Tag: Work

How I Manage and Plan Tasks as a Remote Worker

How I Manage and Plan Tasks as a Remote Worker

I know being a remote worker and working from home can be a challenge, especially when it comes to managing and planning your tasks and to-dos. Since I started at Microsoft, I became a remote worker working from my home office, and I needed to figure out what the best way for me is to get things done. In this blog, I want to share my experience on how to manage and plan tasks as a remote worker working from home and be more productive. That said, this is specifically for my job and my personal preferences, this might not work in the exact same way for you. But I hope you get some tips and tricks out of it, which can help you to be more productive when you are working from home.

Getting an Overview of my Tasks and the Things I need to work on 🤓

To get your tasks and your work items planned, you first need to know what these are. Not just for you but also for your team and the people you are working with. So for me, there are two types of to-do items. First of all, the more significant things I am working on, alone but also together with my team. This helps you to collaborate in a team and also gives a good overview of who is doing what. The other things to-dos and tasks I want to track are all my personal ones (but still work-related), small tasks, ideas, emails I need to reply, and so on. For me separating this made a lot of sense since I also want to be very efficient and not spend time more time on a task writing it down than actually completing it (If it is not something the team should know about). With that, I quickly want to share how we collaborate and plan and track our work as a team, as well as how I work with my own personal work tasks.

Working and Collaborating in a Team 🙌

As a team, we are using Azure DevOps Boards to track and plan our work items. We can create new work items and then move them into the “in progress”-column. When the task is completed, we then move it in to closed. You can also see that we are tracking and planning our content we are publishing, offline and online events we are presenting at, and much more. You can see that we also use that board to plan and schedule posts on our ITOpsTalk.com blog. With that, we can easily plan and see who is releasing a blog on what topic on which specific day.

Work Items in Azure DevOps Boards

Work Items in Azure DevOps Boards

Azure DevOps also allows us to integrate into other systems and automate specific tasks and update databases. I know that Azure DevOps is might not be for everyone, but if you want to use a similar but simpler tool to collaborate and organize your teamwork, you should have a look at Microsoft Planner.

Managing my Personal Tasks ✔

For all the rest of my tasks, I use the Microsoft To Do app. The app helps me to organize different tasks in different lists. This is also how I write down ideas or to-dos I get out of a meeting or a conversation.

Microsoft To Do Management

Microsoft To Do Management

I don’t use the planning feature in the To Do app since I use my calendar for doing the planning. However, I still use it to give my tasks a time where they pop up, so I don’t forget to include them. Again using the Microsoft To Do app has a couple of advantages. First of all, you basically get this app on almost all devices I own, and it automatically syncs tasks, and there is also a web version. What I also highly appreciate is the fact that it connects to many other services and places and can show you tasks from different places like Outlook. For example, I can easily list all the emails I flagged and the Microsoft Planner tasks which are assigned to me.

One personal thing I can recommend is to create some quick notes lists. I, for example, created one for feedback, I often get feedback from customers during events or calls. To quickly write these items down, I use a list called Feedback in my Microsoft To Do app, and later on go through it and forward it to the right people and systems we have in place. The other quick lists I created are for recurring meetings. From time to time, something pops in my head, which I want to discuss during my next team meeting or my 1:1 with my manager. I quickly write that item down, and when the meeting starts, I can quickly open the list and make sure I don’t forget anything I wanted to discuss.

Planning my Tasks and my Week using Calendar Blocking 📅

Okay, now I have all of my tasks and to-dos listed, the next step is to plan them. One of the main challenges I found myself in was to figure out what I should work next. I have enough tasks, but it took me a lot of time to go through them and decided on which one I should work. Of course, you can prioritize your tasks, but since you also have meetings scheduled, one that is sometimes too big to start with. To make that process a little bit easier, I used the concept of calendar blocking.

