Don't let your business drown in activities. In this Free Training Friday webinar for OfficeTools, learn how to keep track and tame your activity list, manage reminders, and stay on top.

 

About Free Training Friday: Since the beginning of 2017, we have been holding these free, 30-minute training hosted by our industry-leading experts and innovators who will teach you about AbacusLaw, Amicus Attorney, the Abacus Private Cloud, and now, Results CRM and OfficeTools Software. If you would like to request a topic, please email webinars@abacusnext.com.

Video Transcription

Hello, everyone. Welcome to today's Free Training Fridays for OfficeTools. My name is Kalei White and I am a marketing coordinator here at AbacusNext. Today we have with us, Philip Phares. He is the director of education at Abacus and we will be talking about how to manage your activity list in OfficeTools.

This will be about a 30-minute webinar, and we will do about 20 minutes of presentation with 10 minutes at the end for Q&A. So feel free to submit your questions in the chat or in the questions part of the webinar control pane. We will also send out a recording of this webinar later today so look out for that!

Without further ado, I'll let Philip take it over. Hi, Phil.

Hi, Kalei, and thank you for the intro. And thank you, everybody, for joining me on another Free Training Friday where we're going to talk about the reasons you need to stop ignoring your activity list.

I'm going to put up two polls during the webinar. Both of them are very, very self-serving, but I would really appreciate if you guys would answer for me. It helps us make sure that the content that we provide during these webinars are what everybody's looking for. So please answer the polling questions. I put those up. I mean, I'll go ahead and start the first one here before we really kick things off. And again, this is a self-serving poll. But I think everybody'll understand why this is important.

And it is ... What areas of OfficeTools would you like to see more of in the future when it comes to training webinars? And it's the whole gamut, right? We have time and billing, and we have workflow, and CRM, and all these things. So if you guys wouldn't mind taking a moment to go ahead and choose what topic you'd like to see more of in future webinars, I would really, really appreciate that.

Okay. So what we're going to talk about today is your activity list. Now, I've been in a lot of offices over the years. Offices who are just starting with OfficeTools, kind of day one. And I've also been to a lot of offices that have been using it for quite a while. And let me tell you, sometimes I'll walk into a firm that's been using OfficeTools for a year or two, and their activity list is a nightmare. And that's what we're going to talk about today, is how to make sense of it. How to organize it. How to maintain it. Very, very important.

Okay, I'm going to go ahead and close up this poll, and we're going to go ahead and move through. So, really, we're going to talk about a couple things. "Why are things showing up on my activity list?" It's important. There might be things showing up there that you don't know where they came from. So we're going to talk a little bit about that. We're going to talk about completing items, which is pretty much the number one culprit for our activity-list clutter. It's just simply not completing things. Likewise, my favorite function in OfficeTools is the ability to reassign work to other people. So we're going to talk about how that can help. Searching, sorting, filtering things out, and what habits are important to start using when it comes to your activity list.

Arguably that area of the program is one of the most important areas of OfficeTools. A lot of the features and functions deal with reminders, notifications, due dates, alerts. And all that culminates on your activity list. So if you're ignoring it because it's out of control, then you're doing a disservice to you and your workflow, and everything else. So let's try to make some sense of it. Okay? All right.

Without further ado, we're going to go ahead and jump in, and I want to remind everybody ... If you have questions, feel free to type those into the questions area in the GoToWebinar panel. I will do my best in the last ten minutes to answer all of the questions. If I, for some reason, forget, we will get back to you and get a reply to you as soon as we can.

All right, so, I'm going to go ahead and make a couple of assumptions that, if I walked into your office, right now, and I went to your activity list, it would probably look something like this. All right? Kind of scary. In fact, I have three pages of these types of activities on my list, here. So if it doesn't, and you have a nice, clean, orderly activity list, well, you know what? Kudos to you. There's some really cool things that we're still going to talk about. But I imagine most people's lists are looking a little scary.

Okay. What I'm going to do to emphasize how bad my list is, is up in the right corner here, there's actually an "Undock" button. So if you go to the gray bar that separates the activity list from the workspace, on the far right there's an "Undock" button. Click on that puppy, and it will give you a full-screen version to help terrify you even more about the amount of work that you have to do. And we're going to go in this view so that everybody can clearly see the items that we're talking about, here.

