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  • My Tips for organizing with Outlook and a PDA

    I really like David`s principles. However, they seem to be mostly concerned with producing a result. As a project manager, sometimes the method and path is as important as the outcome (especially when the outcome is not desireable). To that end, I have been developing a way to use Outlook to track pretty much everything I do while.

    Everything MUST receive a category. Mails, contacts, tasks, journals, appointements, and invitations are assigned a category based on the project to which they are associated. I keep track of large projects through the category nomenclature "PRJ: XXXXXX." This allows me to identify my project categories quickly by grouping them together in the categories list.

    Everything in Outlook CAN be assigned a category. Right click on a received mail message and you`ll see either a "categories" and/or, depending on the version of Outlook you are using, you`ll see an "Options" item. If you do not see categories, click options and you`ll be able to assign a category through that window. Same idea with Notes.

    Contacts get assigned multiple categories because they are usually associated with more than one project.

    If you wanted to go all out, you could even attach the documents you work with (Word, Excel, etc.) in a Journal item and assign the project category name to the journal entry.

    Okay, so now that you have all of these categories assigned, how do you pull all of this data together? I`ve read about the "make a contact your project" solution but didn`t like it because it lacked one thing - synchronize-ability. I use a Pocket PC and everthing I grouped in Outlook would not group in my PPC. Likewise, I would not be able to manage data (add, modify, delete tasks, appointments, etc.) on my PPC and have it show up in any meaningful form in Outlook. My solution is simple - Advanced Find. The search criteria? Categories contains "PRJ: XXXXXX", search All Outlook Items. Viola. You have access to every (electronic) piece of data that you ever came across.

    But the data is all jumbled together and difficult to read. Simple soultion - group the view by Folder. Now all journal entries, mails, notes, contacts, etc. appear in their neat groups.

    How do we make this even easier?

    Once the advanced find has all of your items listed you can save the search. File - Save As. You now have one link access to every piece of project data that exists.

    I`m not sure about Palm, but you can search, view, sort by Category on PPCs. The only item that you canno assign categories to on the PPCs are Notes. There is even a third-party journal solution called CLC Journal.

    So now you have access to all electronic data and the structure and info is completely manageable in both Outlook and a PDA.

    If a project is short (a few weeks by my measure) I simply assign the category "Project" and put the project name as the subject heading. I do this because there are category items that are not projects so leaving the category blank for small projects would mix the data will non-project data.

    If I want to view Next Actions, I simply view my Task list with no grouping. If I want to see it for a particular project, I group by Category.

    Receive a task request via email? In the tree/folder view, simply drag that email to the Tasks icon. A task will be created with the email as the body of the task. All you need to do is add a title and a project category and click Save.

    With Outlook 2003, things get even more convenient. Outlook 2003 has a "Shortcuts" view. Pretty much any file can be added as a shortcut. Since I organize projects in a Windows Folder, I have created for each project a shortcut for the folder and for the saved Advanced Search file listed above.

    When a project is finished, I simply perform my advanced search for the project and then copy all of the items to a Windows Folder and Zip it to save space. I can then delete the category name and, if I wish, delete the outlook items associated with the category.

    I now have in one zip file, all project documents but also, most importantly, those documents have context because they are grouped with every email, task, etc. that went into that project.

    Using the methods above seem to allow me ultimate portability and flexibility in viewing my data.

  • #2
    Figured I should register - I`m "OutlookMan"

    Figured I should register - I`m "OutlookMan"

    Comment


    • #3
      GTD List integration

      I appreciate your input. Project linking is important to me too. My question though, is this: If you are using catagories for project names, how do you pull up your next actions by context? (eg., @Calls, @Computer, @Home ... etc.)

      Are those additional catagories?

      Comment


      • #4
        On a computer, you MUST Think Different(TM) about lists.

        First, I should concede that my ideas are really only useful for people who implement the philosophy for the most part on their computer. People who move back and forth from paper to computer will find my suggestions frustrating because they are different approaches to thinking about data. And these ideas apply to ANY paper/electronic process. [RANT]Being in IT, I am eternally frustrated by electronic processes that uselessly try to duplicate paper-based methods. If IT people would work hard to educate users to the differences, I believe people would be much more productive[/RANT]

        Now, what is a list? A list is a group of actionable items combined for the purpose of making it easy to find something to do in a given situation. There is one thing that your computer is MUCH better at than you are - finding data. If you did a search for Tasks that contain "call" in the title, you would have all calls available to you pretty quickly.