There are many great articles and videos out there, which describe the concept of calendar blocking. For me it is straightforward, at the beginning of the week, I open up my Outlook calendar and a list of the tasks and items I need to do. I then start to put blocks in my calendar to plan when I am working on which item or task. So now, when I finish a task, I just have a look at my calendar, and I can see what I should work on next.

I also set myself some rules, and I had certain learnings over time. First, calendar items or blocks are not necessarily fixed, and they can be moved around as long as the deadline allows it. Sometimes you can’t finish something in time, so you might just want to keep working on it and move the other block or item for later. Secondly, I try to create as many recurring blocks as I can; this makes planning much more comfortable and faster and gives you some sort of consistency. Third, usually, my work items and blocks are larger then they need to be, I still want to have some time to interact with others on Microsoft Teams or just get a coffee, without stressing myself out.

All that said, I want to give you a quick example of how a week can look like. I want to highlight again, that this is based on my personal preferences and aligned with the teams I work with, it can be entirely different for you.

How I Manage and Plan Tasks as a Remote Worker

How I manage and plan tasks as a remote worker

Usually, I start planning my week on Sunday evening or Monday morning. A lot of blocks are already in my calendar because I created these recurring tasks and entries. Then I go into my Microsoft To Do App and my Azure Board, to check what the open tasks are I should be working at, and start blocking time for these items.

Outlook Calendar Blocking

Outlook Calendar Blocking

In this example, I want to quickly highlight a couple of things.

  1. As said before, you can see that many of my blocks are recurring tasks; this helps me to save time.
  2. I usually start the week with something easy I just can do, and I don’t need much brainpower, like reporting tasks. By just quickly getting these things done, I also get motivated to get more tasks done.
  3. I plan breaks to make sure that I don’t mess up my whole schedule. They are usually recurring tasks in my calendar.
  4. Even recurring tasks and blocks and easily moved around, depending on if I have meetings or different appointments going on.
  5. Since we are a remote team with people all over the globe, I can’t attend all of our meetings, and that is fine. We record our meetings, and I usually schedule some time to watch the recording.
  6. Working from home prevents you from having your usual chats with your colleagues while getting coffee or other breaks. That’s why our organization has some scheduled and recurring watercooler events for everyone to join.
  7. You can see here that I blocked some time to do some focus work on a specific topic. However, at the beginning of the week, I have no idea what and how many meetings I will have. Since a lot of people I usually collaborate are in another timezone and start working in my afternoon, I enter a blocker in my calendar but marked it as free. So people can still find some free time to schedule meetings with me using the Outlook availability feature.
  8. Here you can see I booked some focus time to work on a specific task. However, later in the week, I scheduled some meetings instead.
  9. I use the category feature in Outlook to color code my blocks depending on different tasks. Red, for example, means focus work, dark red means collaboration work and meetings, and orange are important meetings.
  10. One thing I like to do as a remote worker is to schedule some virtual coffee breaks with my co-workers over teams, outside of the regular meetings.
  11. I also highlight important tasks where I am presenting or speaking on a specific topic. Having that color-coding for these also reminds me to be prepared with the necessary content.

Note Taking

Another big part, to stay organized and get things done, is the way I am taking notes. I need a place to write down my meeting notes, or my planning for new projects and content, as well as my travel planning. For that I am using Microsoft OneNote, it is great because it syncs across all my devices, lets me do typing as well as handwritten notes, and has many more awesome features.

Taking Notes in OneNote

Taking Notes in OneNote

I can also easily collaborate and share notes with others as well as super easy automate processes using Power Automate. We are also using it a lot in our team to brainstorm ideas and work together.

There is also some stuff I always need ready, or I just quickly want to write down, or maybe quickly want to copy past later or something I need all the time. For that, I am using the Windows 10 Stick Notes app.

Stick Notes

Stick Notes

These also sync across my devices and really help me to get these quick notes done.

