Timesavers 2.0

My first article on the topic of “Timesavers” was published about two months ago. I covered many of Project’s data manipulation tools and best practices for setting up easy access to different commands. Following these recommendations allows you to perform required steps faster and hopefully with less mistakes. My suggestions will also give you the advantage of having better control over your work schedule. Part 2 is really a continuation of this theme, but mainly centers on the Ribbon’s first tab, File, and its key underlining commands, especially that of Options.

When you click File, you will see a backstage view, which displays organized tabs that appear along the left side of the Project window. These tabs contain customization and sharing options that are applicable to your plan, in addition to the necessary commands for file management such as New, Open, Save, Save As, Share, and Export. The most interesting tab is Options. Clicking on it opens the Project Options dialog box, which contains several pages through which you can adjust a wide range of default settings in Project (i.e. Quick Access Toolbar, Customize Ribbon, and Advanced settings). So, let’s dive in and look at how a few setting changes can improve your ability to save time while managing your projects!


Quick Access Toolbar

Navigating to File > Options > Quick Assess Toolbar gets you there, and you’ll find over 40 Popular Commands (see Figure 1). Most of these commands you will have no need for, as they easily can be found in one or more of the Ribbon tabs anyway. Standard or “out of the box” Project has icons for Save, Undo, and Redo because project managers use these commands so often. These three are also the first listed in the right-hand column shown below. There is no reason to clutter this toolbar with a lot of added commands, but it’s nice to add your favorites like I did. Print Preview and Project Information are ones I frequently use. To save and activate your updates, click the OK button at the bottom of the Toolbar.

Note: If you back out of the backstage view to see all the Ribbon tabs and look in the upper left-hand corner of your Project screen, you will see the Quick Access Toolbar displaying small icons for Save, Undo, and Redo. To the right of the Redo icon is a down arrow. If you click this and More Commands, you will see the same dialog box, again shown below in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Quick Access Toolbar


Customize Ribbon

Go to File > Options > Customize Ribbon. In Project, there are many Ribbon tabs (eight to be exact), and it’s nice to know how to customize them to your preferences. I happen to bounce back and forth between the Project and Report tabs most often. I’ve noticed after the Project tab’s commands, there is enough space to the right to add-in the Report tab’s commands, and to the right of this, the Help tab’s commands. This means the Report and Help tabs can be hidden from the entire Ribbon for a more streamlined look. Let’s start by looking at Figure 2 below. Under Choose commands from, I used the pull-down menu to select Main Tabs.

In the center command column (shown in Figure 3), I clicked Open (plus sign) on the Report tab to display related sub-commands. The Help tab is a different animal, as one has to click Open on the Help tab AND the sub-Help tab to show individual commands. In the customize column to the right, I did the same thing for the Project tab and renamed it “Project – Report – Help” (right-click Project and select Rename).

Figure 2: Customize Ribbon


Figure 3: Work-In-Process


Proofing is highlighted (see Figure 3) under the Project – Report – Help tab. By right-clicking, I selected Add New Group, and listed a new group. We can rename it, in this case: Report. From the Choose Commands column, I highlighted Project under the Report tab, and clicked the center Add button, which was added after the custom Report group. I then added View Reports and Export from the Choose Commands column.

Finally, I highlighted the newly added Export command, right-clicked, and selected Add New Group.  As you can see, a new group is listed after Export. I renamed that one Help. From the Choose Commands column, I highlighted “? Help” under the Help sub-tab, and clicked the Add button to include the Feedback and Show Training from the Choose Commands column. From the Customize column list on the right (see Figure 4), I unchecked the Report and Help tabs, so they would be hidden from the new Ribbon shown in Figure 5. To complete your updates, click the OK button.

Figure 4: Tab Redesign is Completed


Figure 5: Updated Ribbon



Under File > Options > Advanced > General section, I recommend being sure you have a checkmark in front of “Open last file on startup” because most of the time when you open Project, you’ll want to work on your last file. If you choose to make this update, click the OK button to save your change.



Schedule options reside under File > Options > Schedule. In the “Scheduling options for this project” section, change the first line (New tasks created) from Project’s default “Manually scheduled” to ”Auto scheduled.” You’ll want this selected most of the time for accurate task scheduling. Click the OK button to save your change. If later you have a reason for a task to be manually scheduled, right-click on it, and select Manually Schedule.



In the “Save projects” section under File > Options, make sure “Auto save every” is turned on and the timeframe is set for at least 10 minutes (or whatever timeframe suits you). This protects from unexpected interruptions that have the potential to distract you from working on your plan.


Legend Tab

Finally, under File > Print > Page Setup > Legend, click “None” under “Legend on.” This will save you valuable time and some trees (i.e. paper) as this selection will keep Project from printing the legend that classifies the bars shown at the bottom of every page. Click the OK button to save your change. Another option under “Legend on” is “Legend page,” which allows you to include one page with a legend if you ever have a need for it.

To the left of the Legend tab is the Footer tab. For historical purposes, I recommend adding File Name, Page Number, and Current Date.

In what ways do you save yourself time when working with MS Project? I’d like to hear from you in the comments below.


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Written by Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication.
From 2011 – 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.

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