Windows 11 is getting new Focus tools to boost productivity

Focus Assist has been a tentpole feature in Windows 11, and thanks to a new update, they're improving it further from today (April 5), after Microsoft announcing it at its event, thanks to the introduction of an integrated focus timer.

First introduced in Windows 10, Microsoft’s Focus Assist tools have been a useful ally in the war against notification vying to steal your attention away from work, games, and media.

Working similarly to your phone's alert slider and settings, Focus Assist allows you to filter out some or all of the notifications and alerts that could pop up and steal your attention away from whatever you are meant to be doing, so long as you remember to turn it on in the first place.

Increasing your Focus further

Thankfully that should not be as much of a problem anymore, as Windows 11 will soon be getting an integrated focus timer that is able to schedule dedicated blocks of ‘focus time’ into your schedule based on your calendar and working habits for the week.

Previously this useful Focus tool has only been available to customers of Microsoft’s paid Viva Insights program, which helps users build better working habits, so it is great to see the feature roll out to all users across Windows 11 who want to be more productive.

Currently, users looking to maximize their productivity and get the most out of Focus Assist have had to rely on setting up automatic timers or conditions upon which Focus Assist would activate, such as when a second monitor is connected or when you are playing a game.

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This neglected Microsoft productivity tool is finally getting some welcome updates

The web app of Microsoft OneNote is getting a range of updates and upgrades as the company looks to help users boost their efficiency and productivity.

The company has revealed a host of new features for the Microsoft OneNote web app, including a new mode switcher and an improved copy and paste experience.

Going forward, the company hopes that its  note-taking app will play a crucial role in helping users across the world transition to the new way of hybrid working.

OneNote for web updates

“We are happy to announce a set of upcoming features and improvements in OneNote for the web and in Teams to better serve millions of customers who have turned to these experiences for their notetaking needs over the last two years,” Microsoft's Chetna Das wrote in a blog post announcing the news.

“We are also investing in making these experiences faster, more reliable, and on par with the OneNote desktop apps so users can confidently get their jobs done on whatever platform they prefer.”

Not all the updates have been released immediately, with some rolling out gradually, and one, improved link sharing within Teams, scheduled for the future.

Available now, the new mode switcher follows in the footsteps of other Office web apps such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to let users quickly switch between editing and viewing mode, helping prevent accidental changes to read-only sections or files where users may not have edit permissions.

The improved copy and paste function will allow users to paste rich content such as tables and lists from external sources to a OneNote page without losing the source format. Users can also paste from the context menu user interface (UI) in Teams and the Chrome browser using the Ctrl+Shift+V shortcut to paste text only.

There's also a zoom feature that will allow users to get a closer (or further away) look at their pages, and an option to lock pictures and printouts in place as a background. Also announced is the ability to re-size videos, an auto-inking with Stylus feature, and the ability for OneNote to remember the last page you were on.

The news follows Microsoft's announcement in June 2021 that it would be combining the OneNote for Office and the OneNote for Windows 10 app from the Microsoft Store into a single app.

By doing so, Microsoft was hoping to encourage even more users to try out OneNote, as well as removing any confusion over which app they need to install on their devices.

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Microsoft is offering a new version of its most underappreciated productivity tool for free

Microsoft wants to help us all feel a little more organized and ready for the day ahead, and it's offering a free experience of one of its least well-known productivity apps to do so.

The company has revealed users with a Microsoft account (MSA) can now try a new lightweight version of its Microsoft Lists app at no charge, to see just how it can help them.

Microsoft Lists is designed for small business and individual use, and the new preview version of the app looks to help provide a clear and straightforward view of all your important tasks in one single place.

Microsoft Lists preview

“It’s time to liberate yourself from coordination chaos,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post announcing the news. “Time to clear your brain space and get organized. In short, it’s time to try the Microsoft Lists – MSA Preview.”

Previously only available as part of a paid Microsoft 365 subscription, the company says the new preview app is designed around the core of the existing service, but also adds in a few new tools, including tabbed views, sharing from within a Person column, add images inline and more.

It believes Microsoft Lists can be helpful across a huge range of tasks, from business-focused tasks such as internal events planning, job applications and employee onboarding, to more home-oriented activities such as vacation planning or even recipe collecting.

The app allows users to share all their plans with co-workers, family or friends, and can be customized in a wide range of formats to give users exactly the view or approach they need.

The company is offering 200,000 free trial accounts on a first-come, first-served basis, and you'll need a Microsoft account to sign up. During preview, users can try up to 50 lists, with up to 2,000 items/list, although there is also a 200MB limit for files, video, and image storage per list.

Customers planning to use Microsoft Lists with a business account and personal Microsoft account will need to switch between accounts to see each set of lists.

“We’re excited to see what sorts of information tracking goodness you create during preview, and how you share it all,” the company added.

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This new Microsoft Teams update will maximize your productivity on the go

Mobile users of Microsoft Teams may no longer need to worry about making unfortunate typing errors thanks to a new update.

The collaboration and  video conferencing platform will soon receive predictive text features to its mobile app, a new entry in the Microsoft product roadmap shows.

The new addition should make it harder to make spelling or grammatical errors when typing on the go, particularly as many workers embrace the new world of hybrid working, meaning they may be messaging on a train or bus, or just when rushing to a meeting.

Predictive text on Teams

The entry in the Microsoft 365 roadmap notes that the new feature uses “assistive AI” to predict a user's answers and gives text suggestions so that, “you can finish phrases in one tap.”

The tool may use the same technology found in Microsoft Editor, which uses the company's own in-house AI technology to cut out errors across Word and Outlook.

The company recently announced that predictive text would be coming to Microsoft Edge, giving users of its web browser a similar “text predictions” feature that uses Microsoft's own in-house AI and ML technology to offer word suggestions to users.

Microsoft says the feature should roll out to all Teams users by March 2022. It will initially only be available to Android users, however given the huge popularity of Microsoft Teams (which recently topped 270 million monthly active users), it would be a surprise if an iOS version isn't forthcoming soon.

The new feature is the latest in a series of recent updates to Microsoft Teams as the company looks to help keep its new and existing users productive and happy across the platform.

Also recently announced was the ability to combine business and consumer Teams accounts, hopefully putting an end to any unfortunate confusion between the two, and even the possibility of adding Microsoft's Cortana voice-recognition software to the platform.

The company also recently confirmed the launch of its walkie talkie feature in Microsoft Teams, allowing customers to use their smartphone or tablet as a walkie talkie that can work over both a cellular or wireless connection. 

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