Pro work tip for 2021: Build a color-coded work calendar

If you’re living with a default blue and white Outlook calendar, you’re missing out. Not sure what I mean? Take a look at this out-of-the-box calendar:

It’s a veritable wasteland of sameness. Every meeting looks identical. There’s no way to get a sense of what’s coming up each day; it’s just an overwhelming blob of blue.

Now let’s take a look at the same calendar with color-coded categories for meetings and work time:

The color coding helps me see what kind of day (and week) I’m going to have. Each meeting and event has an associated category with an assigned color. Events shaded in yellow are training seminars. Items showing up in red are leadership meetings. Project meetings are orange and design reviews are aqua.

The colors help me pace myself through the day. I know an afternoon of “red” meetings is going to require more focus and diligence. And I know days with more aqua meetings are my favorite (design review meetings are creative and fun).

I also use colors to help schedule upcoming meetings. I know, for example, that I can’t go directly from a leadership meeting to teaching a training class. I simply won’t have enough time to prepare and transition. Color coding makes this planning work easy – I know never to schedule a “yellow” training event immediately after a “red” leadership meeting.

Outlook supports color-coding by allowing me to set up categories for my meetings and events. I can use the Categorize dropdown to select an existing category or create a new one. Adding a color to each category ensures my meetings and appointments are shaded consistently.

I have 7 basic categories in my calendar (each with a different color):

  • Design reviews (aqua)
  • Leadership meetings (red)
  • Project work (orange)
  • Team meetings (green)
  • Training classes (yellow)
  • Heads-down work time (grey)
  • Out of the office / personal time (purple)

These 7 categories help me differentiate between my meetings without creating too much overhead. (It only takes a couple of clicks to categorize new meetings so they appear in living color.) My meeting color palette may be too much for some (or not enough differentiation for others). It’s your calendar, so adapt the coloring and categories to suit your needs. And make sure the colors you use reflect your personal preferences. If there’s a meeting or event you look forward to, give it one of your favorite colors. Seeing the color on your calendar will be a great pick-me-up.

I recommend starting small and adding color categories to a few of your recurring meetings. This will give you an opportunity to see how you like the results before you re-categorize all your meetings for 2021.

Our favorite Microsoft 365 moments in 2020

It’s time for the M365 Voice end-of-year episode! Mike Maadarani, Antonio Maio, and I have recorded and released 31 episodes since April 2020! In each episode, we pick a listener question at random and spend 20-30 minutes answering it. We’ve also hosted special guests Mark Kashman, DC Padur, Laurie Pottmeyer, Heather Newman, and Bill Baer. Our shows have focused on topics across the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, from Microsoft Information Protection to Project Cortex, SharePoint Syntex, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Stream, Microsoft Search, SharePoint home sites & hubs, mobility, user adoption, security, and compliance. Click here to check out our full list of episodes.

In our final podcast episode of the year, we highlighted our favorite Microsoft 365 things from 2020. Tune in to hear about our favorite features, roadmap updates, product releases, virtual conferences, community moments, and much more. Here’s a sneak peak at a few of our favorite things:

  • Ability to attend new virtual events like SPS Omaha and M365 Saskatchewan
  • Seeing how quickly Microsoft went to a full remote workforce during COVID
  • Launch of new collaboration features (e.g. integration of Yammer communities in Microsoft Teams, launch of products like Microsoft Lists, etc.)
  • Capabilities like Project Nucleus, which provide the ability to work with your data offline (this is particularly important in geographic areas with unreliable internet coverage)
  • Security updates to M365 (e.g. ability to assign Microsoft Information Protection sensitivity labels to Teams, SharePoint sites, and M365 groups)

We’ll be back in 2021 with more episodes. If you’d like to have your Microsoft 365 question featured on an upcoming episode, submit it online.

Goodbye 2020

What a year it’s been. I’m on month 10 of staying at home, working from home, and seeing the world (and friends and family) through a video screen. I’ve lost family to COVID, but am grateful for all those that have recovered and are still with us. And because gratitude carries us farther than sorrow, I’m focusing this “year in review” post on the things I’m most grateful for in 2020.


Companies like Microsoft have gifted us with the ability to stay connected digitally when we can’t be together physically. Seeing friends’ smiling faces on Teams meetings and over FaceTime is priceless. And Microsoft 365 has enabled me to work from home while keeping my family safe. I’ve seen firsthand the sacrifices Microsoft employees have made to increase bandwidth, roll out new features, and support the growth in our community this year. A huge THANK YOU for all you’ve done – you are my heroes!

