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Projects, Next Actions, Tasks and Outlook

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  • Projects, Next Actions, Tasks and Outlook

    I've got multiple projects that I am juggling at once.

    Using the Task function in Outlook, I've grouped projects as much as possible by category. The good news is that I have all of the steps written down to complete each project (and out of my head).

    The bad news is that now I have multiple categories in my Task bar in Outlook.

    I need help in creating a Next Action List that is manageable on a Daily Basis, while still keeping the overall project lists together so I don't forget steps.

    How do you all do it? Do you keep your projects list out of Outlook or do you just have many more categories and just look at the deadlines for each project? Or do you spend your weekly review, pulling out certain items from each category and making them a Next Action.

    I should also ask how you then set up your calendar and task list to make them manageable on a daily basis.

    I did download the GTD Guide to Outlook and set my Task List up as David recommended, but I'm now hitting a brick wall in getting to that next step of organization.

    Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    Sweat,
    Good to see someone else using Outlook as their action/project manager. I'd love to be able to try some of the other tools that people talk about, but the IT guys at work won't let me.

    I keep all of my actions and projects (and other GTD levels) in Outlook, but have set up different views to work on a daily basis. Therefore, my usual view only includes items with tags like @office, @phone etc. This is my action list. I try not to add specific days to too many actions, but I have another view that only shows tasks due in the next x days.

    All of my projects are also Outlook task items, with the category ".10k projects". I have categories for "..20k Areas of Focus", "...30k Goals objectives". Using the extra stops means that when I have a view showing all categories (which I use for weekly review), they show up with the highest level on top.

    You asked how to link projects and actions. First, I only have next actions in my task list - anything else I think I might want to do on the project I put in the project task item so I don't forget it. I have assigned each project a sequential number. This I add to the contacts field of the project. Where an action is related to a project, the same number goes into the company field. Therefore if I want to see what I've done, and have to do on project "P00123", I just do a search for 00123 and the project item as well as any actions come up.

    For me one advantage of having projects as Outlook Tasks is that it makes syncing to my PDA phone easy. Previously I had projects as a contact item, but syncing didn't work well.

    It took me a while to set all of this up, but I haven't meddled with the system for quite a while now - it works for me, hopefully some of it can work for others.

    Bryn

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by sweat View Post
      I should also ask how you then set up your calendar and task list to make them manageable on a daily basis.
      Have you tried the GTD outlook addon ?

      It adds project functions among other things. I do use the project side of the addon, but it could be improved. On the plus side it allows you to add split up bigger projects into sub projects and you can add tasks, appointments and e-mails to a given project. My main dislike of the system is that it doesn't work well in a weekly review as you have to open each project individually and there is no next project button so you can skip through projects one by one (as it's so easy to add a project on the fly, I tend to end up very quickly with quite a long list of them!)

      Even if you find the project functionality to not match your requirements I would recommend the other functionality as worth the price of the add-on on its own.

      You can get a demo here http://netcentrics.cachefly.net/GTD_...sDoneTrial.exe

      Regards

      David McKay

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by barloo View Post
        Have you tried the GTD outlook addon ?
        Does the add-on do anything that is not listed out in GTD-Outlook guide?

        I also saw there is Jello add-on that appears to be similar. Is it?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Moggy View Post
          Sweat,
          I keep all of my actions and projects (and other GTD levels) in Outlook, but have set up different views to work on a daily basis. Therefore, my usual view only includes items with tags like @office, @phone etc. This is my action list. I try not to add specific days to too many actions, but I have another view that only shows tasks due in the next x days.
          I had set up each project as it's own category, so I could export and provide a status report to my boss.

          Following your method, if I'm understanding correctly (which I might not be...lol), I would create a separate Next Actions category that would be reviewed on a daily basis. Actionable items from each task would be moved to NA when I'm ready to move forward.

          Otherwise they within their specific category. Is that correct?

          Comment


          • #6
            The GTD add-in does much more

            The “official” GTD add-in, developed by Netcentrics, is faithful to the concepts and terminology in the white paper but goes much further. If you’ve already set up Outlook according to the white paper and find it to your liking, it would be well worth your time to take a look at some of the screen shots on the web site David McKay references and perhaps download a trial copy. The downloadable pdf User’s Guide is also quite informative.

