Microsoft Office: Are you using the right tool for the right job?

Many of us love to hate #Microsoft.  The reality is they dominate the office productivity software market and we need to figure out how to get along.  Once you understand what each component does, the relationship improves drastically.  You can then apply most of the concepts to other suites like Open Office or Corel Office Suite if that’s your druther.

Using the right component for the right job saves time and, in the end, saves you money.  Learn to get along!

Man holding his head surrounded by question marks.Tools Covered Today

  • Outlook
  • Word
  • Excel
  • Access
  • PowerPoint

Microsoft has created a complete suite of tools to meet the needs of most office environments.  There are versions available for home and student use that have become more affordable today.  Check with your local software retailer.


Man with list of check marks in a column beside him.Managing Email can be quite a chore.  Whether the problem is multiple accounts or just volume in one account, #Outlook can be your friend.  We need to remember that Outlook is only a tool.  You still need to put best practices in place to make it effective.

Outlook can poll all of your email accounts but better still, there are functions within Outlook that help you to stay more organized.  For example, you can create multiple calendars to organize different areas of your life or you can work in one calendar and use colours and flags to prioritize.  

For email, I like to set up separate folders and then create rules to sort the mail.  First into a folder for the account it comes from and then into a file structure just like you would have used paper files in your cabinet or on your desk in the “old days”.


Microsoft Word is very powerful and very tempting to use when other programs may be more appropriate.  Stick to Word for letters.  Conveniently, Word 2010 has great accessibility checking tools and will save as an Adobe Acrobat file.

Don’t get too fancy.  Not everyone has 20/20 eyesight.  There are issues with colour, size and more to consider.  In many cases, there may be a legal requirement to ensure your documents are accessible.  I recommend Verdana, in a high contrast colour, because the font is native in most devices including the iPhone and iPad.  Even Unix understands Verdana.  Because it is a sans serif font, Verdana is one of the easiest for most people to see.

Tables are difficult for electronic readers and don’t calculate nearly as well as Excel.  Make sure you apply headings and fonts appropriately.

When you are creating something for publication, like an advertisement or flyer, use Microsoft Publisher.  I’ll cover that one another day.


Cartoon man holding percentage sign.Although Excel can be used to manipulate data, it’s primary function is mathematical.  You can use Excel to gather data and then create fancy equations to tell a story.  Excel also does a great job of creating graphs and charts that can then be inserted into Word documents.  Remember to take the time to understand things like your local Accessibility Acts.

One of the issues with using Excel for data is that the sheets can become so wide, it’s difficult to print on one sheet.  You may have to hide columns or rows and find other creative ways to change how the sheet looks on paper.  By all means, use Excel to collect your data if that’s easier because of the calculations. Once that’s done, it’s time for Access!


I have a bias.  This is one of my favourite programs for mining and presenting data.

Access has the ability to make of an Excel spreadsheet as a source for data.  You can either link to or import the sheet.  I recommend importing the data into a new table.  This way, you can have multiple users in the database working simultaneously using forms and filters.  If you link to the Excel sheet, only one person can manipulate the data and it has to be done on the sheet itself.


Picture asking why does it matter?This one is a lot of fun for people with creative minds!  Infographics are all the rage on social media these days.  Powerpoint is a great way to create infographics!  Powerpoint is really meant for creating visual presentations.  Be careful to avoid too much text, it’s distracting.  Make effective use of bullets with graphic support on the slides and put your words into the notes.

It’s tempting to make slides very busy and full of  pictures.  Remember, the focus is supposed to be on you and your message.  The slides are just prompts and a way to satisfy the “visuals” in the group.   You can print the slides with notes for handouts.

Powerpoint comes with some pre-formatted backgrounds for templates but allows you to change them and use your own images.  Once on a slide, you will see there are options for headers, inserting graphics etc.

For accessibility purposes, the same rules for documents in Word apply.  Colour, font, alt descriptions and so on.  Accessibility is a whole separate topic and I recommend you take the time to learn.


Most office suites have similar functions to the components in Microsoft Office.  The reality is that if you understand the Microsoft tools, you will be way ahead of most applicants for positions in an office environment.  It’s time well spent.

Understanding the different tools and their appropriate applications will make you the star in your office.  You will be more productive and time efficient.  To a manager, that means time and money.


Make it a great day!


P.S.  What am I thankful for today?  I’m thankful for the time I spent working in a computer sales and service company.  I’m thankful for the time I ran my own business and learned the marketing side of things.  I’m thankful for my time as an administrative assistant where I am able to apply all of these skills.

What are you thankful for today?