Automate processes between these tools

As you can see there are many tools which can help you to stay organized. However, too many tools can also have the opposite effect and can use a lot of time. I start using Power Automate (formerly known as Microsoft Flow) which is part of the Microsoft Power Apps. Power Automate helps me to easily connect different tools and services together. For example, I can automatically create a new Outlook task or Microsoft To Do task when an Azure DevOps workitem is assigned. Power Automate can also do things like sending emails or notifications, send an article to OneNote, integration with Microsoft Teams. and integrates in many other third-party services.

Automate tasks using Power Automate

Automate tasks using Power Automate

Conclusion

I hope this gives you a little bit of an overview of how I manage and plan my tasks as a remote worker. I know that this might not work for you in the same way as it does for me; however, I hope you get the one or other idea out of it. It is also important to mention that I highlighted a couple of different tools like Azure Boards, Microsoft Planner, Microsoft To Do and Outlook, I know that there are much more out there and maybe work better for your specific scenario. Again, I would never say I am an expert on that. I just wanted to share how I handle and manage my tasks when working from home, and I am super interested in learning from you, and how you organize yourself to become more productive. If you have any tips and tricks to share, feel free to leave a comment.



Home Office Setup 2020

My Home Office Setup 2020 – How does yours look like?

A couple of days ago, Microsoft and other companies recommended that people work from home (if they can) due to the Corona disease (COVID-19). Since I am part of a remote team, I work mostly from home when I am not traveling, and so let me share my home office setup 2020 with you. I did share my home office setup already in 2018 after we just moved. Since then, I have upgraded my home office with a couple of new things, which I believe make working from home even more productive and enjoyable.

This is it, this is my Home Office Setup in 2020

Here is a quick view at my desk setup:



Tom Microsoft HoloLens

One Year at Microsoft

Time went by so fast, that I almost missed that this is my one year work anniversary at Microsoft. I have to admit that this year went really fast. I got to work on a lot of exciting projects, had the opportunity to meet and work with insanely brilliant people, and was able to work on things I enjoy.

Since I am treating my blog kind of like my diary, I think this deserves a short blog post. I am currently back in Redmond for our annual Cloud Advocate Summit, and yes, it is the same time as the internal Microsoft Ready conference. I am a little jetlagged, and so I can use the early morning to write this blog. And that reminds me of my start in February 2019, where I also traveled to Redmond on my second day of work.

People often ask me, how are you doing? are you still happy with your decision? iI can only say yes, it was a great decision to join Microsoft, and I have no regrets leaving my old job. Not because I didn’t like my old job, I really did enjoy it. But after seven years working for the same company, it was time to take on a new challenge.

Another question is, what are your highlights? Well, there are too many to count and list them all but expect being part of an awesome team and working on the thing I enjoy, I have a couple of things I want to highlight. The first thing I want to share is it is insane how helpful everyone is, and I can’t remember how many times I got the words “tell me if I can help you”. Most importantly, I realized that these were not just words, but every one meant it. If I had questions or needed help, every single person was there to help. The second thing I want to highlight is how much I was able to learn. Working with so many clever and talented people helps to learn new things, get fresh perspectives, and new ways of achieving something. The company is also set up with this learn it all, versus know it all mentality.

Of course, there are also things you might don’t like that much, especially if you join a large corporation. However, since I was working with Microsoft before, I knew what I was getting into, and I knew what to expect.

One year after joining Microsoft, I want to say thank you to my team and my manager, who hired me and gave me this opportunity. I also want to thank people I worked with inside and outside of Microsoft as well as my girlfriend, who needs to deal with my travel schedule 😉 and supports me. I am also really looking forward to the time in front of us, and keep working with the Microsoft community.



Microsoft Cloud Advocacy Methods and Practices Team

Update on my job in the Azure Cloud Advocacy team – Methods and Practices

Today I want to take the time to give you a look at the latest changes in our Microsoft Azure Cloud Advocacy organization. It is precisely 7 months since I joined Microsoft in the Cloud Advocacy team in Cloud + AI. Our AzOps team, led by Rick Claus, with the focus on the success of IT Pros, is now part of Donovan Brown’s new organization called Methods and Practices within Microsoft’s Developer Relations. Rick Claus wrote a blog about the latest changes for the team, which I am excited about.

