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My Outlook/Palm GTD setup

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  • My Outlook/Palm GTD setup

    Like many of you, I have been trying to come up with an optimal system for implementing GTD using Outlook and a palm pilot. For a while I experimented with projects-as-contacts, but I've moved away from this method because Chapura KeySuite, which is necessary to use the system on the Palm, is both too expensive and quite slow on my aging Palm Vx. (Besides, there is certain awkwerdness to this method, even apart from the palm end of things.) The only thing that seems to work well on my old palm are the built-in applications, so I needed to figure out a way to use these effectively.

    A few weeks ago, I came up with a system that I wanted to share with people on this forum, in hope that it might help others struggling with the same issue. The system is not perfect, but it works well, and it manages to overcome some of Outlook's project management weeknesses, while maintaining compatibility with default palm databases.

    The main issue with implementing GTD in Outlook is that there is no obvious way to implement project-actions relationships that are at the heart of GTD. Outlook neither has nested to-dos, nor the ability to link different to-dos to each other. The only items that allow linking in Outlook are contacts, but there are reasons why using these for projects is not an optimal solution. It would be desirable to keep projects as to-dos, so that one can have both projects and next actions in the same module in Outlook, making switching between them easier and quicker. The problem here is to figure out a way to somehow connect projects and next actions that belong to them, using the rather limited built-in to-do manager.

    The solution I came up with is a combination of two main elements: a standardized way of entering projects and actions, and a set of custom views that make use of these naming conventions. While Outlook's to do list is pretty basic, its ability to define custom views is excellent, and with a little ingenuity views can be put to use to get exactly the result we need, virtually connecting projects with their next actions.

    Here is how it works. My every project is a task in the category "Projects", with a name consisting of a short name, followed by a description of the project separated with a collon and a period. So I might have something like this: "Laptop: .Organize and clean up data on the laptop" Every action for this project has a very similar title, except that it lacks the period, and is categorized with the appropriate context (@Home, @Computer...). So, for the above project I might have "Laptop: Clean up genres in the music library", or "Laptop: Organize My Documents folder".

    What this allows me to do is create a view that lists all projects followed by their actions. You do this by first sorting alphabetically (since the period comes before any letter, the projects will always come before their actions), and then by due date and priority. In addition, it is extremely easy to change the appearence of projects in the view to use a different font or color, to quickly distinguish projects from actions. To do this all one needs to do is change the appearence of items that contain a period. This way projects can become bold or blue, for easy recognition.

    Of course, in addition to this view, one can create views that only list actions with due dates, that group actions by contexts, only list projects or focus areas, and so on. All this is standard stuff, and I really have nothing much to add there. What I think is important is this ability to see what actions are there for which projects, which projects have no actions, and which projects one has been doing the most/least work on. This little naming convention allows me to see all this easily, without ever leaving Outlook's to-do list.

    Since I am only using standard tasks in outlook, the sync with the palm presents no new problems. Granted, the palm does not provide as sophisticated views as outllok does, but when I am out and about, palm's to do list seems to be perfectly sufficient. It allows me to quickly switch between different categories, it sorts tasks by due date and priority, and it easily feeds back into Outllok since I continue to enter new information using the same conventions I use on the pc. This, I find, is more than enough.

    I hope this can help a few people come up with a better way of using outlook's task module. Variations on this theme should be readily apparent. The crucial point is that even small standardization in how one enters data can allow one to take advantage of Outlook's powerful system of views, and produce effects that are extremely hard to achieve otherwise.

    Now if I could only figure out if there is any way to reverse Outlook's abnoxious inistance on putting tasks with no due date first when sorting by due date. As far as I know Outlook is the only app on the planet that does this, and I after years of frustration I have still not found a way to change this behavior.

    Cheers,
    Pedja

  • #2
    undated todo's in outlook

    I just put to todo's in my task list in outlook. One of them was dated and the other undated.

    In a 'detailed list' view I right clicked in the space below the tasks and then did sort by due date.

    If you check the ascending box the undated item is at the top.
    If you check the descending box the undated item is at the bottom.

    I only use outlook(2000) for the calendar and email at work and it is not my main role, so I may be completely missing the point.