So the first thing I want to kind of talk about is, "What am I seeing?" "What is showing up on this list?" And the easiest way to define what's going on or what's showing up is simply just looking at the icons. Right? And you'll get familiar with this. If you spent any times in OfficeTools or on the activity list, these will make a lot of sense to you. We have things like a little clipboard with a pencil. I know it's hard to see, but that's what it's supposed to be. And that's your to-dos. All right? We have a little notepad, which is a note. We have things like a little cell phone, which would be a phone call. A calendar for appointments, and so on, and so forth.

One of the most confusing icons and items that will show up on activity lists has to do with projects. And the reason being is because there's actually multiple types of alerts that will go up for a project, and they look very, very familiar, when it comes to the wording. It's the icon that's going to really help tell the difference between the two.

An example of that would be this 1040 project we have right here, and this bookkeeping assignment that we have here. So you'll notice the icons for the assignments are just a single little pencil, and the icons for the project represent a cup full of pencils, as a project is a grouping of assignments.

So if you're seeing a lot of the same project wording on your list, like the titles and definitions are the same, just pay attention to that icon. You might be looking at two different alerts for the same project. One is an assignment, and one has the actual project notification. Okay?

So here's something else to keep in mind about what you're looking at. You can turn these on and off. And this might be one of the most helpful parts of managing your activity list, is simply not seeing everything. Quickest way to do that is to come over to the "type". So if you go to the far left of your activity list where you have all these menu options, there's areas in here where the types of items, you can simply turn on or off. So, perhaps I'm not really interested in looking at projects or assignments today. And I don't really want to see budget alerts, and notes, and calls. Okay? You can begin to tweak this, and it will filter these items out and start making this list make more sense. You can see right there, by leaving on just document reviews, calls, and to-dos, I now have a much more manageable list. And that's kind of the moral of the story.

One thing that everybody should take into account, or take into consideration, is that the activity list is not a one-stop-shop. It's not just you open it up, you look at the list, and then you move on and you do other things. It does need to be maintained. All right? Proper care and feeding of your activity list is really, really beneficial. There's a couple ways that you can do that, and that's where we're going to segue a little bit to about how we interact with these items. And we'll come back to the filters and sorts in just a moment, but I want to go to what we do with what we have on our list, here.

First thing I want to do is more of a habit. Talk about a habit. One really critical part that I see a lot of offices struggle with when it comes to the activity list is simply completing items. You need to start ingraining that task in your usage of OfficeTools. You complete something, something is done, check it off of your list. It has to be completed. Because if you don't, it's just going to sit there. It's going to turn red, and it's going to fill up your list, and now someone else who may be looking at your list ... They don't know that you completed it. But now they see this item there, and it creates mess. And we want to get rid of that. So if you're done with something, or it's no longer relevant, complete it off of your list. Simplest way to do that? Simply check the box. Okay?

So I got an item on here. I'm done with it. I'm going to check it off my list. Now, OfficeTools is going to give you a time card, right? Well, maybe I'm just doing some housekeeping. I did this two weeks ago. As far as time tracking, I'm not really concerned about it. And I got a lot more of these I have to complete, but I don't want to go through the time card process on all of them. Well, what you're able to actually do, is if you right-click on an item ... So, I'll go to another to-do, here, right-click on it ... There's actually an option here to "Complete Without Time Card". So if I just want this off my list, I'm done with it, I don't care about time, I just want it gone, I can complete without a time card. Okay? And then, boom, it's gone. It's that simple. Makes it much quicker to start getting these old things off of your list if you need to.

In that same right-click menu... So, I can right-click on this item. I can also create a time card without completing it, which may also be something that you need to do. But one of my favorite options in this right-click menu is actually the reassigning, and changing the due date. Here's another habit that everybody needs to start to consider. If you were supposed to do something today and you didn't do it, then either today or tomorrow, come back to your activity list, and change the due date. Push it forward. Right? if it was due today, and you didn't do it, then you know what? It's due tomorrow. Or next week. Or whenever you feel is appropriate.