Microsoft 365 Community

The Microsoft 365 community rocks – especially during a global pandemic. Friends and colleagues around the globe seamlessly transitioned from organizing in-person events to virtual events this year. This is a huge accomplishment, particularly for groups like Microsoft 365 Saturday Saskatchewan whose very first event was held virtually this year. Kudos to Joanne Klein, David Drever, Daniel Glenn, Antonio Maio, Mike Maadarani, Haniel Croitoru, Habib Mankal, Michelle Gilbert, Ryan Schouten, Joel Oleson, Ajay Iyer, and many others that gave of their time and talent to bring us all together. #communityrocks

I attended 20 events in 2020 (1 in-person & 19 virtually). I also had the opportunity to deliver 12 sessions at various conferences and user groups. The push to virtual enabled me to meet so many more people from across the globe at these events…and I was able to do it all in my fuzzy slippers!


What a gift it’s been living in Minnesota these last 10 months. We had a beautiful Spring, Summer, and Fall, and I had the gift of time to hike, sit by the fire, watch the leaves turn, and enjoy the outdoors. Lesson re-learned in 2020: time spent outside makes me happy.

Family (those we’re born with and those we choose)

Relationships are everything, and I feel blessed to have amazing friends and family. I missed seeing many of you in-person this year, but am looking forward to a time when we can travel again. Until then, take care and know you’re missed!

The Microsoft 365 Voice Podcast

Right after our COVID lockdown started, Mike Maadarani and Antonio Maio invited me to join their M365 Voice podcast. In each episode, we pick a listener question at random and spend 20-30 minutes answering it. I love coming up with quick, off-the-cuff answers to Microsoft 365 questions. We’ve also had a variety of special guests on the podcast, including Mark Kashman, DC Padur, Laurie Pottmeyer, Heather Newman, and Bill Baer. Since I joined the show in March, we’ve recorded and released 31 episodes on topics across the M365 ecosystem (Microsoft Information Protection, Project Cortex & SharePoint Syntex, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Stream, Microsoft Search, SharePoint home sites & hubs, mobility, user adoption, security & compliance, etc.). Check out our full list of episodes and submit your questions for future episodes!

Guest blogging for Humans of IT

In December, I was asked to write a guest blog post for Microsoft’s Humans of IT community. Microsoft asked me to share a growth story on the “people side” of IT. As a librarian that grew into a technology leader, I’m passionate about learning from and supporting others. I’m an advocate and an ally, and I believe diverse ideas and perspectives bring out the best in all of us. In my Humans of IT blog post – Becoming a Strong Female Technology Leader, I shared my experiences moving from the business to IT and how I struggled to build confidence as a new technology leader. The post also includes practical ideas on how to manage personal brand, build strong relationships, and evaluate good (and poor) feedback.  

REgarding 365

REgarding 365 is a community of bloggers, authors, community members, and speakers from the Microsoft 365 space. We share content in a variety of formats – blog posts, videos, podcasts, interviews, etc. I love the opportunity to connect with our RE365 contributors and core team members throughout the year, and to record special events like our Microsoft Ignite analysis on employee engagement, Microsoft Ignite analysis on Knowledge Management, and our COVID work-from-home virtual hackathon. This year we even held a Microsoft Ignite virtual watch party – loved it!


I’ve published 43 blog posts in 2020 – a nice increase over 2019. I love sharing new ideas with all of you – please keep reading!

Top blog posts of 2020 (based on user views):

My favorite posts of 2020:

I hope we’ll all be able to see each other again in person in 2021. Until then, I wish you all a safe and healthy holiday season.

Humans of IT blog post: Becoming a Strong Female Technology Leader

This week I published my first guest blog on Microsoft’s Humans of IT community! Microsoft asked me to share a growth story on the “people side” of IT. As a librarian that grew into a technology leader, I’m passionate about learning from and supporting others. I’m an advocate and an ally, and I believe diverse ideas and perspectives can bring out the best in all of us.

I share my experiences moving from the business to IT, how I struggled to build confidence as a new technology leader, and key lessons learned. I also share practical ideas for managing your personal brand, building strong relationships, and evaluating good (and poor) feedback. I hope you’ll join me on the journey and read the Humans of IT blog post – Becoming a Strong Female Technology Leader.

