Posts tagged GTD

ClearContext and My Quest for an Empty Inbox

In a previous post I talked about my quest for an empty inbox and all the tools I tried along the way. Well, I’m at it again. My previous tool of choice, Taglocity, has taken a turn toward online social/collaborative email in their 2.0 release. I’m afraid that 99% of the email I handle is work related, and our big lumbering IT department would never allow a rogue server, inside or outside the firewall, collecting corporate data. Likewise, getting said lumbering IT department to establish their own server would be equally unlikely. The social/collaborative approach might be the next big thing, but I need help now. The final nail in the coffin was that some of the features that originally sold me on Taglocity 1.x are no longer supported in their 2.0 beta release. Given the new direction, those features won’t likely return.

So where does that leave me? Well, I went back to my notes and started to think about what kind of help I really need. Here are the requirements I came up with:

  1. Need a quick way to triage and file email. Filing must be effortless, otherwise I will resist doing it
  2. Needs to be a stable tool that works well with Outlook 2003 (yes, I’m still stuck there… see comment above related to the big lumbering IT department).
  3. Need to strip out the spam and low-priority reference email & notifications
  4. Need reminders for my own actions as well as follow-ups for requests I send to others
  5. Must fit into my GTD workflow… In general, that means I need a way to create tasks and appointments from email and somehow tie related tasks/emails/appointments/notes together to form a “project”.

After recasting my net and re-evaluating the latest versions of all the tools I had previously considered, I came across a gem that I hadn’t given a chance the first time around: ClearContext IMS. It seemed to meet all of the needs I described above, and there was even a trial version available… Off I went.

CLEAR CONTEXT FEATURE WALK

After using the tool for over a month now, I am starting to see some nice benefits from the various features. Here’s a look at the highlights as well as some improvement opportunities for the ClearContext development team…

FILE MESSAGE, FILE THREAD. ClearContext does a fantastic job with filing (my #1 requirement above). One of the best features is being able to bring up the topic selection dialog (ALT-P) and type just a few characters of the topic name to narrow down the list. ALT-M will file it from there (no mouse required). What is especially nice is that your don’t have to remember any prefix or top level folder name since a match even in the middle of the topic name will select it. Additionally, You can choose to file the original message while typing your reply right from inside the reply window. Nice touch!

Two needed improvements for topic filing are:

  1. Please, please, please guys add a >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

Setting up OneNote 2007 for GTD

As I promised earlier in my post on “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System“, here are the setup details for OneNote 2007 along with some screen shots. For each of the screen shots, you can click on the image to open it full-size.

The options panel is accessed from the “Tools” menu in OneNote. The options are divided up into several Categories. I’ll walk through the changes that are important for my setup, and you may find other areas that you will want to tweak as well. Experimentation is usually better than the help menu when it comes to figuring out what some of these settings do.

On the Display tab, I prefer to have the page tabs and navigation tabs appear on the left. I also like the note containers visible since it makes it easier to see when you’ve accidentally split a note, or when you’re trying to grab text to copy or move it.

On the Save tab, the main thing you want to change is the location of the Unfiled notes section. Get rid of the separate section and have it point directly at your “@DOING” section. This will also give you another quick way to jump to your @DOING section by clicking on the Unfiled notes button.

On the Outlook Integration tab, change all of these to >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

Forever Tasks – How do *you* handle them?

Andy raised an interesting question last week commenting on my post “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System“. His question relates to something I like to call “Forever Tasks”. These are basically projects that have no real end date that you have to continually track and execute. Here is an excerpt from Andy’s comments:

I’ve got a couple of very ongoing projects. But they are so big I don’t know whether they really are a project. For instance I help set up and run a design group called Coalition. I think of this as a big marketing project… but it doesn’t really have an end as such, like a project “run company” would be a bit daft! How do you think your setup should deal with this kind of thing?

I’d like to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this… How do you handle continual on-going “projects” like this? Please share your thoughts and post a comment below. To get things started, here are a few options/ideas to consider…

IDEA 1: The idea Andy suggested in his original comment was a pretty good adaptation. He suggested creating a separate tab in OneNote for this “project” instead of a page. This keeps the pages from getting too long on the bigger projects.

