Category: Productivity

Scheduling a Bunch of People? Try Doodle.

One of the things I like about Outlook is the ability to flip through everyone’s schedule to find a likely meeting time. But when everyone isn’t in the same Outlook system, we end up having to find a time via email. You write, “When can you meet?” And the 7 people you’re trying to get together send you an email back some with when they’re available and some when they’re not available. You then have the fun and excitement of creating a matrix that will show the best time for everybody.

Or perhaps you have students schedule time to meet with you one on one? Want to find an easier option than a sheet of paper circulated around the room or taped to your office door? Or maybe you want to schedule time with your online students and that sheet of paper just doesn’t work at all?

Or maybe you have students writing research papers and you want to limit what the paper topics are and how many students can write about each topic?


The instructions are simple. “Create a poll.” “Forward the link to the poll to the participants.” “Follow online what the participants vote for.” “Free. No registration required.” Even though you don’t have to register I recommend that you do. Registering allows you easy access to all of your polls in one place, both the ones you’ve created and the ones you’ve participated in, through the ‘MyDoodle’ link.

First let’s walk through the process of setting up a poll to schedule a conference call. At the end of this blog I’ll discuss using Doodle to set up student conference schedules and how to use Doodle to manage students and their research paper topics.

At clicking ‘schedule an event’ produces this screen. Type in a title, an optional description, your name, and your email address. If you registered and are logged in, your name and email address are automatically entered.

Clicking the ‘next’ button at the bottom of the page (not pictured) produces this date selection page. Since this is a conference call for July 13th, I only selected July 13th. You may choose as many dates as you’d like. Just click on each date to select it. To deselect a date, you may either click the date in the calendar again or click the red X next to the date in the ‘selected dates’ area. The arrows next to ‘July 2009’ allow you to change months.

Click ‘next’ at the bottom of the page (again, not shown). Now we can choose our times. Doodle is quite flexible in terms of how you can enter times.

Here I’ve clicked the links to ‘enable time-zone support’ and ‘add further time slots.’ I’ve chosen my time zone, and I’ve entered some times. Notice that if I had more than one day available for the conference call, there would be an additional row for that day. Once I had selected the times for the first day I could copy and paste those times into each subsequent row using the ‘copy and paste first row’ option.

When I click ‘Finish,’ Doodle will send me two emails. The first contains a participant link that I will send out to my conference call participants. The second contains an administrative link that will allow me to edit or delete the poll. If I’m registered, I can also access the administrative features by logging into and clicking on ‘MyDoodle.’

This is what the poll looks like after I’ve entered the times that I’m available. If you’re not in the Pacific time zone, you can choose your time zone, and click ‘update.’ Doodle will change the time to match your time zone. Just type your name in the empty box, check the times that you’re available, and click ‘save.’ That’s it!

You can go back into your poll and edit it whenever you’d like by using the administrator link. If you change the time options after someone has already participated, little question marks will appear in those time slots for each participant. This means that you don’t know whether the participants who have already participated would have chosen those new options over the ones they did choose. Email your participants to let them know that you changed the options and that they can re-vote.

You may have noticed that on the last screen, before we hit ‘finished’ there was an ‘options’ button.

‘Yes-No-Ifneedbe Poll’ allows your participants to choose ‘if need be’ instead of just yes or no. Very handy!

‘Hidden poll’ is self-explanatory.

‘Only you can modify/delete votes and comments’ disallows your participants from modifying or deleting their own votes and comments. Note that the only participants who can modify or delete their own votes and comments are those who have registered with

‘Limit number of OKs per participants (row) to 1.’ We wouldn’t want to do this for our scheduling poll since the goal is to find times that work for everyone. But there may be a poll where you’d want everyone to choose only one option.

‘Limit number of OKs per option (column).’ If you were organizing an event where you needed two volunteers for each time slot, this feature would be handy. Click that option then in the ‘limit’ box, type 2.

Student conferences

Do you hold individual conferences with students? Create a scheduling poll with your available time divided into 15-minute time slots. Under ‘options,’ select ‘limit number of OKs per option (column)’ and ‘limit number of OKs per participant (row) to 1’ so that students can only sign up for one time slot.

Here is what such a poll might look like.

Notice that once a participant has selected a time slot, that time slot is not available for anyone else. The scroll bar on the bottom allows participants to scroll to the right to see more days.

Student research papers

Not only can Doodle manage scheduling, but it can manage any kind of straight-forward poll.

To create this poll on the main page, I selected “make a choice.” I put in the topics choices and using ‘options’ I limited students to only one topic, but up to 4 students can choose each topic.

In conclusion

If you’ve used Doodle or if you decide to try it, let me know how you’re using it and how it works for you!

Scratch the Repetition. Automate.

I feel like I spend a lot of time typing the same phrases over and over again. For instance, when students send me an assignment via email, I send them back a ‘got it’ message. When I send them their graded assignment, I write a ‘your assignment is attached’ message. Isn’t there a keyboard shortcut that will do that for me?

With PhraseExpress, there is.

My preference in this blog goes to free programs and services, and this one technically is. However, if the program thinks you’re a business (by identifying certain business-like words) it will start to give you an annoying little popup prompting you to purchase it. The popups bugged me so much that I uninstalled it, but I missed the features so much, I re-installed it and sent the company the money. A decision I have not regretted.

PhraseExpress works wherever you type text – in email, in Word, in Excel, in your browser’s search box.

What it does.