    Hope this is of some use.

    Rav

    Comment


    • #3
      Rav,
      the problem becomes apparent when you have a couple of dated items with different dates, and one or more undated items. Say one item is due today, one tomorrow, and one has no due date. Asscending and descending due date ordering in Outlook will then produce either

      Task Due Tomorrow
      Task Due Today
      Task Without Due-Date

      or

      Task Without Due-Date
      Task Due Today
      Task Due Tomorrow

      Try it. This is how outlook sorts in all versions I have used, from 2000 to the current 2003 version. Obvioiusly neither sort is what we want. All other programs, including the humble to-do list on the palm sorts by default as follows:
      Task Due Today
      Task Due Tomorrow
      Task Without Due-date

      This sorting makes sense, and that's what I was trying to get. Yet, outlook doesn't seem to be able to do it. Even Microsoft's other PIM, Entourage for the Mac, does it correctly, just not outlook. I currently get around this by having views that filter out taks without due-dates, and others that show all taks, but this is still annoying.

      Comment


      • #4
        Like your system

        Pedja

        I really like your approach. It was really all I need to properly delineate projects and NA's. I dont care about the dated / undated issue because I dont use dates.

        Thanks alot for taking the time to explain it. Very simple and very useful.

        If I could figure out a way to get a similar view in the palm I'd be a pretty happy camper. Its always something...

        Comment


        • #5
          I wrestled with the problem of how to keep actions and projects linked as made some changes to my system. Here is where it is explained:
          http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GtD_Palm/message/15260

          Hope this helps.
          Frank

          Comment


          • #6
            Franks system

            Frank

            Your system stumped me. I dont get it, but I hope it works for you.

            For my pea brain, simpler is better - which is why I like Pedja's approach.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Like your system

              Originally posted by DM
              PedjaIf I could figure out a way to get a similar view in the palm I'd be a pretty happy camper. Its always something...
              There is a product called CanDo. It lets you define Tasks views on the handheld.

              J

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Like your system

                Originally posted by DM
                If I could figure out a way to get a similar view in the palm I'd be a pretty happy camper. Its always something...
                KS Todo will sort Alphabetically for you and it's FREE.

                www.freewarepalm.com/database/kstodo.shtml

                Bill

                Comment


                • #9
                  A solution for sorting Outlook tasks with no due date

                  Originally posted by Anonymous View Post
                  Now if I could only figure out if there is any way to reverse Outlook's abnoxious inistance on putting tasks with no due date first when sorting by due date.
                  Cheers,
                  Pedja
                  I found this web page searching for a solution to this exact same problem. I then came up with this solution solution last night...

                  When you create tasks with due dates, usually a "reminder" alarm is automatically set for that task by Outlook. You can use this fact to sort FIRST by "Reminder*** (decending)", THEN BY "Due Date (ascending)". This way all tasks with reminder alarms (e.g. those with Due Dates) will appear at the top sorted by most current to furthest away and all tasks without reminders will appear at the bottom. Basically just what you and I were hoping for.

                  *** Note: you may need to select the "All Tasks fields" from the "Select available fields from" dropdown.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I am adopting this method today!

                    I think this is a wonderful, brilliant idea. I have been using CanDo on my palm for years. I shun the use of categories because of several bad experiences trying to convert data from one application to another and not being able to convert the category fields.

                    I have been using a system of adding a simple keyword as a prefix for tasks' context (@calls, @home, etc...) and using CanDo to create saved views which filter and sort on the context keywords. CanDo allows sorting by four fields, including text, as well as filtering by keywords. Pop! for palm and TypeItIn for Windows allows easy input of the keywords as context tags.

                    I am now going to reorganize my lists, one of my favorite past times, to prefice items with the project tags similar to Pedja's system and enter my context keywords in notes. That way, I can still use CanDo views filtered by keyword tags that are located in the notes and also view the entire list sorted by task description so that Projects and Tasks are grouped together.

                    I think I will add a prefix to my project names that will allow me to filter by Roles and/or Areas of Focus. So my project names might be something like "01:Personal, Laptop: .Organize and ..." I have to be careful because I have a tendency to make the prefix wayyy to long.

                    Dwight...

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