the last icon, there is a short list of actions you can include, and an option for “More” under these. Imagine the possibilities!

Microsoft also likes to share lesser-known features with users to make sure they are getting the most out of their Microsoft products. One of their recently-highlighted features was the Document Location Information, where users can toggle on the ability to see the full address for the location of a file, should the user need to access the file, perhaps for sharing.

  • One cool workaround for file sharing is that you can click on the icon next to the file name at the very top of the window on the desktop version and use a drag-and-drop feature this way to attach a file to an email or to cloud storage platforms.

Visit the Community to check out all the top features that are packed into Microsoft Excel to see how to simplify your day-to-day tasks, automate reporting processes, and improve overall efficiency. And remember – if you think of something else, tell Microsoft. You never know, the next Microsoft Excel feature that gets announced may be your suggestion!

Will The (Cloud) Storage Wars Draw Blood?

Modern professional relationships require digital processes, like email, collaborative software, and file sharing. The cloud has opened up incredible possibilities beyond imagination a mere decade ago, but which is the right choice?

Cloud Storage

The competition is seriously fierce in cloud storage. The Internet of Things has fueled a data addiction for which traditional storage can’t physically support. We love our devices – I mean, we are straight-up addicted to our smartphones, our iPads, our Kindle Fire tablets, all of them. And there’s a reason we back up our smartphone content: we’d be absolutely lost if we lost it. Our contacts, our notes, our apps, our calendars, and everything we depend on for day-to-day use is on that tiny computer. Where do you back up your data? It’s probably safe to assume there is a cloud location you connect to that saves your backed-up data. It’s safe to assume because we would overwhelm traditional storage options.

Traditional storage hasn’t been able to meet expectations and needs for performance, availability, management, or the cost impact in comparison to growing demand. Everyone has an opinion on who their favorite cloud storage solution is, and it’s usually one of the Big Three players in the cloud game: Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive – and not in that order.

Technically speaking, the first cloud storage solutions launched well before today’s modern providers. Consumers had access in the early 1980’s through CompuServe, and AT&T launched a platform in the 1990’s to support small business solutions. Amazon Web Services introduced AWS S3, their cloud storage offering, in 2006 and functions as the storage provider for Dropbox, Pinterest, and many other large digital enterprises. The only thing that has changed is file size, file type – but mainly adoption.

Cloud storage is increasing in adoption for every professional environment – and is the only solution for distributed workforces! Managing resources for storage needs to be agile, and limited solutions also limit agility. The cloud is merely an accessible extension of your data storage center. Review your full data storage needs, and consider the advantages the cloud offers your business and daily operations.

When reviewing your cloud storage priorities, there are many issues that deserve a deeper consideration. Here is the “Top Ten” List we suggest using as a checklist, and in no particular order:

  • Cost
    • The financial impact of cloud storage is usually the first factor any business considers, but we disagree with this position. While your bottom line is critical to your overall operational budget, there is a multitude of factors that could have a greater impact on your day-to-day needs.
    • It’s surprising just how many decision-makers are surprised – and unprepared for – the expenses required to utilize cloud providers.
  • Sync Simplicity
    • If storing or backing up your data to a cloud solution is cumbersome, the likelihood of full adoption by your staff – and your clients, if applicable – will be a struggle, and result in decreased productivity and decreased reliability. You don’t have time for that!
  • Sync Speed
    • Just as with simplicity, speed is a factor with the ability to sync data quickly. As with any downtime, no one can afford reduced productivity due to Internet connection issues, and it’s an even larger issue if it’s due to your cloud storage provider.
  • Location
    • As they say in real estate, “Location, location, location”! Anyone who thinks it doesn’t matter where your data is stored physically is wrong. Wrong! Though there are too many reasons this matters to list, here are just a few:
    • Data stored in the U.S. is both protected by and susceptible to U.S. laws, like the Patriot Act and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Data stored in – or containing the information of – European Union nations are subject to protection by legislation passed by European Parliament enacting strict consumer data protection rules.
    • Facilities that physically house servers for cloud storage providers are just as open to impacts of weather and natural disasters as any other structure in that locale – and accessing your data will be subject to these conditions.
    • Is the physical security of the location a concern under any other circumstances?
  • Reliability and Access
    • Is the vendor reliable? The key players in the cloud storage game tend to be the best for valid reasons, but appropriate considerations, in this case, would be hardware failures, power disruptions, or even vendor disputes. Crazier things have happened.
  • Storage Capacity
    • How much data do you anticipate storing in the cloud? This is like trying to choose your favorite song. The answer changes on a regular basis, and most of the time there is no one singular answer. Obviously, you’ll want to choose a provider that is capable of offering you more storage than you think you’ll ever need, but you also don’t want to pay for storage you’re not using nor will you ever. It’s a delicate balance, and many providers allow for variable usage.
  • File Sharing
    • How many times have you attached a document to an email message, and tried to send it only to get the dreaded error message “File exceeds the maximum size of 25MB. Try removing an attachment and send again”? You are then faced with trying to reduce the file size (Word document into a PDF, etc.) or uploading the file into a cloud solution like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneNote, and sharing the access URL instead.
  • Application Integrations
    • The number one request made by anyone accessing cloud storage and utilizing an application is to offer an intuitive user experience. Statistics show half of all users that abandon a cloud app do so due to integration issues, citing missed deadlines.
  • Support
    • If any issues arise, it’s critical that users achieve the needed help immediately from an adequately trained member of support team equipped with the right knowledge to resolve the situation.
  • Data Security
    • The cloud and data stored in cloud environments face risks, just like any other professional endeavor. A cloud storage provider that can guarantee against cybersecurity vulnerability and takes the greatest care in safeguarding your data is an excellent vendor and partner.

We’ve talked about what you need – now let’s talk about who can help you. Here is a fantastic detailed resource when comparing many of the cloud vendors at once, but let’s talk about the Big Three. The key players in the Cloud Storage Wars are Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneNote – and any one of these providers would valiantly battle to the bloody end for your business! There is a reason that these three are the best in the biz: they’ve earned their reputation with quality service, support, and every other item in the checklist.

  • Dropbox
    • Offers a free basic storage plan (2GB)
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers
  • Google Drive
    • Offers a free basic storage plan: clarification, Google users have 15GB of free cloud storage – shared between Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Drive. If you get a ton of emails and don’t clean out your inbox often, that eats up your 15GB
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers
  • OneNote
    • Offers a free basic storage plan (5GB)
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers: Here is where it truly pays to use OneNote and be an Office 365 customer, as the paid plans are included with Office 365 subscriptions, either Personal or Home.

The ability to sync, share files and speed are all a focus of these teams, and the competition is pretty ruthless. In fact, Dropbox and Microsoft have formed a partnership to allow easier integration by making Office Online available to Dropbox users at no cost. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer!

So, which provider is right for you? Only you can make that decision. Armed with this information and reviewing our checklist will hopefully help you make the right choice!