            The software add-in automates much of the e-mail handling described in the white paper, but the greatest functional difference--as Mr. McKay points our--is that it allows you to assign tasks to specific projects (and sub-projects) and then view all of the tasks, e-mail messages, appointments, journal items, etc. specific to a particular project in one place. You can assign a task to a GTD project and also to any number of Outlook categories, but I don't know how exportable those classifications would be to your mobile device. Probably not very.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by sweat View Post
              I had set up each project as it's own category, so I could export and provide a status report to my boss.

              Following your method, if I'm understanding correctly (which I might not be...lol), I would create a separate Next Actions category that would be reviewed on a daily basis. Actionable items from each task would be moved to NA when I'm ready to move forward.

              Otherwise they within their specific category. Is that correct?
              Remember that Outlook supports multiple categories per task. So you can simply add the appropriate NA context/category to those items that are "active." Outlook can then give you either a project-centric view or a context-centric view, as needed.

              (Note that not all PDAs support multiple categories, so this approach may not survive synchronization.)

              Katherine

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by sweat View Post
                I had set up each project as it's own category, so I could export and provide a status report to my boss.

                Following your method, if I'm understanding correctly (which I might not be...lol), I would create a separate Next Actions category that would be reviewed on a daily basis. Actionable items from each task would be moved to NA when I'm ready to move forward.
                Sweat, it's hard to explain without screenshots, but I think you get what I mean.

                I have a set of categories for next actions (not just one "NA" category). They all start with "@" - these are my GTD contexts. I also have a view within Outlook which is filtered to only displays items with a category that begins "@". This is my actions list.

                Using the projects as contacts method is quite good for reporting to your boss - the activities tab in a contacts item does a search for anything linked to that contact item. See http://home.comcast.net/~whkratz/id3.htm for more details.

                Originally posted by sweat View Post
                Otherwise they within their specific category. Is that correct?
                For me, anything that isn't a next action doesn't get an Outlook task item of its own, instead I just note it in the text of the project item. I found that trying to plan a project to the detail of next actions was a lot of effort for little benefit. Instead I do an outline plan in the project item and when I've completed an action, I look at the project outline to see what's next. The best way will depend on the type of project.

                Hope this helps.

                Bryn

                Comment


                • #9
                  Create a "second Task List

                  I have used the GTD Add-in since it became available. I've tried every software program for Windows (ThinkingRock, Foresight, MyLifeOrganized, etc.), but I keep coming back to the Netcentrics GTD Add-in.

                  I use the projects feature extensively in the add-in. What I don't like about the add-in is that every next action is shown in your task list, which is very confusing since you are only working on the "next" one to move the project along. I've used tricks like numbering the tasks and starting the task with adjectives, etc., to help sort them in the order I want to execute them. It can get very confusing.

                  When I went to BlackBerry Curve 8310, which I love, this became even more confusing because I now had over 1000 tasks to sort through on a very small screen. I installed NextActions! for BlackBerry, which helps a great deal by keeping the categories from Outlook; but, still I had over 1000 tasks to sort through looking for that "one" for the context, energy level, etc. to accomplish right now.

                  What I did to solve that problem - and it turns out to make my desktop version of Outlook function even better - is to create a second Task List.

                  In my "Archive" PST file, I have a Task folder. In that folder I created new Tasks Lists for my projects. I then populate each project list with the next actions. For instance, a current project I am working on has 67 next actions I have already identified.

                  Using the GTD Add-in views, I set the view on my "main" Task folder to "Active Task by Project (GTD)". I then drag the tasks in my "archive task project list" to the main Task folder where I set the "Project" and "Action" for each next action.

                  It works best to set the project first. When you drag the tasks over from "arvhived" to "main", they will all have a Project "None". What you do is set the project for the first task, then drag all of the remaining tasks for that project in "None" to the new project. Then you open each task in the project and set the "action" - @computer, @home, @office, @errand, etc.

                  Example: Project "BUY new tires for car", then "Actions" might be @Calls for "Call Fred to get phone number for tire store", @Web for "Research best value tire for car", @Errand for "TAKE car to tire store to have new tires installed", etc.

                  Then, I drag all of the next actions from my "main" Task folder back to the "archived" Task list: "BUY new tires for car". Now, all of my next actions for this project are not in the main Task folder, so instead of 1000+ next actions (that also update on my BlackBerry), I currently have 54 "next actions" that I am working on.

                  When I finish one next action for a project, I then drag the next action from my "archived" project list over to the "main" Task folder.