Changing that due date is really, really important, because otherwise you just have all this historical clutter. We want to know what's coming up next. What do we have to do right now? The thing that we should have done yesterday, well, we need to address that, and move it forward, or change the details as appropriate.

So, managing your list is critical. So, those right-click options are going to give you some tools. Checking things off are going to help you keep it clean. If you have a lot of project and schedule items on your activity list, what you're actually going to want to do, and I'll close this just for example, is under the "Schedule" tab, there's a "Manage" button. And this will view and allow you to modify a lot of appointments very, very quickly. So using the "Manage" tool under the schedule and the "Manage" tool under "Projects", you could select a lot of appointments or a lot of assignments and complete those in bulk if you need to. Use it with caution, because you can do a lot of things very quickly. But it can be very helpful in getting a lot of items off of your list.

Okay. So, here's some other little tools I want to show you about the activity list before I really start beating everybody up about habits. Over on the far left, there are a lot of tools to make sense of all of these things. Okay? And they're grossly underused, in my opinion. One of them, I think, is the search. Now, the search works great if you know what you're looking for. For example, I only want to see tax returns. It's that time of year. That's important to me right now. So I'm going to simply do a search for "1040s". Okay? Now, anything with the word "1040" is going to show, but gosh, that's still a lot of stuff.

So you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to go ahead and hit the minus key and get rid of something else. We'll say, "2010". And then it's going to remove any of the 2010 1040s. And so on, and so forth. Okay? So you can use what they call Boolean search, so you can use that negative parameter, and actually get rid of things. So if you want to look at 1040s that are not in review, you could just hit "1040 -review" and it would get rid of all the review 1040s.

So use the search. It's very, very powerful. If I wanted to look ... If I was in Canada, and I was doing a corporate return, I could put in "T2", and there's all my corporate returns. Or "1120". Whatever's appropriate for what you're trying to find. This also works on clients. "I know there's some stuff going on with ABC Company, but I'm not sure where we're at"? Do "ABC Company -1120", because that's the tax department. I'm not concerned with that stuff. So start using the search. That's very, very helpful.

In addition to that, there are multiple view and sort options. But I'm going to give you a little tip, here, or a little best practice. In most cases, the sort and view options should always be focused on the due date. Okay? Now, you have a lot of other options there, but this is going to be the general way to approach this list, is by due date.

All right. So, let's talk a little bit about some of the other items. Namely, one of the other most underused areas is the focus. So I'm going to give you my hypothetical day of using my activity list. Okay? So, I come in in the morning. I have my Red Bull in my hand. I sit down at my desk, and I open up two programs. I open up OfficeTools, and I open up my email. I go through my email for later in the evening of the previous day, things that came in that morning, and I knock those out real quick, as I'm sure most of us do in most cases.

But what I also do is I take as much detail and effort to spend on my activity list. All right? I got to manage it. I got to go through, and I got to see what my day looks like. Now, if it looked like what you're seeing here, with all this red stuff, I'm not going to pay attention to this. This is just too much. So the first thing I will do is I'll come into my activity list, and I'll open up the "Focus" menu here on the bottom. Okay? And you got some options in here.

And typically, I kind of want to know what's coming up that day. What's on my desk today? So I'll choose the "What's Due Today", and my list magically is clean. I have nothing to do today. Now, we can adjust that. Right? If I did have a task built up, then I would only see what is due today. Well, that's good, I don't have anything going on today. What about tomorrow? What about next week? What about two months from now when I plan on going on vacation? So you can use the date range, when things were assigned, what's overdue, what's due today, and so on, to filter your list out very, very quickly to see just what you want to see.

So there is no one single view of your activity list that's going to give you all the information you want. What I would challenge everybody to start doing is spend five minutes a day on your activity list list, turning different filters on and off, and you might be surprised, some of the things that you learn about your workflow.

So, for example, I would choose to see everything due today. I would turn off projects and assignments and just focus on my calls and appointments, and that would make a lot of sense for what I have to do. And then, you know what? Once I knock those things out, and my list was empty? I would see what's due tomorrow. Maybe I could get a head start on tomorrow. Or what was overdue yesterday, and then I can change those due dates to show up, and knock those out today.