This team was specifically pulled together to span the operations spectrum of folks who specialize in all types of infrastructure architecture, DevOps practices, DevSecOps specialties, virtualization platforms, Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) principles and more. Regardless if you are on-prem only, hybrid or a cloud native team or organization, if you work in some form of IT operations space supporting your technical infrastructure used by internal end users, external customers or development teams – there are resources here for you to connect with.

Check out the video of Rick Claus and Donovan Brown having a chat about the reorg as well as the future of the Methods and Practices team.

So far it has been a great time in the Microsoft Azure Cloud Advocacy team, and I am really looking forward to work in that amazing team. If you have any questions about our team, let me know in the comments.



Techmentor 2019 Redmond

Speaking at Techmentor 2019

I am currently on the Microsoft Redmond campus for some internal meetings and training, during the same time, there will be the Techmentor 2019 Microsoft HQ conference in Redmond. I am happy to announce that I will be one of the speakers during that conference. Since I am already on the Microsoft campus it is great to take some time to speak about some cool Azure things. Techmentor 2019 is a 5-day conference from August 5-9, 2019 on the Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond.

My Sessions at Techmentor 2019

I will be delivering two sessions about Cloud Shell and Azure Stack, as well as being part of a panel discussion.

A Look into the Hybrid Cloud Lifestyle of an Azure Stack Operator

Microsoft released Azure Stack as an Azure appliance for your datacenter. Learn what Azure Stack is, what challenges it solves, how you deploy, manage and operate Azure Stack in your datacenter. Learn about the features and services you will get by offering Azure Stack to your customers and how you can build a true Hybrid Cloud experience. In this presentation, Thomas Maurer (Microsoft MVP) will guide you through the highly anticipated innovations and experiences during the Azure Stack Early Adaption Program and Azure Stack Technology Adoption Program (TAP). You will learn: How to integrate Azure Stack into your Datacenter How to operate Azure Stack and how it is managed How to troubleshoot Azure Stack installations

Mastering Azure Using Cloud Shell, PowerShell, and Bash!

Azure can be managed in many different ways. Learn your command line options like Azure PowerShell, Azure CLI and Cloud Shell to be more efficient in managing your Azure infrastructure. Become a hero on the shell to manage the cloud!

You will learn:

What cloud Shell is
Some new things in PowerShell Az
Tips and tricks on Azure command line options

Supercharging Hyper-V with quantum computing

Okay, I am not really talking about quantum computing, but hey there are some cool features in Hyper-V you should definitely know about! In this session, Thomas Maurer will talk about “hidden” Hyper-V features everyone should know about. This covers different features for Hyper-V on Windows Server as well as on Windows 10, like Containers, Windows Sandbox, WSL 2, VM Gallery and much more. Be prepared for a lot of demos!

Panel Discussion: The Future of IT

If something is certain in IT it’s change. With the current pace of getting new operating system versions twice a year and keeping the management tools around them up to date it’s no wonder one feels a little dizzy with the amount of things to learn. Take this opportunity to hear from industry experts what is most important to focus on and how to deal with this rapid change in real life. The panel includes experts on multiple technologies and topics and will include a Q&A portion to get all your questions answered.

Want to experience IT training at the mothership? Join TechMentor this August as it heads to Microsoft Headquarters for a full week of training, featuring our NEW full-day Hands-On Labs. I hope to see you there!



Global Azure Bootcamp 2019

Speaking at the Global Azure Bootcamp 2019

On April 27, 2019, it is again time where all the Azure communites come together for the sixth Global Azure Bootcamp event. And I am happy to be part of it again this year. Last year I was speaking at Azure Global Bootcamp 2018 in Zürich, Switzerland, and I will be back to speak at the Global Azure Bootcamp 2019 in Zürich this year. Besides this in person session, I will also be presenting online at the Global Online Azure Bootcamp (Ireland). This is an Azure Global Bootcamp event for those who don’t have something local or cannot travel, organised by Microsoft MVP and Azure expert Aidan Finn from Ireland. Hosted on GoToWebinar, presenters will share their expert knowledge on Microsoft Azure with an audience that can join in from anywhere around the world.

Around the world, user groups and communities want to learn about Azure and Cloud Computing. On April 27, all communities will come together once again for a great Global Azure Bootcamp event. Each user group will organize their own one day deep dive class on Azure the way they see fit and how it works for their members. The result is that thousands of people get to learn about Azure and join together online under the social hashtag #GlobalAzure.

I will be speaking about two extremly interesting topics inluding Azure Cloud Shell and Azure Stack.

Global Azure Bootcamp 2019 in Zürich

Mastering Azure using Cloud Shell, PowerShell and Bash!

Azure can be managed in many different way. Learn your command line options like Azure PowerShell, Azure CLI and Cloud Shell to be more efficient in managing your Azure infrastructure. Become a hero on the shell to manage the cloud!

Oganized by:

 

Stefan Johner

Stefan Roth

Manuel Meyer

Global Online Azure Bootcamp 2019 (Ireland)

Extend the Intelligent Cloud to the Edge with Azure Stack and Azure Stack HCI

Azure Stack allows you to extend Azure to your datacenter and run Azure Services under your terms. With Azure Stack HCI, the latest member in the Azure Stack family, we also offer a great hyper-converged infrastructure solution, with optional Azure connected services. Find out more about Azure Stack and Azure Stack HCI, how these solutions can help you to in your Hybrid Cloud strategy. Learn about the features and services you will get by offering Azure Stack to your customers and how you can build a true Hybrid Cloud experience.

If you have time and you want to spend a whole day learning about Azure, join one of the events around you, or check out the online streaming events. I am also happy to meet you in Zürich!



Joining Microsoft

Joining Microsoft

Today is a great day! I’m excited and proud to announce that as of February 1st, 2019, I’m joining Microsoft. I will join the Microsoft Azure Engineering (Cloud + AI) team as a Senior Cloud Advocate. After being a Microsoft MVP for seven years and working very closely with Microsoft in the last couple of years, this is a great new opportunity and an exciting time ahead.

Microsoft Cloud Advocate

Microsoft Azure Cloud Advocate

The Microsoft Cloud Advocate Mascot by Ashley McNamara

My role is part of the Microsoft Developer Relations group and more specific the Cloud Advocates. I’m joining the AzOps team of Rick Claus, which many of you know from Channel9, Microsoft conferences and his overall work at Microsoft. Our team is focused on the IT Ops and IT Pro community. This allows me to do what I love most, which is being an advocate for customers in the Azure product group, sharing knowledge and engaging with the community.

We are advocates for the IT community within Microsoft. Using the products, listen to customers, and help the product teams to prioritize their work. We develop tools to help use the products, we write documentation and tutorials, and we build connections between the community and the engineering teams.

Our team’s charter is to help every technologist on the planet succeed, be they students or those working in enterprises or startups. We engage in outreach to developers and others in the software ecosystem, all designed to further technical education and proficiency with the Microsoft Cloud + AI platform.

A large part of our mission is to make Microsoft Azure the best platform to run your applications and services, as well as making migration to the Microsoft Azure ecosystem simple. Our team looks for common pain points and works with the product teams to address them. In other cases, we build the missing pieces like tools and documentation.

My focus is going to be on the Azure and Microsoft hybrid cloud strategy. Besides the Azure services, this will include products and services like Windows Server and Azure Stack, which will help to bring that consistent cloud experience to life, so our customers can make the best out of the Intelligent Cloud and the Intelligent Edge.

If there’s anything, you would like us to improve reach out to our team or me. We listen to your needs and consider your feedback in our future developments.