  1. It automatically enters text. When I type #g followed by a space, it automatically replaces ‘#g’ with ‘Got it!,’ the message I send to my students when I receive their emailed assignments. When I send back their graded assignments, I just type #gr followed by a space and it replaces it with ‘Your graded assignment is attached! – Sue.’This is fully customizable. You can decide what keystroke combination will generate the phrase you want. For instance, I could choose $student followed by a ‘Tab’ to generate a phrase. There doesn’t appear to be a limit on the phrase size. You can use it to produce several lines with just a few keystrokes.
  2. It automatically runs programs. For me, #word automatically runs MS Word, #xl opens Excel, and #calc opens the calculator. Again, you choose the keystroke combination that you want. Perhaps you have your browser open and you want to open PowerPoint, and you designated #ppt as the magic keystroke combination. In your browser’s address bar, type #ppt and PowerPoint will automatically run.
  3. It automatically opens folders and files. With #md I open my “my documents” folder from anywhere I can type. I can also ask it to open a particular file — #grades opens my grade spreadsheet in Excel.
  4. It automatically does web searches. Highlighting any text anywhere and hitting CTRL-F8 generates this ‘search’ popup. If I select ‘’ then the highlighted text (buried under the popup) will be run in a Google search. The search services listed are customized; you pick what websites you want as options.

5. It automatically keeps a clipboard cache. Usually when you copy and paste, you can only paste the most recent copy. With the PhraseExpress clipboard cache, CTRL-ALT-v gives you a list of your 20 most recent copies. Just click the one you want. If 20 is too many for you, you can change the PhraseExpress settings to give you less.

6. It automatically opens a calendar. Select a date, and the date is entered as text. For instance, typing #cal gives me this popup. When I click on a date, the date is entered where I was typing. In the PhraseExpress settings, you determine the format for the date. I have mine set so that if I selected the date highlighted below, “5/7/2009” would be entered where I had typed #cal and the popup calendar would disappear. If I just wanted today’s date entered, #date would do that. For that matter, if I wanted to enter the current time, #time or #now would paste the current time.

7. It automatically opens websites. Let’s say I’m typing along in Word, like I’m doing now, and I wonder, “What’s new?” I can type cnn, and PhraseExpress will open the CNN website in my default web browser.

8. This is not a comprehensive list. Visit their website for more.

One application

With all of the examples above, you get a sense of what PhraseExpress can do. I want to give you one more example that’s a little fancier that really shows its power.

Let’s say I wanted to send reminders out to my students about due dates for upcoming assignments. [Actually, this isn’t something I would do, but I can see where someone would.]  By typing !due PhraseExpress asks me to pick a date, and then it generates an email in Outlook with my students’ email addresses entered, with “Psych 100: Next assignment due” in the subject line, and some appropriate text and due date in the body of the message. All I have to do is hit ‘send.’ The next time I type !due, I can send the same message to the same students but have a different date.

To do this, inside PhraseExpress, I click “New Phrase” then “Add Macro” then “Automation” and finally “Create an email.”

That generates this popup:

In the To: box I’d put my student email addresses, of course. (Actually, I’d put my email address in the “to” box and put my students’ email addresses in the “bcc” box.)

When I click “OK,” in the “phrase content” space, I get this scary looking bit of code:

{#mail -to, -subject Psych 100: Next assignment due -body Hi all,

Just a quick reminder that your next Psych 100 assignment is due…

Please contact me if you have any questions!}

I want to replace the ‘…’ after ‘due’ with a date I pick. So I delete the ‘…’ and then click “Add Macro” then “Phrase manipulation” then “Insert a phrase within another Phrase.”

Since I already have #cal opening a calendar for me, on the next screen I type ‘#cal’ and that is entered right after ‘due’ giving me this code:

{#mail -to, -subject Psych 100: Next assignment due -body Hi all,

Just a quick reminder that your next Psych 100 assignment is

due {#insert #cal}

Please contact me if you have any questions!}

After clicking “OK” my shortcut has been saved and is ready for use!

Since I’ve designated !due as my shortcut, when I type that, the calendar pops up, and I choose a date. In this example I chose May 7, 2009. And then Outlook opens this new message:

To recap, to send a due date reminder to my students, I type “!due” wherever I can type, click a date, and hit “send.” Done.

Next term, all I have to do is delete my student email addresses and enter the new ones.

Not perfect

As powerful as this program is, it’s not perfect. For instance, it works as a spellchecker, but its spellchecking isn’t as powerful as MS Word’s. It will tell me that I’ve misspelled ‘the’ when I type ‘teh,’ but I can misspell all sorts of words, and it doesn’t blink: spull, blunk, wirk.

It has an ‘autotext’ feature that I turned off because it got on my nerves. When PhraseExpress detects that you’ve typed the same phrase repeatedly, it will offer you that phrase when you type the first few words of it. The problem for me was the few words it was picking up on were the first few words I used in a lot of phrases (so I discovered). What it would offer wasn’t usually what I wanted.

When you type in your keyboard shortcut, like #cal, the PhraseExpress default is to ask you to hit “tab to execute.” I found always going to ‘tab’ bothersome, so I changed the default to “spacebar to execute.” That has worked better for me, except it’s tougher to get around if I don’t want to ‘execute.’ Under most circumstances, I do want the calendar to popup when I type “#cal” otherwise why would I type such a combination? But writing this blog was cumbersome since every time I would type a particular combination followed by the spacebar, PhraseExpress would execute the command. How dare it do what it’s supposed to do. (To get a command phrase like #cal to not run the calendar, I typed #cals in my sentence, then went back and deleted the ‘s.’)

For reasons I haven’t been able to discern, sometimes PhraseExpress just executes the command without asking if you that’s what you want to do. Generally, I’d prefer that it did it without asking, but I’d at least like to know why it sometimes asks and sometimes doesn’t. It may be that the program is just a little buggy. I don’t know.

Having said that, what PhraseExpress gives me makes these issues very minor ones.

In summary…

Anything you do repeatedly on your computer (type phrases, open programs, open files or folders, do web searches), you can ask PhraseExpress to do for you.