But you need to come in here and look at your activity list from different views. Don't just open up the program, see what's at the top of the list, realize you have a gazillion things to do, and then start ignoring it. You're doing yourself a disservice, and you're not utilizing the full potential of OfficeTools.

So pay attention to your activity list, and make sure that you really start using these tools to search and navigate, and make sense of all of this. If things are not appearing on your list and you're expecting them to, then these filters, and searches, an sorts may be the culprit. So in the event that there should be something on our list, but it's not there, make sure that your views and sorts are set to "Due Date". Okay? Make sure your focus is set to "All Tasks", and that you have all the different types checked. Okay?

Some other things that you can do with your activity list to make it make more sense, if you're using priorities, is organize things by priority. All right? So if you only wanted to see the items that were high priority, priority "1" in this example, I could just click on "1" priority, and that narrows my list down to about half a dozen or so things. These are all the items that are assigned to me that have the highest priority. So, you know what? I'm going to focus on these today. I'm going to reassign the due dates. I'm going to reassign it to a different staff member who maybe has more time. I'm going to complete it if I missed it, or I'm going to do the work.

And this list makes sense. I can handle eight things a day. Not five hundred thousand, or whatever it may be. And once I'm done with that, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to go to the number "2" items, and the number "3" items, and so on, and so forth, until ultimately I feel like I have control over my world when it comes to the activity list.

So those are all things that you can do in various ways to help make sense of this. And I'm not exaggerating at all, I have been in offices where they have items on the activity list that are four, five, six years old that they haven't completed or done. Now, it doesn't mean that they didn't do it. It doesn't mean that they didn't stay on top of their work. But it meant that there was an opportunity to be more effective and more efficient in tracking things, and because they became overwhelmed and bogged down by all of these different notifications, that they kind of decided, "Maybe this is too much to look at. I'm going to go ahead and do it the old-fashioned way."

All right. So those are all things that can help you manage and make sense, and stop ignoring your activity list. The last thing I'm going to mention about it before we move on is rebuilding your list. Now, inside of OfficeTools, there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of pieces of data, and alerts, and reminders going on in and out of the database, across work stations. It's all over the place. And every now and then, items kind of get bottlenecked. They get stuck. You assign something, it gets reassigned. The due dates gets changed, and somewhere in that process, it didn't show up where it was supposed to show up.

The best way, part of the maintenance of your activity list, is to actually rebuild it. And the easiest way to do that is if you just come up here on the activity list item, you can actually see a little printer button. Okay? If you wanted to print these items and have a report. Or a refresh button, so you can refresh it, or double click it to actually rebuild it. And rebuilding it, while you don't want to do it all the time, can be very helpful in having your application, your workstation, basically rebuild it from scratch with everything that should appear. So items that maybe are still there that shouldn't be, or things that have changed that haven't updated, this will go through the list and rebuild the whole thing. So that can be very, very helpful to just kind of maintain the health of your activity list, so to speak.

And the last thing I'll mention is there's actually a report that goes along with this. You can print the whole sheet, but under "Reports", up here on the top, under "Contact Reports", there's a "Staff Activity" report. Okay? Now, while this isn't an exact copy of the activity list, this will give you a lot of the same information, and you can use the filters and the tools available to have a report version of what's appearing on people's activity lists.

Okay. Perfect. A lot of things to go on, and again, the challenge, what I'm going to leave everybody with, is to spend five minutes every morning. Squeeze in, while you're mixing your cream and your sugar into your coffee, and you're at your desk, take that five minutes and work on your activity list. Complete things, reassign them, update the due dates, use your filters, use your searches and views, and get this list down to where it becomes such a cornerstone that you start spending ten minutes in the morning looking at it. But that's going to save you deadlines. You're not going to miss things. It's well worth the time spent. Just like we all spend so much time looking at our email to make sure we didn't miss something, we should be devoting at least as much time managing and maintaining our activity list, if possible. All right?

And it's no secret that the boss ignores their list probably more than anybody else. So if you're the boss, I would challenge you to give it another look. Spend maybe a little time on there, see if you can make sense of it. Or look at other people's lists, if you feel you need to. If you're the kind of person that has dozens and dozens of tasks every day, and you need to track things, likewise, spend some time trying to take control of and stop ignoring your activity list.

