Top 10 Productivity Killers

Fast Company has run the results of something or other that got them a top ten list of the things that get in your way at work, as chosen by annoyed people at work. None of the ten are going to startle you but as you recognise many of them, see what you think of the suggested solutions.

Here’s one of the ten:

Cure: Surround yourself with productive people

Much like laughter, productivity can be infectious, says [Rosemary] Haefner [chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder]. Stay away from people who like to waste time; they will drain your energy. Instead, align yourself with the company go-getters.

“Watching how others make themselves productive can inspire us to act similarly,” she writes.

Your Top 10 Productivity Killers and How to Fix Them – Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company (30 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

Clickhole: 8 Ways Your Ordinary Office Job is Slowly Killing You

Serious advice here. Including:

Sitting too long and holding your breath the entire time

According to all recent findings, sitting in one place too long can lead to hypertension, blood clots, and heart disease, while holding your breath for an extended period of time reduces the flow of oxygen to your brain and slowly shuts down your circulatory system. Avoid this by standing up every few hours at work and occasionally breathing.

8 Ways Your Ordinary Office Job Is Slowly Killing… (no author listed) ClickHole (22 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

How Microsoft Word became useful again

Originally, Microsoft refused to put Word on the iPhone or iPad and trusted that its millions of users would go oh, okay then, we won’t buy an iPad. It didn’t work out quite like that and a fair short summary is that Microsoft shot itself in the foot many, many times.

For once people bought iPads and were therefore required to use alternatives to Word, they discovered there are alternatives to Word. Suddenly all of Word’s brilliance gets forgotten and all of its outrageously irritating problems get remembered as we go discover we can get more done without it. In truth we actually can’t: Word is the most powerful word processor there is but with great power comes stupid problems so something which technically does less is much more useful because we can use it more. If you can get your writing done without Word changing the formatting on you, without Word simply crashing just because you dragged in a picture like it said you could, then you get more writing done.

Shunning the iPad was Microsoft doing its once typical and once extremely successful technique of pitching its bulk against a competitor but this time the competitor won and the blowback damage to Microsoft was huge. Word ceased to be ubiquitous. People stopped buying Word just because it was Word. Not just people who were buying iPads but people who were buying word processors for any machines. Including Windows PCs.

Good. We are now back in a world where you have many choices for how you write your words and if choice can be overrated, it’s better than when we just had the one.

But last year Microsoft finally brought Word to iOS and I wrote about how surprisingly good it was, particularly on the iPhone. I’ve changed my mind a bit since then: I hardly touch it on my iPhone but I do keep Word on my iPad and I use it from time to time. It’s been steadily improved too, plus the original slightly messy business of how you could read but not write in it unless you paid some money is gone. You can now use Word without a subscription and it’s worth keeping.

I don’t find myself moving over to it for everything, even though I’d like to find one single application I could use everywhere. As it is, I’ll write on Drafts 4 for iOS, or Pages for iOS and OS X, on Evernote everywhere, Simplenote in many places and occasionally Word. I feel slightly schizophrenic which is fine, but I also find my writing is all over the place. I’ve a hundred or more pieces in TextEdit. A dozen in OmniOutliner. It can take me a spell to find what I’m sure I wrote the other day.

So I can appreciate what this fella Andrew Cunningham says in Ars Technica. The short summary is that he’s now turned. It took the new beta version of Word for Mac to tip him over, but having the one word processor on OS X, iOS, Windows and Android has snared him:

So yes, Microsoft didn’t make it to the iPad or to any of these other platforms as quickly as it could have or should have. There will be people, including some at Ars, who found other non-Microsoft solutions that worked for them in the meantime. But I find myself revising my initial “too little too late” stance to something closer to “better late than never.” A subtle distinction, maybe, but an important one.

You win, Microsoft: How I accidentally went back to Microsoft Word – Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica (20 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac Preview

Quick version: it looks good, mostly – no, wait, here’s how I summed it up for MacNN:

Testing this new beta is, actually, slightly weird: the Mac versions of Word and Excel now look like the iPad versions. That’s mostly true when you first start them up and they present a dialog box with New and Open options, plus templates. Choose one and go into it to edit the document, and the resemblance fades a little.

One thing that made the iOS version of Office a pleasure to use was that it was pared back, that some of Microsoft Office’s more esoteric features were removed. That even makes the Ribbon toolbar more useful, and this new Mac version also tries to balance features with a more minimalist look. We’ll have to see what it’s like after weeks and months of intense use, but at first blush it feels better than it was.

There are points where items seem a bit oversized: certain icons in the Ribbon feel excessive, and intro text as you set up the applications feels loud. That’s not a bad summary of the entire experience of using Microsoft Office 2016; it mostly looks better, Word feels good to write in, Excel feels powerful.

Hands On: Microsoft Office 2016 Preview (OS X) – William Gallagher, MacNN (6 March 2015)

If you’ve got a Mac and some time to kill, go get the Office 2016 preview here. It’s entirely free while it’s in beta and the best way to find out about anything is to use it. Do remember that it’s a beta, though: it’s not complete and it is always possible that you’ll lose work. So don’t do anything important in it.

Also, you could read the rest of my MacNN piece.

This is better: try Microsoft’s vision of Office for Mac now

It’s fair to say that Microsoft Office is no longer the beast it was. It used to be that if there were a new version of Office, you bought it. Now we’re in 2015 and enough people still use an old version of Word that you’re wise sending documents around in that older format, the .doc one.

But the new format, .docx, was introduced in 2007. It would once have been unimaginable that people skipped eight years of updates but now it’s normal.

So any new version of Office that comes along had better pack some compelling reasons to upgrade. I have no idea whether the next edition has anything that good – but I’m about to find out and you can too.

For Microsoft has today released a free preview of Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac. You can get it here. It’s a fairly big download that is currently struggling on my slow internet connection but yours is faster, off you go.

Microsoft would hope you do. It would also hope that you love it so much that when the preview is over and the real product is released that you’ll pony up and buy it. If you do that, it will be because this is really good and really useful – so let’s hope so too.

This is what I like. Sod the fantasy vision of the future, I like it when a company puts its money where its mouth is and lets us actually use something. I like it even better when they do an Apple and reveal something flashy and end with the line “available today”.

Making a space to work in

I did a thing on Saturday, running a little writing session for some children in Birmingham, and for the first part of it, I got us all hiding under the tables. “I don’t want Santa to hear this,” I said. And I was in full-on performance mode, loads of ideas, all ready to fire, when I realised that the tables reminded me of something.

When I was the age of these same children, Blue Peter used to have a regular feature about toy trains. Even then I used to wonder what could you say in episode 2. And I’m not into trains. All power to you if you are, or at least all steam power. But I loved the desk they had it on.

It was big and enclosed: you had to clamber underneath and pop up in the middle. That’s what I was minded of on Saturday.

And it made me realise that I have lived with how much I loved that idea for all these years. Because my office may not have this circular desk but it has half of one. The desk goes down one wall and curves around the side. I work mostly in that curve. And admittedly the rest of the desk is a mess. But that curve matters to me.

Mind you, so does the iMac.

But the space you work in matters. I used to believe I could write anywhere and in fact right now I’m writing to you from my living room when I really should be in my office on a deadline. So plainly it’s not so wonderful that I’m drawn back to it irresistibly. Still, at 5am tomorrow morning I will sit on my Captain’s Chair (it’s a thing, that’s a type of furniture, it’s not a Star Trek reference) and I’ll pop headphones on and I will feel like I’ve climbed into my writing space.

All of which comes up chiefly because of Saturday but also now because of two completely different podcasts that just happen to cover this topic. They cover it in completely different but interesting ways. First up, MacPowerUsers interviews ex-Macworld writer Jason Snell on how he set up his home office now that he is indeed ex-Macworld. Listen to MacPowerUsers.

But then there’s 99U which was devoted an entire edition to Building the Perfect Workspace.

More on being your own boss at work

Lisa Dill, a recruiter and trainer, has written a Digital Professional Institute article about how to impress your boss and I think her last one is precisely what I’ve been going on about today here and in the newsletter.

Here’s Dill’s take:

I’m sure we all want to be the individual in the office with the next great idea. Occasionally we may even find ourselves daydreaming about how to make certain aspects of what our company does better overall. Then, all of a sudden it hits you, and you’re ready to present your next big idea. Before you do, pause, think it through, and then bring it to your boss with a plan in mind of how you’d recommend getting it done. Ideas are one thing, but making them a reality is entirely different. Presenting your boss with a game plan is going to demonstrate to her that you don’t just have good ideas, but you can put them into action. This provides her with one less thing to think about in regard to how to get something accomplished, but it also gives you ownership of seeing your idea through and the praise when it’s implemented successfully.

Five Simple Ways to Wow Your Boss – Lisa Dill, Digital Professional Institute (undated)

Read the full piece for more specific advice on handling yourself at work.

You’re your own boss

When I went freelance in the 1990s, very many people enthused at me about what it would like not being a boss. I knew they were wrong: it was more like I was taking on 17 bosses, each of them paying me a tiny bit.

All these years on, though, they were right. And I was wrong. (Would you look at that? A man saying he was wrong. Songs will be sung of this day.)