Microsoft Ignite 2019 – Women in Technology leadership roundtable

The Humans of IT community engages and empowers technologists to discover their tech superpowers through mentoring, shared stories of struggle and growth, and testimonials on how technology is positively impacting the world around us. If you’re not already a member of the community, I encourage you to learn more.

A Microsoft Teams discussion with Laurie Pottmeyer

We’re thrilled to welcome Laurie Pottmeyer, Senior Program Manager for Microsoft Teams, to episode 40 of the Microsoft 365 Voice podcast. We had the chance to ask Laurie all kinds of questions about Microsoft Teams, including:

  • What are your top 5 favorite Microsoft Teams features?
  • Which Microsoft Teams features are you surprised that people don’t talk about much?
  • Microsoft Teams daily active users jumped more than 50% since COVID-19 began, with more than 115 million users working in Microsoft Teams daily. How has the Microsoft engineering team kept up with this growth?
  • How is Microsoft innovating and adding new features to Microsoft Teams while ensuring the product stays secure and performs well?
  • What does a ‘day in the life’ look like for someone on the Microsoft Teams product team?
  • What suggestions and resources do you recommend for companies implementing Microsoft Teams?
  • What upcoming features are you looking forward to most in Microsoft Teams?
  • What trends do you see in how companies roll out Microsoft Teams (e.g. rolling out chat first, then online meetings, collaboration features, etc.)?

Learn more
Laurie recommended several online resources during the episode, including:

Did you know?
This is Laurie’s second appearance on the Microsoft 365 Voice. Mike Maadarani and Antonio Maio interviewed Laurie for episode 2 of the podcast when they were in Orlando for Microsoft Ignite 2019. Laurie is the only guest to appear in multiple Microsoft 365 episodes!

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

How do you know how many labels to use when implementing Microsoft Information Protection (MIP)?

Microsoft Information Protection (MIP) helps your organization discover, classify, and protect your sensitive information. You can use MIP to tag sensitive content and apply information protection policies (e.g. encryption, digital rights management, etc.) to secure content wherever it resides.

One of the many considerations when implementing MIP is determining which sensitivity labels you will use to classify your content. A sensitivity label is a tag (or identifier) that denotes how sensitive the content in the email or document is (e.g. whether it contains public information, company confidential information, personal information, etc.). Sensitivity labels can be applied manually by your employees or via automated policies. You can set up protections for sensitivity types (e.g. auto-encryption of all content containing personal information).

While your organization has a wide array of vital information, Microsoft recommends limiting the number of sensitivity labels you use in your MIP implementation. But how do you decide which sensitivity labels to use? And should you select one of those labels as a default that is auto-set for all content?

Episode 39 of the Microsoft 365 Voice podcast covers this topic in detail. Antonio, Mike, and I all advocate for limiting yourself to 3 or 4 sensitivity labels if possible (5 labels at the most). Here’s a few of the reasons we advocate for such a short list:

  • Fewer labels are easier to remember and use. Your MIP implementation will only be successful if your employees understand when & how to apply a label. Your employees aren’t all information tagging experts, so don’t make them have to know the Dewey Decimal System to tag a document or an email. Keep it simple.
  • Fewer labels makes it easier to determine which label to use when. Keeping to a smaller set of sensitivity labels makes it easier for your users to differentiate between data types. You want users to know when to use a confidential label and when to use a personal information label.
  • Fewer labels make for fewer errors. To maximize the effectiveness of your MIP implementation, you need to ensure a high percentage of your content is labeled correctly. Research shows that end-user sensitivity tagging has a misclassification rate of 30%. (This means that 30% of your content is not tagged with the appropriate label.) Having a small number of well-defined sensitivity labels will help you reduce this misclassification percentage.

You will also need to determine if you want a default sensitivity label (e.g. a label that is automatically applied to all new documents and emails). A default sensitivity label ensures all your content is tagged, but you’ll still need to educate users so they know why and when to use a label other than the default.

Additional tip:
User adoption and education are a vital part of your MIP strategy. To help you get started, Microsoft recently released a user adoption pack for MIP. The pack includes example email communications, PowerPoint training slides, etc. Check it out!

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Is ‘Inbox Zero’ achievable (or relevant) in a Microsoft Teams world?