Okay. So I'm going to go ahead and take the last ten minutes or so that we have here and open it up to questions. While I do that, I'm actually going to put up the last poll here. And while the poll is running, I'm going to talk just a little bit, before we go into the questions area.

As many of you may know, the parent company, AbacusNext, and their cloud product APC, is fantastic in so many ways. It's a managed Cloud. It's completely secure. There's so much to go on that I really can't talk about it in the timeframe that we have here. But what I would like everybody to do is go to AbacusNext.com and have a look at APC. The Abacus Private Cloud. If you would like some demonstrations of it, to see how the APC managed solution would work in your office, let me know. Check that box. We'll give you a call at your discretion, at your time. Whatever's convenient for you, we'll go ahead and make that happen. If you want some information but you don't really want to talk to anybody, that's okay too, and if you want me to ignore you, go ahead and put that in there too. I won't take it personal.

And what we're going to do is now go ahead and open it up to questions. And it could be about the activity list. That's great. But really, I'm okay with any questions about the program in general. All right? So, I'm going to let this poll kind of run for a moment. As people start putting some questions in, I'll go ahead and start addressing those and knocking these down.

Q & A

What are document reviews?

You probably heard me mention that at the very, very beginning of the webinar. So I'm going to go ahead and close up this poll so we can get back to this screen, here. So let me see. Let's look at my activity list here, and find a document review. All right, and there's one right here.

So, there's an item on my list for Joe Demo that says "please review", and I'm playing the role of Joe Demo today. So, this popped up on my list. In fact, it popped up just ... I'm almost a month behind on it, now. So, I'm finally getting to it. So I'm going to click on it, and what it's going to actually do is navigate me to the "Document Management" tab, and filter out the specific document that I've been tasked to review. So the question, I think, here, is how did it get there in the first place, and how do we use it?

So just like to-dos, and just like phone calls, and projects, and all these other reminders that you're able to create, you can do that with documents. So the simplest way to do that is to just navigate to the "Documents" tab, as you can see we have here. And I'll just kind of reset this to show everybody. And let's just say that there was a document here that you wanted another person to look at. You could add this document to an email as an attachment, and send it inter-company email, and do that whole thing. Or put it on the network drive, so on and so forth. But using OfficeTools, all you really have to do is choose the actual file. Okay? Click the "Review" button here at the top, and then choose the person who that's going to go to. All right?

Now, there's some areas here where you can put in more details, about what you want them to see, and budgets, and all those good things. But ultimately, once you're done, you just simply say, "OK", and then that review will then show up. And we can see a new one just popped up on my list, here on the bottom, as a document review, giving them the ability to click on it, and take them directly to that file. And just like everything else, when they're done, they can track their time, and send it back to review with some details. So just think of it as a to-do associated documents. Great question.

How did you say to complete multiple projects at once?

That's a pretty big question. I'll give you the sneak preview, but what I'd highly recommend is that you go to OfficeTools.com and visit the knowledge base. There's some details in there about managed projects. But I'll give you the quick version.

If you go to the "Projects" tab ... And you do have to have a high level of user rights for this to work, by the way. But if you go to the "Projects" tab, there's actually a button that says "Manage". And what this will do is it will bring up every project that's ever been created, or is actively open inside of OfficeTools right now. So if I had 50 projects on my list that were done, I just didn't check them off, I didn't complete them ... I wasn't managing my activity list. Then perhaps what I'd want to do is come into the "Manage Projects" area and start using the filters and the tools here to narrow this list down, and have it make a little bit more sense. Okay? And once I've done that, and once I have the list of all my items that are showing up on my activity list, instead of having to check them off all one by one, I can do all these in bulk. And again, use the tools here to change the due dates, complete them, or even delete them, if necessary.

But before you start clicking around in here, I highly, highly recommend that you either speak to a trainer or visit our knowledge base on OfficeTools.com. And in doing so, and completing or changing the dates, or deleting those projects and those assignments, obviously that will clean up your activity list in exchange. Okay.