        The picture of a piece of paper on your computer screen is not the same as the papyrus product on your desk. You should not try to capture data in the same way on your computer that you do on paper.

        @Errands? Create an @Errands category.

        If you use the list idea then you are forced to decide that an item goes on one list and not another. For some things this would not be a problem. But with categories, just assign it two. You aren`t duplicating the task - just making sure it shows up in contexts that are meaningful for you.

        Something else - regarding lists for certain people - you can assign "Contacts" to every Outlook item. The steps are similar to adding Categories. When I assign contacts, I`m able to find every task, journal, note, etc., that I`ve ever associated with that person.

        David`s ideas are very well suited to both paper and electronic media. The mechanics of paper and a computer are completely different, however. His ideas, as he suggests you use them in a computer, I find to be clunky and incomplete. The Outlook plug-in works for mail, but lacks useful implementations of many other areas of David`s philosophy.

        I see some people talking about making Word doc lists. Well, that works, but it seems awfully wasteful. I mean, what`s the difference between the Word doc and a piece of paper other than it is easier to add and delete items from the Word doc? I think it is a big mistake to try to transplant the mechanics of David`s philosphy to your computer. The ideas, yes - but not the mechanics. Everyone has to use what makes sense for them. I`m still defining this process and am looking for criticisms and kudos to help me further refine my process.

        I have some other ideas that I might share later about how to organize Someday/Maybe, Must tasks, etc.

        Comment


        • #5
          OK Webagogue. I'll bite. I like what you had to say thus far. Let's hear more.

          Comment


          • #6
            e-mail filing?

            I like this system. 99.9% of everything I do is on a computer...whether it's at work or at the home studio. My Pocket PC is mostly used as an overpriced floppy disk to move Outlook info between the two machines.

            While setting this up, I was wondering how you filed your e-mail once it's been assigned a Category and read. I've set up project folders that are stored in the Outlook Bar. Does everything go in a general archive and is retrieved while using the Advanced Find?

            John

            P.S. I'm impressed with the idea of moving everything to a Windows folder when completed. Great idea.

            Comment


            • #7
              btt

              Comment


              • #8
                Pocket PC doesn't sync contacts?

                Two questions for Pocket PC users:

                Does the PPC sync the links between contacts and tasks, events and notes?

                How does the PPC handle multiple folders for contacts, notes, tasks, and events?

                Thanks,
                Mike

                Comment


                • #9
                  Wow... I like the ideas presented in this post. Enough so that it motivated me to register on this site.

                  A few questions though, If you move everything associated with a project out of Outlook into windows folders, how do you maintain a complete history for specific people?

                  Another that I have been struggling with for a while. I need to be able to measure my workload with some kind of project board. I can maintain a list of projects using perhaps the contact as project method.. but run into the same dilemmas with my Pocket PC where I cannot sync properly. I need to be able to measure my workload so that I can plan my goals, projects and tasks appropriately. Any suggesstions?

                  Ralph

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                  • #10
                    Well for the Palm platform, this works pretty well.

                    http://www.chapura.com/keysuite.php

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Thanks for the support

                      Thank you for the kind feedback, everyone.

                      While setting this up, I was wondering how you filed your e-mail once it's been assigned a Category and read. I've set up project folders that are stored in the Outlook Bar. Does everything go in a general archive and is retrieved while using the Advanced Find?
                      If email has a category it is picked up by the Advanced Find very easily. Outlook 2003 has so many nice custom view options that I keep everything, including emails, in a general folder.

                      However, emails very quickly pile up and I`ve taken to creating new PST files. I name them "Outlook Archive 200X" and the items are grouped by year. In Inbox folder of each PST file, I create four subfolders - 200X Q1, 200X Q2, etc. where Q1 is Jan, Feb, Mar. - you get the idea. I then move all email older than three months from @Done (there really shouldn`t be any 3 month old open looks in @Action, etc.) to the appropriate archive folder file.

                      Now, I used the archive process above before I understood that you could copy/move mail messages from Outlook and to a Windows file folder. I will probably continue to archive as above, and copy, rather than move, all project related emails to a Windows file folder upon project completion.

                      A little more on my Inbox folder setup/process...
                      I`ve created the @Action, @Defer, @Done folders but I really only use the @Done folder. What I`ve been doing for the past few weeks is this...

                      1. Mail arrives. Assign category if appropriate. If it is nothing I need to keep or remember (lots of garbage emails that mean nothing to me) I drag it to the @Done folder or I delete it.

                      2. If the mail is actionable and it takes less than two minutes to complete, I will usually do it.

                      3. If the mail is NOT actionable but I want to keep aware of it OR NOT something that seems to warrant creating a task via drag and drop (see previous post) I flag the mail for follow up (right click, flag for follow up). Outlook 2003 makes this very easy. I review these follow ups at the end of the day and mark the flag as complete, move the mails, or create tasks via drag and drop as necessary. I do receive lots of chatter emails that I like to keep track of but not for which I am directly 100% responsible.

                      4. If the mail is actionable and does not match #2 or #3, I`ll create a task via drag and drop.

                      I don`t know how well thiss will work in the long run, but it seems okay so far.

                      Two questions for Pocket PC users:

                      Does the PPC sync the links between contacts and tasks, events and notes?

                      How does the PPC handle multiple folders for contacts, notes, tasks, and events?
                      mcogilvie - Your "link" is the common project name. The easiest place to implement the project name is in the "Categories" field for Contacts, Tasks, and Calendar items. It does synchronize with the PPC.

                      NOTES CATEGORIES DO NOT SYNC. You can only assign a category through Outlook. There is no way to view Notes by category on the PPC. That is why I keep suggesting moving away from Notes and to CLC Journal (I swear, I do not work for them nor do I benefit in any way by recommendning this product).

                      The PPC natively syncs only from the top level Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and Tasks fields. It is for these reasons that I recommend Categories to organize data if you want to use a PPC.

                      A few questions though, If you move everything associated with a project out of Outlook into windows folders, how do you maintain a complete history for specific people?
                      Once you put a contact`s name in the "Contact" field of the outlook item, it is there for good. Now, if you MOVE the item out of outlook, you can no longer use the Outlook search to find data. You can open any individual Outlook item in the file folder and see the contact name in the contact field. If you need to do some searching on a project, move/copy the data back to Outlook (drag and drop works).

                      Or, you can avoid all of these problems and just COPY your outllook items to a file folder instead of moving them.

                      Another that I have been struggling with for a while. I need to be able to measure my workload with some kind of project board. I can maintain a list of projects using perhaps the contact as project method.. but run into the same dilemmas with my Pocket PC where I cannot sync properly. I need to be able to measure my workload so that I can plan my goals, projects and tasks appropriately. Any suggesstions?
                      I`m not sure what you mean by "project board" but think I understand what you are trying to do overall.

                      Anything that contributes to your workload should be a Task. You can set the start and finish dates for the task to indicate length. What you cannot indicate in any field other than "Note" is Effort. Effort, of course, would be the time (in hours or percent) you need to spend on the task between the start and finish dates. It would be cool to track effort and so I`ll think about it for a while.

                      Now, you CAN show how many tasks you have in range X in many ways, but I find two particularly useful.

                      1. Outlook 2003 (others might also, but not sure) has a "Task Timeline" view (View - Arrange By - Current View - Task Timeline). This is a great visual aid to yourself (or your boss).

                      2. Setup your tasks to filter by day or week so that only the current week`s (or day`s or month`s) tasks are showing.

                      The PPC has no such software to show option 1 but you can us Pocket Informant or Agenda Fusion to utilize option 2.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hi,

                        I have just found this post searching Google for a solution to something else to do with outlook and I found this post. It is extremely interesting and I think it’s a great way to use outlook. I run a web design business and so I can change the project code to the actual domain I am working on (well that will work at the moment anyway – not sure about the future).

                        OK so questions one: If you select to search for all items including contacts and mail etc you can not save the search result as a search folder you have to save it to a location on your hard disk!

                        Second question: If you use the search folders to sort through all mail then why do you need to move it out of the inbox? You can simply leave all messages in the inbox as long as you process the category of the message as it arrives. Currently I have sub-folders in my inbox for all projects (domains) that I am working on. I simply drag and drop the main into the right folder as it arrives. What I could now do with your suggestions, is simple assign a category to the item as it is created or as it arrives and then leave it. Then use the search folders or the advance find option to do my everyday work.


                        Thanks

                        James

                        PS I decided to register because of the content of this post.

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