In episode 38 of the Microsoft 365 Voice podcast, we tackle the philosophical debate on Inbox Zero (the goal of routinely clearing out your email inbox so it contains zero messages). Antonio, Mike, and I provide our personal views on whether Inbox zero is relevant, realistic, and desirable. We also debate the impact Microsoft Teams has had on our email inboxes and whether Teams has significantly reduced our daily volume of emails sent/received.

It’s interesting that Antonio, Mike, and I have very different comfort levels with managing (or not managing) our email inboxes. We also have very different operating styles when it comes to using (or disabling) notifications in Microsoft Teams.

Listen in and let us know if you are #TeamSarah, #TeamAntonio, or #TeamMike!

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Battling fear and toxicity in the workplace

I’m thrilled & excited to welcome Heather Newman as our latest guest on the Microsoft 365 Voice podcast! Heather is an entrepreneur, thought leader, marketing executive, and Microsoft Power Platform Community Success Team Lead. She’s also a fantastic human that I’m proud to call friend.

Over the past several years, Heather has written a popular blog post series on Battling Fear and Toxicity in the Workplace. Heather brings life experiences as an entrepreneur, executive, theater major, empath, and mentor to the series. It’s raw, personal, insightful, and blunt.

The series has had a powerful impact on my personal development and career growth. Fear and toxicity in the workplace crosses all boundaries – gender, sexual orientation, industry/vertical, job grade, experience level, etc. And life is circular. Just when we think we’ve learned how to succeed and thrive in difficult work situations, we’re thrown into a new challenge and have to re-learn it all over again.

We cover a wide range of topics in this episode, including:

  • Why toxic people are dangerous (sashay away)
  • We have choices! We can follow the path of least resistance, the path of confrontation, or the path of ‘I’m done’
  • Know the importance of building allies and relationships at work
  • Learn when it’s time to leave a job or organization
  • Be a lifelong learner and achiever. Never stop working on your personal growth & evolution
  • Be curious. Ask questions. Be kind
  • Build high-trust work relationships with people that will give you the unvarnished truth

We hope you enjoy the episode!

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Microsoft Search deep-dive

Today is all about Microsoft Search! We’re thrilled to have Bill Baer, Senior Product Manager from Microsoft, join us for a deep-dive Q&A session all the latest features of Microsoft Search.

We kicked off the session with a discussion about how Microsoft Search has become the digital watercooler that connects people in organizations (particularly important during the work from home challenges we’re facing in 2020). I’m fascinated by how Microsoft Search understands user intent (the content need behind the search interaction). Users often translate their search into terms they think will net them better results. This self-translation of terms can throw up barriers that make it more difficult to effectively return targeted results. Microsoft Search focuses on the user intent behind the search terminology to deliver results that meet the user’s needs.

We also discussed Bookmarks and Answers in Microsoft Search. Bill advises using Bookmarks when a user query is expressed as a set of keywords. A Q&A Answer is best-suited to queries that are submitted in a question format. Search is now a vital part of our productivity toolset and needs to evolve beyond providing a list of blue links…it needs to provide knowledge targeted to the user’s intent.

Listen in to learn how search can be integrated into PowerApps forms, how contextual search within Microsoft Teams powers information retrieval (including the ability to do a Ctrl+F to search within a Teams chat), and how search uses the Microsoft Graph for relevancy tuning and personalization. A huge thank you to Bill Baer for joining us!

What is Project Cortex? What is SharePoint Syntex?

Project Cortex is a Microsoft initiative focused on accessing, managing, and extracting the knowledge you have in your organization. Project Cortex extracts this knowledge from the data you store in your systems and then surfaces it in meaningful ways based on content models that you set up.

Microsoft SharePoint Syntex is the first product to be released from the Project Cortex initiative. Syntex enables you to build content models that review/understand documents or process forms. Models are built via machine-learning algorithms, and can be taught how to interpret (or make sense of) documents. Document understanding models help Syntex deliver knowledge to the right users at the right time.

Building a model is easier (and faster) than you’d think. I was impressed to learn you need a relatively small set of content to build and train your model. You can build a model with as few as 5 sample documents. And it’s brilliant that they require you to provide the model with both “good examples” and at least one “bad example.” If you’re trying to teach a model how to review organizational purchase orders, for example, you should upload one document that is clearly not a purchase order so it learns how to recognize anomalies.

SharePoint Syntex is an add-on to Microsoft 365. Listen in to learn more about Project Cortex and SharePoint Syntex, including ideas on how Syntex can enhance your business processes.

Want to learn more? Check out these #MSIgnite sessions: