GTD – electronic

After getting my iPhone almost a year ago, I decided to give electronic management a new chance.  Another key factor was attending Jason Ramsden‘s great session at the NCAIS tech conference in early 2008 about using Outlook to implement GTD.  Jason recommended a great program that plugs in to Outlook called ClearContext, which has been an amazing tool for me for the last year and a half.

The first key has been to stop using my email Inbox as a to-do list.  David Allen talks about getting all of your to-do’s in one place.  By mixing new email and old email that needs action, you simply have to touch every email multiple times and make a decision about what to do with it each time.  The beauty of ClearContext can click a single button to convert any email to an Outlook Task or an Outlook Calendar item.  This makes it incredibly easy to keep the Inbox clear of items that are actually To-Do’s or are needed for a specific time.  Even if you don’t get ClearContext, you can accomplish a similar result by copying the text of an email into a newly created task or event.  Or, you can use the “Attach Item” feature to attach the message to a task or event and then safely delete it from the Inbox.  That said, ClearContext has other fabulous features, but these two buttons alone make it worth the purchase.

Another time-saving habit has been to attach all the documents for a meeting to the calendar event.  Interviewing a candidate?  Attach the resume to the calendar event.  Meeting a vendor?  Insert the contact information on the event in case you need to reschedule.  Visiting another school?  Insert the directions to the school.  Things become easy to find and with the search feature, you can easily pull up the resume even if the interview was months ago.

Outlook categories aren’t something that I use extensively, but I do find them helpful in one key area.  To any Task that I cannot complete until someone else gives me information, I assign the “Red” category.  This places a small red square next to the task which signals me to “Stop” until I get what I need from the other person.  Another useful feature of ClearContext, is that you can have it signal you with a “Follow Up” if you do not get a response to an email in an amount of time that you specify.  This really takes the pressure off of you, as you don’t have to hold that “how many days ago did I ask Joe for that report” in your head.

What does one do with all those little pieces of information that are needed quickly, but don’t fall into the Tasks/Email/Events categories?  Outlook Notes has been my answer.  When I need the account number for our corporate AT&T account, it’s in the Notes.  Need my library card number to log in and renew my books?  That’s a Note.  These Post-It like snippets work perfectly in the Notes and save lots of digging for the last AT&T bill or my frequent flier account number.

A last tool has been Jott.  With Jott, I call an 800 number, specify an individual (or myself), and leave a voice message. Jott translates the speech to text and sends it to the email associated with the person specified.  This is incredibly useful in situations where a 15 second phone call is easier than trying to type in a to-do item.  Once the message hits my email, I convert it to a task via ClearContext and it is in my tracking system in under 30 seconds total.

Those have been the key areas where I have implemented GTD via Outlook.  One last note is that all of this is made easier and better by the ActiveSync connection to our Exchange server that I have through my iPhone.  My mail, calendar, and contacts are synced constantly.  My notes are synced through iTunes’ Outlook Sync.  Tasks (and this is my main complaint with iPhone/Exchange integration) don’t move through ActiveSync.  Instead, I use Toodle-Do to move them from Outlook to my online Toodle-Do account and from there to my iPhone via the Toodle-Do App.  Not ideal, but it works well enough.  This combination enables me to keep my email, tasks, schedule, and key information with me at basically all times.

This is the end of my GTD series for now.  Again, if you haven’t gotten a copy of Getting Things Done by David Allen, it is well worth your time and money.  Go get it now.  Right now.  Stop reading and go!

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