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In Sitecore (I'm specifically working with version 7.5 right now, but I believe this applies to other versions), when you mark a field as shared or unshared, you receive a popup that a lengthy background process has started. Is there any way to definitely determine when this process has finished?

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    If you're using Sitecore 7.2 Update-6 or Sitecore 8.1 Update-2+ then a new jobs viewer has been added to /sitecore/admin/Jobs.aspx. Unfortunately this page is not available on 7.5. – jammykam Jan 24 '17 at 16:09
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You can check the database to see if there is any data still present within the SharedFields table. The data for Shared, Versioned and Unversioned fields are stored within different tables.

SELECT COUNT(*) FROM [Sitecore_Web].[dbo].[SharedFields] WHERE [FieldId] = 'your field id'
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while performing some actions (like you mentioned),there should be a master Index update based on your index strategy i.e by default it should be 'SYNCMASTER'. you can get the status of the background operation through JOB viewer through Sitecore Rocks. Below snapshot shows the background changing the process from 'QUEUED' to 'COMPLETED'

Master Index updated as shown

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