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The topics here will usually deal with productivity-enhancing technologies of interest to small businesses and individuals, but are often of broader interest.  Productivity is the goal of all of this technology that we use. Enabling productivity through refining or adding technology-based capabilities is what we're obsessed with at Interconnected Technologies, and so this blog is dedicated to discussions of all things related to that.


Entries in Time management (3)


A workable way to do tags in Outlook 2007

Prior to Outlook 2007, Outlook would let one type an arbitrary word in the Categories field, which served as an OK way to "tag" an item in Outlook, albeit a way that cluttered up the Categories field considerably.  In Outlook 2007, however, one can only assign categories through dropdown menus and shortcut keys, which means the categories have to be predefined. 

Those who know me know that this is sufficient unacceptable to warrant a little fiddling around, looking for a better way, which I've found.

In Outlook (all flavors) you can create new fields.  I created a new one, called, imaginatively, "tags" (without the quotation marks).   It's a field into which one can type text from the grid view (see my other post here regarding my "eureka moment" about how to to Tasks in Outlook (and the Palm Pre) that I use for managing tasks in Outlook.

Oh, did I forget to mention that this pertains to managing tasks?  Well, it does.  For contacts, using the dropdown and standard, already-defined (by me) categories works just fine.  I can't for the life of me figure out why one would want to categorize calendar items.  I do some minor categorization of incoming emails, but only to facilitate changing client emails to a different color so they stand out.  But I digress.

With this new field I can type in arbitrary tags.  This makes the task thus entered searchable.  I don't really care about tagging personal todos, although I might, now that  I can, but I *do* care about tagging client todos, since I use the Outlook task list (for want of anything better, more efficient or more effective) to capture and group client todos.  I also use the tag "client" to trigger formatting that changes the font and the color of a task so it's easily recognizable as a client task.  I put the client name, or an abbreviation, in as a tag so that I can search on that tag and display all the tasks currently associated with a given client.  Very handy when I'm working with a client and need to make sure tasks are being managed well for that client.

Lots of applications for this.

You're welcome!


FINALLY! A suitable way to manage todos electronically!

Some who know me know that since adopting an electronic format for my todo list (thereby giving up my old, paper, Covey-based way of doing todos), my todo lists have become "where I put things I need to remember to do and then forget all about them since I never look there".  There are many reasons for this (procrastination, awkward user interfaces, etc.), but suffice it to say that my todo lists were next to useless. 

The technology base for my useless todo lists was Outlook 2000, 2002, 2003 and now 2007.  I also wanted desperately for my portable device (Palm PDAs, Treo, Centro, Blackberry, Palm Pre) to be a successful part of the equation.   I tried GTD tools, Franklin-Covey tools, and multiple configurations of Outlook, using Due Dates, Priorities, Categories, Starts Dates, and so on as ways to organize things.

You might notice that I mentioned the Pre - the Palm Pre - above.  That new mobile device, combined with a little discovery from Mark Forster, a time/life management guru whose work I've followed, may finally have delivered to me the holy grail - a working, efficient, effective electronic todo list!!  Yey!

I haven't quite finished this yet, since I haven't quite mastered the concepts of dismissal, and some of the other finer points of the system, but it's already helping me keep on top of todos better!

Here's how it works, so far.


  1. You read Mark Forster's information about his AutoFocus technique for managing todos.  His focus is on a paper-based system, but I adapted it to the tools I use:  Outlook, Exchange and the Palm Pre!   Autofocus is here:  http://www.markforster.net/autofocus-system/  Autofocus 2, an update, is here:  http://www.markforster.net/blog/2009/6/27/autofocus-2-time-management-system-af2.html.
  2. You set up a new view in the Outlook Todo/Task list (and/or the To-Do Bar), that shows these fields: Icon, Complete, Created, Task Subject (and, as a crutch, Due Date, although I think I'll be getting rid of that).  You set up the view to sort by creation date.
  3. You use the Palm Pre's task list, synchronized with Outlook through Microsoft Exchange (corporate, or hosted).  The reason the Pre works when no other mobile todo list I know about will work is that the Pre sorts todos by date created!   N.B. I hope desperately that when/if Palm adds the ability to sort on other fields (not there yet), they won't remove the ability to sort by creation date, or the Pre drops out of the equation, just like all my prior mobile devices. 


  1. Your todo list in Outlook, and on the Pre are sorted by creation date. 
  2. You add todos immediately as you think of them, so you don't forget anything.
  3. You review and act on your list like the Autofocus system suggests - starting with the newest and working your way back.
  4. The rest of the Autofocus system, and how I'll end up using it, will have to wait - too much to do!! (yes, I should remember to sharpen the saw . . . Thank you Dr. Covey!).

That's it!  There are some specific tools required to do this the way I do it:  Outlook <-> Exchange <-> Palm Pre.  You might be able to adapt to other/lesser tools, or just use paper, or Outlook or other electronic todo list that can sort by creation date and NOT use a mobile device. 

For now, I'm just happy to have an efficient, effective way to use electronic todo lists!

More soon.


Goodbye GTD and Hello (again)Covey

Many years ago I read a very important book by Steven Covey. Nearly everyone has heard of it, if not bought and read it: “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” It might be the second bestselling book of all time behind the Bible (I don’t know; I heard that somewhere). There is much in that book that is beyond my self-discipline to implement. I would be impressed if anyone but Dr. Covey could, really!! But I based much of my initial practice of time management on Habit Three, way back when. Fast forward about 20 years and enter David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.” I read the book and found many aspects of its methodology compelling. I set about to implement them. After a couple of years of working on this, it’s just not working!!! I’m not an expert GTD’er by any means, but I’ve tried, I’ve succeeded somewhat, but it’s just not for me!

