Giving yourself a clear view to focus on your day

One of the big challenges affecting the modern worker is the sheer volume of work we have to do, and the distractions that stand in our way. Putting personal notifications aside (ie. messaging applications, social network push alerts, etc.), we are bombarded on a daily basis with notifications on our computers, phone calls and physical interruptions. While features like Focus Assist in Windows 10 help this, ultimately it comes down to discipline.

However two key things that allow you to navigate your day are understanding what you have in front of you, both from the perspective of scheduling (ie. meetings), as well as tasks (ie. stuff to be done). Some people are great are managing their calendar, some people are great at managing their task lists, some people are great at both. Personally, I’m great at the former but not the latter. Despite my love for Microsoft To-Do, I was actually a poor user of it. However this isn’t a blog post about how to work with To-Do (there are plenty of those) or how to manage your calendar (there are even more of those). This is a blog post about how to clearly and succinctly see what is in front of you for the day ahead.

(Side note: I am currently working on planning out my tasks every morning – a daily “self-stand-up” if you will, which is improving my use of To-Do.)

Ultimately what I wanted to do was to have my calendar and daily tasks show up in a single pane of glass. Something that I could glance at and within an instant know exactly what lies ahead of me in terms of scheduling and work to be done.

My first attempt was to open the Outlook calendar in a new window, set it to single day view, and also to add the “To Do” pane (not to be confused with Microsoft To-Do, although it is the same list of tasks) to the right:

What worked:

  • Consolidated view of my day and tasks

What didn’t work:

  • Tasks were unfiltered and unordered
  • Space lost on the left side of the screen
  • Calendar hogged the bulk of the display, I wanted to see longer task subject lines
  • View remained when I went back into Calendar within Outlook; had to constantly switch between Work Week and Day views

Next I thought I’d try leaving the calendar view set to Work Week to avoid the switching back and forth:

What worked:

  • Consolidated view of calendar and tasks

What didn’t work:

  • Same issues as above
  • Now I was distracted by seeing the rest of the week, took me extra time to focus on today and find where I was up to

For the third attempt I tried splitting Outlook calendar and To-Do on a single screen, and deal with the Day / Work Week switching in Outlook:

What worked:

  • Consolidated view of calendar and tasks, now with better filtering and ‘My Day’ view

What didn’t work:

  • Lots of space wasted with other stuff around the calendar and tasks list itself
  • View remained when I went back into Calendar within Outlook; had to constantly switch between Work Week and Day views

I was a bit at a loss for what to do, so put the post out to Twitter to see if anyone knew of a way to build something that showed me exactly what I want. A number of people suggested I build something in PowerApps, which made sense but the promise of “no code” while technically true, still requires functions and formulas to make it work – something I don’t have skills (or patience) to figure out.

But then superstar MVP Rene Modery stepped up and build a canvas app in PowerApps to do exactly what I wanted. You can read more about exactly how he built it in his blog post here.

I have made some small visual tweaks to reflect my preference for dark-themed apps, and now this is what it looks like on my screen:

I run the app in full screen and keep it open for the majority of the day (from time to time I do use Outlook or other apps on that screen to the side).

I suggest you check out Rene’s post and try it for yourself. While I’ve only been running it for a few days, it has been an absolute game changer for giving me clarity into what appointments lie ahead and what work I still need to do.

P.S. Credit to Eric Suave for building something in PowerApps for me as well. While his was fantastic, I preferred the layout of Rene’s.

365 Unplugged ep #12: Is Microsoft To-Do the most important app in Office 365?

In this episode, Alistair Pugin & I discuss what’s more important; teamwork or individual productivity, and whether we should put the brakes on Teams to deploy To-Do first.

Initially I was critical of the application as you can read in my first experiences here.

I changed my tune when some more features were released, and since then with profile switching enabled I’m 100% onboard.

Watch here: