22 Amazing SharePoint Tips and Tricks You Need to Know

2021-07-22

Microsoft SharePoint is a service organizations can use to securely store, organize, access and share their business data and files.

If your organization uses the Microsoft 365 business suite, then it’s very likely SharePoint is a critical tool in its day to day business activities.

In this post, I’ll show you my favourite tips for working with SharePoint.

Document Library Settings Menu

When using SharePoint, it’s essential to know where the settings menus can be found.

Click on the gear icon in the top right to access various SharePoint settings and options.

Note that the options displayed here are contextual. This means what you see here will depend on where you are in SharePoint. For example, the Library settings will only be available when you are inside a document library.

Document Version History

Files stored in SharePoint come with version history and you can easily revert a file back to a previous state.

This way if you mess something up in the file, you can restore it to a time before the error occurred.

Enable Version History in a Document Library

Before you need to use it, make sure it has been enabled inside the document library in which you want to use it.

From the document library, click on the gear icon in the top right then choose Library settings from the menu.

Click on Versioning Settings in the settings menu.

The Create major versions options should be selected by default and you can enter a large number in the input box labelled Keep the following number of major versions.

This way you will have a sufficient number of previous versions to restore the one you need!

Restore a File Version

Once you have the needed version settings enabled, then you will be able to view and restore previous versions of a file in a document library.

For any file that you want to view the history or restore to a previous version,

  1. Click on the three dots menu for the file. This will only appear when you hover over the item.
  2. Select Version history from the menu options.

This will open up the Version history menu and from here you can either download a copy of a previous version or restore a previous version to the current version in SharePoint.

  1. Click on the Modified date and time of the version you want to download and it will get downloaded to your local download folder.
  2. Click on the small arrow icon to the right of the modified date and this will open up a menu where you will be able to Restore the file or Delete it.

There is a View option in the Version history, but this doesn’t open the file in a preview mode like you might expect, it will only display information about the file, most of which is visible in the Version history dialog.

Version history is also great because it allows you to see who created each version of the file in the Modified By column. This way you know who is responsible for any changes to your file.

Share a File or Folder

This is one of the main features of SharePoint, it’s in the name after all. You can share files or entire folders with other users inside and outside of your organization.

Share an Item

Select the item you want to share and click on the share icon in the row or from the ribbon.

This will open up the Send link menu and there are quite a few options available.

  1. Select who should be able to access the item. Depending on which option you select, other sharing options will become available like allowing editing, opening in review mode, setting an access expiration date, setting a password or blocking downloads.
  2. Enter the email address or groups you want to share the item with.
  3. Add a message to the users regarding the item you are sharing with them. This is only relevant if you use the Send button.
  4. Use either the Copy link, Outlook or Send buttons to Share the file.
    • Copy link will allow you to copy and paste a link that you can manually share with the relevant users.
    • Outlook will open a pre-populated email with the sharing link so you can send the invite from your own email address. You can edit this email before you send it.
    • Send will send an email to the user with the details of the shared item including any message from 3. This email will automatically send from your account and you won’t be able to edit it before it’s sent.

Note when sharing a folder the recipients will gain access to all files in the folder as well as all files in any subfolders. For this reason it might be more prudent to share individual files.

Remove Access to a Shared Item

You can see who has access to an item or revoke any access you have previously granted via a shared link.

Click on the three dots icon for the selected item and choose Manage access from the options.

This will open a window pane which lists all the links giving access to the item. Click on the three dots next to the link which you want to revoke.

Then click on the X next to the link to remove it.

View All Items Shared With External Users

After sharing items, you might start to lose track of which items you have shared.

You can view all the items you have shared externally. Go to the gear icon in the top right to open the SharePoint settings and go to Site usage.

Scroll down and you will see a section titled Shared with external users. From here, you can View permissions for that item and revoke them if needed.

Set the Web or Desktop App as Default

By default, SharePoint will open an Excel, Word or PowerPoint file in the web app when you left click on the file name.

But this might not be the behavior you would like as the default.

To change the default click on the gear icon ➜ then Library settings ➜ then Advanced settings ➜ then choose either Open in the client application for the desktop app or Open in the browser for the web app.

Now when you click on the file, it will always open in your chosen app.

Choose the Web or Desktop App

You can choose which app to use each time you open a file regardless what is set as your default.

Select a single file and then click on the Open command and then choose either Open in browser for the web app or Open in app for the desktop app.

Enable Dark Theme in SharePoint

If you prefer to save your eyes a bit of strain, you can enable a dark mode in SharePoint.

Go to the gear icon to open the SharePoint settings ➜ then choose Change the look ➜ then Theme ➜ then select the Dark Yellow theme.

Click on Customize and you can change the main and accent colours if you don’t like the yellow.

Press the Save button to enable dark mode.

Collaborate in Real Time in Office Documents

One of the best things about SharePoint is that it will allow you to collaborate on an office document in real time.

This means you can edit Excel workbooks, Word documents and PowerPoint presentations at the same time as your colleagues without fear that file version will get forked.

You can collaborate using either the desktop app or the web app, but the web app will perform better as occasionally the desktop app is unable to merge changes during editing.

Either way, you’ll see real time edits from your colleagues and be able to tag users in comments to alert them of something inside the document.

Checkout a Document for Offline Work

Real time collaboration is great, but there will be times when you need to exclusively work on a file and be sure no one else is trying to edit it concurrently.

This might be because you want to download the file and work on it offline while you don’t have network access. For example, you might want to work on the plane while you’re travelling.

SharePoint allows you to check out a document to help avoid any version forks of your file due to offline work.

For a selected document, click on the three dots icon and choose More then Check out.

The file will appear with a small red arrow icon which indicates the file is checked out.

You can then work on the file online or offline.

  • Online: Open the file as you normally would from SharePoint either in the desktop or browser. Only you will be able to do this as the person who checked it out.
  • Offline: Download the file to your computer and work offline. When you’re finished, then you can upload the revised file to replace the online version with the offline version.

When you’re finished working on the file either online or offline, you can check it back in so that others can edit it.

For the checked out file click on the three dots menu ➜ select More from the options ➜ then Check in the file.

There is also an option to Discard check out, which will revert the file back to the state when you first checked it out. This means none of your changes will be saved.

Drag and Drop to Upload

If you want to upload a file or folder into a document library then you can use the upload button and choose the file(s) or folder(s) with a file picker menu.

The easiest way is to drag and drop files and folders from your computer to SharePoint.

When you do this, you will see dashed lines around the drop zone. You can release the file anywhere inside this border to upload it.

Drag and Drop to Move

You can drag and drop files and folders to move them to new locations in a document library. This is no different than the file explorer in Windows.

This is great when you want to move a file into a subfolder. But what might not be obvious is that you can drag and drop items into the folder navigation breadcrumbs to move them up to the root folder.

Pin a File or Folder to the Top

You can pin files or folders to the top inside a document library. This way it will always be easily accessible and more discoverable for others.

For the selected file or folder, click on the three dots menu and choose Pin.

Pinned files and folders can be unpinned from the top. Click on the three dots icon ➜ then choose Edit pin ➜ then Unpin.

Add Columns for File Metadata

You can create columns in your document libraries to hold added metadata for your files and folders.

These columns can be one of many different available data types in SharePoint.

  • Text
  • Number
  • Yes/No
  • Date and time
  • Person
  • Choice
  • Many other column types are available

To add a new column, click on the Add column heading to the right of all the existing columns. This will let you select from a list of different column types.

You can then click and drag the headings to re-order your columns.

You could use these to create Assigned To and Status fields to track who is working on the file and if the file is a Draft, has been Reviewed or is Approved.

Users can then edit and update these fields by pressing the Edit in grid view button.

Add a Comment to Non Microsoft Files

Office documents like Excel, Word and PowerPoint all have commenting system embedded in each file.

What if you want to comment on other types of files? SharePoint allows you to comment non-Microsoft office files like text files or pictures.

Select the file you want to comment on then click on the small info icon to open the document details pane.

There is a lot you can do here.

  • View and manage access to the file.
  • Change the file name or other file properties.
  • View recent activity with the file.
  • View file details like the type and size.
  • Copy the direct file path.

This is also where you can add comments to any non-Microsoft Office documents.

If you scroll down to the Activity section you will find previous comments plus a place to add comments and reply to previous comments. Enter your comment and press the Send icon to add the comment to the file.

Create a Nested Menu

You can create nested submenus in the SharePoint navigation pane to help organize and declutter the menu.

You could use this to group all the lists or document libraries into one main heading in the menu.

Click on the Edit button at the bottom of the navigation menu.

When you hover between navigation items, you will see a small plus icon. Click on this to add a link into the menu.

Unfortunately, there is no option to add a label to a navigation menu when using a SharePoint Team site and you will have to use the Link option as your label.

Use the site’s root address as the link address and then the labels will also act as a home navigation.

Give your link a Display name. This will the name you see as your root menu for any submenus you will add to this.

Now you can add submenu items. Drag an item just below the item which will be the root, then click on the three dots and select Make sub link.

Recycle Bin and Second Stage Recycle Bin

Have you ever accidentally deleted something in SharePoint?

Don’t panic! There is a recycling bin to restore deleted items.