GTD concepts that work for me

Weekly (daily) review. The concept of sitting quietly and reviewing where things are has been a valuable habit of mine since I first read Steven Covey’s 3rd habit.

Clean desk. Keep things filed/put away and not right in front of me.

Trusted system. Keep things in a trusted system that ensures I’ll get the right things in front of me at the right time.

GTD concepts that don’t work for me (most of them), and why

Weekly review. Yes, I said it works and I meant that. The regular setting aside of time to review status is valuable. But GTD stops short since it doesn’t use that time to quietly and calmly put plans in place to commit to focusing on the most important things so that one can “exercise integrity in the moment of choice”. In fact, it’s the absence of the ability to “exercise integrity in the moment of choice” that strikes me as the biggest (and in my case, fatal) weakness of GTD. GTD seems at it simplest level to advocate a “do what you feel like doing” methodology that actually adds considerably to my stress level even as I capture in a trusted system those things I need to get done, but don’t have any *real* context with which to decide what to do next.

Contexts. I don’t find any of the usual contexts helpful since I can almost always do anything anywhere. Welcome to the electronic age. If my computer were only at home or office, then @home or @work or @computer or @email or @online might mean something. If I didn’t have a cell phone, then @calls might mean something. I’m sitting on a bench in a mall right now as I type this. I could do most @computer, @email, @online, @calls, @work and @home things sitting right here. When I’m at home I can do nearly all the contexts.

Projects and Next Actions. Strange thing for a PMI Certified Project Management Professional to say, but I don’t find it helpful to distinguish between projects and next actions. I really don’t!! First of all, by the GTD definition of projects if I really listed all of them there would probably be over 200 of them. Too many, but that reflects the reality of my life! Listing both projects and next actions results in too much detail; too much to look through. The contexts don’t help, and I KNOW what the next action is once I see the project! I need to list what I need to get done, at the level at which I think of it, and have a way to keep track of the *most important* things, not *everything*. It might be a project, or an action. It might be a collection of projects. It might be the most utterly small and seemingly trivial thing that is more important than all the other big things. It’s just not helpful to me to list everything that takes more than one step as a project, and then list one or more NAs against each of those. If I need to do customer billing, I know by heart the dozens of steps needed to get that done. I just need to block 2 hours on my calendar to DO IT!! That’s one important “big rock” that needs to be an area of focus for me. Knowing that the Next Action is to review time billing entries for accuracy and completeness; and then after that the Next Action is to . . . you get the idea, might stretch (and has stretched!) the billing process out over a couple of weeks. If I’m going to put together a graduation party for my daughter, I DO need to detail out the actions, and I don’t find it helpful to then have to put them in contexts: calls, emails, research, etc. I just need to be reminded of the Important and Urgent task/project/initiative/thing of putting together the party, block the time to work on it, and know where the list of tasks is. If I have more to work on when the time is done, I can exercise integrity in the moment of choice, and choose to do more, or schedule another block of time in the future!

Filing. GTD paper filing works very well (but I’m trying to do less of it), but is a TERRIBLE approach for electronic files. A simple hierarchical setup (with search as backup) works much better. With GTD, at the highest level of my filing system I had hundreds of folders – far to many to look through. I have reordered this so that I have about 20 logical high level folders, and then subfolders under them that make sense depending on the topic. I can file that way quickly and easily, knowing that I’m putting things in a logical place, and if for some reason I can’t find something quickly in that hierarchy I can always search, nearly instantly, for anything I’ve filed. I am also trying to get AWAY from paper filing for all but important source documents (wills, car titles, passports, etc.) so GTD filing should get much smaller.

As I think about getting away from GTD methods and think about contexts/categories of todos that actually mean something to me, I quickly come up with the following:

Initiatives that are under way or things that are committed to others.
Items that are very important to me or people I care about.
Time-limited items or items that expire.
Things that I might get to someday

With the exception of the fourth one, the very different items in the first three all end up jumbled together in the GTD context lists, with no *real* context to them to tell me whether I should *force* myself to work on them (Quadrant II), whether I feel like it or not. Even the contexts based on location seem problematical to me. For example, I was thinking about keeping the @home and @errands contexts, but what if something important or urgent (or both) is sitting there to be done such that I should GO HOME to do it, or GO OUT to do it. The contexts mask that, as though I had no choice as to the context in which I currently find myself or to which I might move next. Like: “it doesn’t matter if you’re in the wrong place, have no energy and don’t feel like doing this, you *said* you’d do it so get off your butt and go DO IT!!” It’s not a calendar vs. task list thing. It’s a commitment thing.

GTD seems to steer clear of the ruthless management of commitments that Covey so clearly articulates, and which is so incredibly important in a world grown so interdependent, and which dovetails so nicely with the way I prefer to manage my time (which is my life). Now look closely: those four personal and arbitrary classifications fall so neatly into Covey’s quadrants that I’m less surprised than when I started this little diatribe that GTD contexts don’t work for me. YMMV, of course. Getting Things Done has motivated and enabled many, many people to get organized in a way that is a vast improvement over what they did before. But the *commitment* aspect that is so prevalent in Covey’s works is something I find absent from GTD. So, it’s not for me. I was very effective at implementing Habit 3 on paper in the old days before I even carried around a cell phone, let alone a PDA or a laptop. Since Habit 3 focuses on the “big pieces” it can be done neatly and efficiently on paper. But I’m a computer guy. I carry a BlackBerry and a laptop computer. So, off to find some tools to implement Habit 3 efficiently in Outlook and on the BlackBerry.