IDEA 2: Use a single project page, and then archive that page monthly. Basically, move the page into the completed projects section of the @DONE tab, create a new project using the template, and copy any active tasks across. If the project was “Manage the XYZ Design Team”, then you could have project pages like XYZ Management AUG’08, XYZ Management SEP’08, etc.

IDEA 3: Divide your role into major areas and track each area or zone of responsibility as a separate project. It really does help, and it forces you to focus on the critical few things that are key to your success. For an excellent instructive talk on this, I would suggest downloading the Manager-Tools podcasts on Time Management. In the first cast, Mark and Mike stress some of Peter Drucker’s principles from The Effective Executive: Ask not what you want to do, but rather what the role requires of you. Every 3-6 months re-ask yourself what the role requires of you now. Those things that the role requires of you are likely to be the same things your boss will measure you against when it comes time for your annual review. That brings up another good suggestion from the Manager-Tools podcast: Chances are that your job description is out of date. Draft a new job description for yourself and review it with your boss. There are some suggestions for how to do this effectively in the podcast. Force yourself to boil it down to 5-10 key priorities. If this seems difficult, consider Drucker’s perspective: If you are trying to juggle five priorities, you’re wrong. Effective executives and managers do one thing very well, and the other things are delegated. Few people are brilliant enough to do two things well. Trying to do three things well is a circus act. I would suggest downloading the entire Time Management series from Manager-Tools.com and listening to them at your leisure. If you are not already a Manager-Tools listener, I would suggest starting with their collection of basic podcasts first to ground yourself in the Manager-Tools principles and lingo.

IDEA 4: Stir a little bit of 7 Habits into your GTD each week… I know, it’s kinda like that Reese’s commercial, “Hey you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”. Anyway, what I’m talking about is defining your “Big Rocks” and then reviewing them each week as part of your weekly review. When I was using PlanPlus, there was a tool called the Weekly Compass for doing this. The screen shot below is my weekly compass from a few years ago. Here is what the help from PlanPlus has to say about Big Rocks:

When scheduling big rocks, remember to ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do in this role this week?” It’s not mandatory that you schedule big rocks for each role every week. Focus on those roles that need your attention. Maybe it’s all of them or perhaps just two or three. You’ll know.

You could follow this same process by creating a OneNote project page or a recurring Outlook task called “Big Rocks”. Check it each week during your weekly review, just as you would your GTD project list. For each role (aka Big Rock), determine the next actions for the coming week and create individual tasks for them.

IDEA 5: Make the project page as bare bones as possible. Just track major tasks on the project page, and let the notes go into your DROE page. Any emails related to the project can >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

OneNote GTD Project Template

After my post on “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System” I got a few requests to share the actual project template file. You can download the file here: OneNote Project Template File

NOTE: I make no guarantees related to this file or its suitability for any particular purpose. If your computer implodes, or your cat dies, I won’t be able to help you.

Here are some instructions to install the template: >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System

I am now using Microsoft OneNote 2007 as part of my GTD (Getting Things Done) system. I talked about this a bit before in my post on EverNote vs. OneNote. My approach is a bit different than Rob describes in his 7Breaths blog. Where Rob tends to use OneNote as the hub of his system, I use the Outlook task list. I am really only using OneNote for three purposes:

  1. Capturing daily notes on the fly for future processing,
  2. managing projects, and
  3. storage of reference material.

I am not living inside OneNote throughout the day. Instead, I use Microsoft Outlook to manage my task lists (by context). Rather than pushing stuff from Outlook into OneNote, I am capturing and storing stuff in OneNote, then pushing it to Outlook during my weekly reviews. OneNote serves as an inbox and as a storage location for project information and reference material.

Here is my OneNote landscape (see screenshot below). One of the first things you’ll notice is that there is not a lot of complicated structure or oodles of tabs. It’s fairly clean and uncluttered. Everything is in a single notebook labeled “2007″. I deleted all of the sample tabs and pages that come with the OneNote install. The primary tabs/sections in my OneNote GTD system are: @DOING, @PROJECTS, @FOLLOW_UP, and @DONE.



In my world, things are either done or they’re not done. Stuff in the first three tabs is “not done”, and stuff in the “@DONE” section is “done”. My approach is >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>