Absolutely everything that is deleted in SharePoint will end up in the recycle bin. Whether it’s a page, file, list item, entire list or entire document library, it will end up in the recycle bin and you will be able to restore it.

https://yourdomain.sharepoint.com/sites/yoursite/_layouts/15/RecycleBin.aspx?view=5

You can access the recycle bin by going to the above URL, where yourdomain and yoursite are replaced with your domain and site name.

Here you will see everything that has been deleted from the SharePoint site including other user’s deleted items. This follows the SharePoint site access, so you will only see other user’s deleted items if you had access to them before they were deleted.

There is also a second stage recycle bin or admin recycle bin but you will need admin access to the site to use this.

Items that are deleted in the recycle bin will go to the admin recycle bin.

You can access the admin recycle bin from the regular recycle bin. Click on the link at the very bottom that says Second stage recycle bin.

Note items in the recycle bin and admin recycle bin have a maximum life of 90 days. After this they are gone permanently.

Document Library Template Menu

If you keep using the same starting template for your documents like a quote, invoice or month end report then you should add it as a template to the document library.

This way it’s always available in the menu when creating a new file.

Click on the New button in the ribbon of any document library and then select Add template. Now select the file you want as a template.

This template will be available anywhere inside the document library to add as a new file.

You can remove a template from the New menu.

  • Click on New.
  • Select Edit New menu.
  • Click on the three dots next to the template you want to remove.
  • Select Delete from the options.
  • Press the Delete button in the pop up window.

This is a great way to make sure everyone is using the same starting point for all the documents they are creating.

Get Notified When Someone Makes a Change

You probably have important documents and you might need to know when they are edited by other users.

You can set up alerts for files or folders to get notified when there is a change in your folder or to a particular document.

Click on the three dots menu next to the file or folder and choose Alert me.

  1. Give your alert a Title. This is the subject line that the alert email will have and it’s also how you will see it listed in SharePoint.
  2. Add people who you want to send the alert to.
  3. In the Delivery Method section, you will see an option for SMS text alerts. Unfortunately, this is not actually available in SharePoint online and is only available in SharePoint on-premise.
  4. Select the Change Type that will trigger alerts. This section is only shown when setting up alerts for folders and won’t be shown for file alerts. You can choose either when items are added, modified, deleted or all of the above.
  5. This section will allow you to send alerts based on who makes the change.
  6. You can choose to send alerts immediately or batch them into a daily or weekly summary depending on how frequently you expect your files will be changed.
  7. Press the OK button to save your alert.

Now you will get notified by email based on your selected criteria.

When you need to edit or delete an alert that’s no longer relevant, click on the three dots menu in the document library ribbon then choose Manage my alerts.

Folder or Flat View

Folders are great for organizing all your files, but have you ever wanted to see all the files together in a flat view without the folder structure?

There is an option for exactly this. It does not remove the folders, it will just change the view and you can easily get back the folder view any time.

Click on All Documents and choose Create new view.

Give your new view a name and press the Create button.

Now you will need to edit this new view to remove the folders. Click on the new view name and choose Edit current view.

Scroll down to find a Folders option and select Show all items without folders. Press the OK button at the very bottom to save your view.

Now all you files are visible without the need to navigate into various folders.

If you want the folders back, just select the All Documents view.

Sync Files with Windows OneDrive App

You can sync files from SharePoint to your computer so you can access them without opening the browser.

Download the OneDrive app and log in with your Microsoft account.

Navigate to the document library which you want to sync and press the Sync button found in the command ribbon.

Your OneDrive app will then connect to this library and when you open a Windows file explorer, you will see the library available.

Open a Synced File in the Web App

Synced files like Excel, Word and PowerPoint will open in the desktop application when you open them from the Windows file explorer.

You can easily open them in the Web app instead.

Right click on the file and choose View online from the options.

Run a Flow for a Selected File

Do you want to automate file related tasks in SharePoint?

You can with Power Automate!

You can build a flow in flow.microsoft.com using the For a selected file trigger and it will be available to run from SharePoint for any file you select.

You could create a flow that changes a document status from Draft to Reviewed then sends the file to your manager for him to approve it and then notifies you when they have approved it.

When you have the flow created and saved in power automate, it will be available to run in SharePoint.

  1. Select the file you want to run the flow with.
  2. Press the Automate button in the command ribbon.
  3. Select the flow to run.

You can automate a lot or work with this!

Conclusions

SharePoint is becoming more and more central to the way businesses operate in the online world.

SharePoint is more than just a simple document storage service. There are a lot of powerful features.

Hopefully these tips will help get you started to explore what you can do with SharePoint.

Do you have a favourite SharePoint tip not mentioned here? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the post!

About the Author

John MacDougall

John MacDougall

John is a Microsoft MVP and freelance consultant and trainer specializing in Excel, Power BI, Power Automate, Power Apps and SharePoint. You can find other interesting articles from John on his blog or YouTube channel.

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