As I talk to managers and employees of businesses, I am often amazed at the amount of menial, repetitive work that is still being undertaken. Managers and small business owners often identify this as a problem, but explain to me that they can’t afford to implement a custom software solution or rollout an ERP. But they are often overlooking the tools that they already have access to if they are subscribing to Office 365.
I want to share some tips for getting more from your Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscription. In this post, I will share two very simple and quick automations I am using from Microsoft Flow. They illustrate how easy it is to get started with improving your productivity as an individual employee or as a manager.
Perhaps it is the onset of middle age, but I found that I was regularly encountering a couple of issues surrounding meetings. Firstly, I would either forget about them or not know about them in the first place, because our office manager had added them to my calendar directly and I didn’t get an invitation. This led me turning into Captain Grumpy when I had to interrupt what I had planned to work on. The second issue concerned taking notes in meetings. I would faithfully carry my iPad into the meeting and then annoy every other attendee by spending 10 minutes trying to get a page in OneNote ready to start taking notes.
Microsoft Flow, as part of our Office 365 subscription, came to the rescue.
Hopping onto Flow, I browsed the templates related to Events and Calendar. I was interested in any flow that was triggered by an events in my Office 365 calendar. Lo and behold I found a template called “Create a OneNote page for upcoming event”. That sounded like it would help, so I clicked on it.
I was asked for 3 pieces of information: the Outlook Calendar that should be monitored, the OneNote notebook and the section in that Notebook the page should be added to. Each entry was a dropdown list, so super easy to complete. I clicked on Create Flow and I was done. That would certainly help solve my second problem. Now, when I go to meetings I just need to open the page that is ready and waiting for me.
Helping me stop forgetting meetings took more work. My day is planned in, and run from, Microsoft To-Do. Sure I could just remember each day to check my calendar when planning my day, but wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if my calendar events were listed under the Planned list in To-Do? For this scenario, I had to create one from scratch.
From Flow, I chose Create. Flow told me there are 3 ways to make a flow: “Start from blank”, “Start from a template” and “Start from a connector”. I chose to start from blank and create an Automated flow.
I chose a name, and searched for the trigger. A trigger is an event that starts your flow. In my case that was when an Outlook 365 event was created, so I searched for “outlook 365 event” and selected the “When a new event is created (V3)” trigger.
You need to tell Flow what should happen when an event is triggered. I wanted an item to be added to a Microsoft To-Do list, so I searched for “Microsoft To-Do”. I could see under Actions that I could “Add a to-do (V2)”. That sounded like what I wanted, so I clicked on it.
This needed a bit more information than the action for adding a page to OneNote. I specified the Subject, Due Date (so the to-do appeared in the Planned smart list), Importance, Status and the Body Content of the to-do item. To do this I needed to use two features of Flow that give it is power: Dynamic Content and Expressions. Dynamic content allowed me to take content from the trigger (i.e. data about the event in my calendar) and use it to create my To-Do item. Expressions allowed me to customise this dynamic content to fit my needs. In the screenshot you can see I used expressions or dynamic content for the Subject, Due Date and Body Content. Here is what I did.
Body Content: I simply wanted any content from the calendar event to be displayed in my To-Do. So I used the Content field from the Dynamic content dialog.
Subject: I wanted my to-do subject to look like “Calendar event: Call with Bob — 09:00”. For this I needed to combine the event subject and start time with the text “Calendar event” into a single value in the To-do subject. This needed an expression.
The Expression dialog shows the list of functions that can be used and concat (combines any number of strings together) sounded like the one I needed. I discovered I also needed to convert the event start time to my local time zone (all events in Office 365 are stored in UTC). To get dynamic content I needed to use “triggerBody()?” with the name of the dynamic content field in the square brackets. So my expression ended up being the rather long:
concat(triggerBody()?[‘Subject’], ‘ — ‘, formatDateTime(convertTimeZone(triggerBody()?[‘Start’], ‘UTC’, ‘South Africa Standard Time’), ‘HH:mm’))
Due Date: This needed to be the date the event was occurring. Again I needed an expression, but after sorting out Subject this was easy. All I needed was.
formatDateTime(convertTimeZone(triggerBody()?[‘Start’], ‘UTC’, ‘South Africa Standard Time’), ‘yyyy-MM-dd’)
After clicking Save my flow was created.
Now when I look at my Planned list in Microsoft To-Do I can see what meetings are coming up that day and I can add them to the “My Day” list. No more getting taken by surprise.
These two examples show how Microsoft Flow can make your working life easier. Many of the tasks you may wish to automate already have templates ready for you to use, but as I’ve shown in the second example, with a little time and energy you can automate tasks that in the past may have required working with a developer. It is well worth spending some time going through the templates.