                  If you have projects that recur as I do, you can also "copy" the project list in the archived task folder and then rename it to a new project and repeat the steps above.

                  One other thing. I am using NextActions! on the Blackberry so I can keep my categories from the GTD Add-in. The completed actions are still in the "main" Task List in Outlook and also come across to the BlackBerry. You can hide them with NextActions!, but, again, it can get confusing.

                  What I do weekly during my Weekly Review, is to move the completed actions from my "main" Task folder over to the "archive" Task folder - not to each project list in the archived tasks folder. This way, I have all of my competed actions in the archive task folder, and all of my open and current actions in the "mailbox" task folder.

                  Hope this helps.

                  Dave

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Moggy View Post
                    Using the projects as contacts method is quite good for reporting to your boss - the activities tab in a contacts item does a search for anything linked to that contact item.
                    I think I'm starting to get some of this stuff...

                    I see the rationale for setting up a project as a contact. Now here's my next question - when I create a contact, Outlook allows me to assign a category to the contact. Since I'm setting up the contact solely as a project, should I assign it to the relevant category?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Sweat,
                      What are your categories? Did you say you had a separate one for each project? If so, I'd add it to your project contact item.

                      I stopped doing that because I ended up with too many categories, but if it works for you, keep doing it.

                      Bryn

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Ok...making progress.

                        I installed Jello.Dashboard Outlook add-on (similar to the GTD add-on) to both my desktop and laptop and added Oxios ToDo List on my Motorola Q.

                        Jello allows me to set both contexts and projects. Is the purpose of a context to describe a set of related actions (e.g. call, email, etc.) and the purpose of a project to group tasks related to a specific goal (e.g. redoing the kitchen)?

                        If I have things right, I could have a redo the kitchen project with tasks assigned to various contexts. Is this correct?

                        Where I'm stumbling now is in trying to create an updated project list for my boss that does not involve hundreds of tasks. My current set-up is too fragmented and I need to defragment it.

                        Thanks.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Forget about Outlook categories!

                          Sweat,

                          In my view, there's a far easier way to manage tasks in Outlook than assigning categories. In fact, I believe that this practice causes more confusion than it helps. In the end, you will have created for yourself a jumbled list, perhaps hundreds of entries long, that causes you to freak out each time you lay eyes on it. Not cool.

                          I've been using my own method in Outlook now for the past three months with great success. (I think I got the idea off this or Merlin's forum.) In doing so, I've increased my productivity perhaps 500 percent. I'm a lot calmer at work. I don't have those freak-out moments anymore where I'm not sure I'm sticking to the proper system. I will never look back.

                          The trick, simply enough, is to use more than one task list. Meaning: forget about the standard "Task" folder that Outlook gives you, and create a new list for each project. Even more important, name your task lists appropriately so that you can identify and switch between them with ease.

                          If you're addicted to Alt-Tabbing (as I am), you can keep more than one task window open simultaneously to switch between them the moment a new task strikes you. Or, if you're in love with your mouse, leave the Outlook Navigation bar open on the left side of the screen to allow yourself to switch between your task folders that way.

                          This method gives you the freedom to throw the practice of assigning categories out the window, because you will be always creating tasks in the appropriate folder. In other words, you categorize the task simply by the folder you're putting it into. If a project-related task comes up and you don't have a folder for it, just create a new task folder. (I store one-off tasks in a "General Tasks" folder.) For tasks that apply to multiple projects, just copy the task to another project. And so on, and so forth.

                          What could be easier?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            gernblanston, thanks for the suggestion, however, I personally want to move away from multiple task lists (which I have previously been using Excel to maintain) to a consolidated system wrapped around GTD and using Outlook.

                            So, I'll reiterate my questions.

                            Is the purpose of a context to describe a set of related actions (e.g. call, email, etc.) and the purpose of a project to group tasks related to a specific goal (e.g. redoing the kitchen)?

                            If I have things right, I could have a redo the kitchen project with tasks assigned to various contexts. Is this correct?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by sweat View Post
                              Is the purpose of a context to describe a set of related actions (e.g. call, email, etc.) and the purpose of a project to group tasks related to a specific goal (e.g. redoing the kitchen)?

                              If I have things right, I could have a redo the kitchen project with tasks assigned to various contexts. Is this correct?
                              Yes.

                              Katherine

                              Comment

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