When a staff member doesn't see an activity list and should, how do you fix this?

I'm not entirely sure of what they're not seeing. But what can happen sometimes is they'll have the activity list undocked. So I'm going to click on the "Undock" button again over here on the far right, and then it gets minimized. So now you can see I have full screen OfficeTools, but no activity list. Now, obviously, it's just running down here in the bottom, and I can pull that back up. So that's one reason where it might not be visible.

If that section of the screen, however, is not showing up, there may be a technical thing going on. Or they just simply don't have the rights to view activity list items. Certain items just aren't showing up for one reason or another. What I'd recommend, though, Julie, is that you contact our support line and let them know what that person's experiencing, and they'll be able to rectify it.

If it's an item that's not showing up, but you really should, again, if you've checked what we've already done ... You've rebuilt the list, you've checked your filters and sorts, what it probably is is that the item that was created was not set to show on the activity list. So if I go to a to-do, and I'll just click on one on the bottom to make it quicker. I'm doing bank recs here. I'm reconciling bank statements. So any item that you create within OfficeTools will have a reminder. And you can see these in the right corner, that says, "Add to activity list four days prior to due date".

If I don't check this box, if this is unchecked when I save or create this item, it will not appear. And you can see that item just disappeared from my list. Which is very unfair to people. Assigning them work, and having it not show up on their list. So let's just make sure ... And it's on by default. You should not have to turn this on. But, inadvertently, sometimes it is unchecked, for various reasons. So make sure that the items are being created are set to actually show on the activity list. Then the should appear.

After the new update, 'Estimated Time' columns showed negative numbers on the activity list.

There are some items on the activity list here on the far right that you can see that are budgets. Okay? So we can see here that we have -1.25 hours. -2 hours. I probably have some positive items right here. 12 hours. So that is the budget. The estimated time that was set up for this task. And it could be for a project or a phone call, or a to-do. But not everything always has a budget. Right? For example, I may create a phone call, but it's just a reminder. I don't know how long it's going to be. There's no budget for the phone call. It's just a phone call reminder. But then, I track two hours against that phone call. Well, technically, from a budget point of view, I'm now two hours in the hole. And that's what we're seeing on the activity list when we see negative items.

So this, particular, right here, for this 2016 1040 prep assignment, I'm -2 hours into it. So either the amount of time that I have tracked exceeds my budget, or there was never a budget in the first place, but I've still tracked time against it enough it's put into the negative. So those are the numbers that you're seeing. You can adjust those. You can tweak those. But that's what those numbers are there telling you. Those are your budget items.

Very, very good question. Not enough people use the budgets for a lot of items. It comes up with the projects for obvious reasons, but having budgets on calls and appointments and things of that sort is really important, and can do a lot of good things. It's not hard to do. You say, "I'm going to call a client. It'll probably be an hour." Boom. You put that in the "estimated" field on the phone call, and you know what? You're starting to create KPIs. You're starting to create metrics that you can then track. And singles on your activity list can give you a little bit more detail about your workload.

For example, if I was assigning a bunch of work to somebody, and I didn't have any budget items on there, it doesn't matter if there's one item, five items, or twenty items. They have no context about how much time these items may or may not take. But if I put an hour here, two hours there, five hours here, now they can begin to manage their activity list and make sense of the items even more, because they know how much time, estimated, they should spend on these tasks.

Okay. We're right at the clock. We're at the limit. If there's not another question or two coming through, then we're going to go ahead and wrap up. I want to thank everybody so much for joining me, today. These are always a lot of fun. Next week, we're going to be doing another one. So make sure you go to AbacusNext.com and visit the "Webinars" page to see what's on the schedule for that. We'd love to, again, see you at every single one of these. So please join us for that.

And the last thing I'm going to do is put up a slide, here, as soon as I can get my screen to work. And there we go. So, again, I want to thank everybody so much for joining us. If you want to learn more about APC, the Abacus Private Cloud, go to our website, AbacusNext.com. If you've responded to the polling questions, obviously we'll contact you. And again, be sure to sign up for next week's free training webinar. And you can do that by putting it on your activity list.

Again, thank you all very much for joining me, and I hope to see you guys next week.

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