I have all these clients, all these editors, most people have just the one boss. But we are all working for ourselves and as easy as it can be to let the boss decide everything, as even easier as it is to just complain about that man or woman, you will be more productive and you will feel better when you realise that you are in charge.

Let’s not get silly about it. Punching your boss in the face is not empowerment, it’s unemployment and a possible legal case. But take everything your job requires you to do and look at it all is if you are the manager. Which bit does your client, your boss, really need? What bits are quick wins you can knock out in ten minutes? What’s the stuff that you know is just bollocks and busy work? And what is the stuff that you can do that needs help from other people? Best yet: what’s missing? What more can you do that will be really good for you, your boss, your company and your future pay rises?

Look at your job not as what you have to do or as who you are, but instead as this business that you are running. You have clients and customers, you have resources, if you use them like that instead of constantly reacting to whatever happens next or whoever demands things the loudest, you’ll feel in control. It’s the best feeling because it’s real, you’ll feel in control because you are.

Mind you, keep doing that and you could end up being promoted to boss. Or go freelance.

What you wish for may turn out a bit meh: Word is free on iPad

I’m not a fan of Microsoft. It’s been years since the problems and the failings of Microsoft Word outweighed all its benefits for me but it did and it does have those benefits. Microsoft Excel is and always has been very good. PowerPoint – well, let’s not do that. No need to be rude.

So for years my only interest in whether Microsoft would bring its Office software to the iPad was a kind of business fascination. It used to be that Word was so big, nothing else breathed at all. You can be certain that there were people in Microsoft who believed that keeping Word and Excel off the iPad would kill Apple’s tablet. Be certain of that. Because they were.

And, demonstrably, they were wrong. I think they were wrong enough that it has damaged them. Not because selling Microsoft Word for iPad on day one of the iPad would’ve brought in a lot of cash and kept on doing so for all these years. But because refusing to do it meant people had to find other word processors and other spreadsheets.

Once millions of people found they really, really did not need Word, they recognised that they really, really did not need it. Microsoft may have believed people would avoid the iPad because it wouldn’t run Word and being wrong there would’ve been bad enough. But being freed of Word on iPad means free of Word anywhere.

There are other factors that have made Word stumble and I don’t know what they are. But it’s now getting on for eight years since Microsoft switched Word over to the .docx format and still people send you the old .doc ones. Nearly a decade and people have not upgraded.

In The Blank Screen book I mention discovering after a month that I hadn’t got Word on my MacBook. And a little while ago I thought I was going to write you a news story about how Microsoft Word, Excel and the other one are now available for free on iPad. But instead, I’m thinking about how tedious it would be to switch to Word again.

Let me explain one thing. You have been able to download Word and Excel and the other one for some months now and you could read documents, you just couldn’t create or edit any – unless you paid a subscription.

As of today, not so much. You still can and you still get benefits from having that but you can use Word without it. All you have to do is sign for a free Microsoft account and off you go.

I signed up and off I went. And I also linked my Dropbox account so I could get to a lot of my current and recent documents here on the iPad. It was a chore looking through them all for documents I could open and in the end I just wrote a new one.


Microsoft Word for iPad is good. It feels better than the PC and Mac ones. But it’s too late for Word to be anything other than a curiosity to me now. I wondering whether that’s the case for most people.

Go take a look for yourself: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft The Other One are all on the iOS app store now.

Pardon? Microsoft embracing Dropbox storage

This removes another block to my using Microsoft Word for iPad. Up to now – and remember that isn’t very long, it’s not a huge time since Word and Office first came to iPad – you have had to use OneDrive for storage. That’s Microsoft’s equivalent of Dropbox and iCloud and it’s convenient if you’re an Office 365 subscriber. If you’re not, it isn’t. Not so much. Certainly not as handy as being able to save and open documents directly with Dropbox.

I’d have said Dropbox was an obvious route to go. But I’d also have said Microsoft would never do it. And the result was I never even thought about it enough to write it. So this was a surprise:

Microsoft and Dropbox are teaming up today to more closely integrate Dropbox into Office. The surprise partnership will benefit Dropbox users who use Office across desktop, mobile, and the web as Microsoft’s productivity suite will soon become the standard way to edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files stored on Dropbox storage. Office for iPad will benefit the most, with an update coming in the following weeks that will allow Dropbox users to link their account directly to the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint iPad apps.

Dropbox and Microsoft form surprise partnership for Office integration – Tom Warren, The Verge (4 November 2014)

This isn’t just that you can fiddle your way into sometimes using Dropbox, it is that you can seemingly even choose to skip OneDrive completely.

Now, if only Microsoft would sell a version without an annual subscription. Read the full piece.