Managing projects within Outlook 2010

by Aref Mon, June 20 2011 20:32

In my previous post, I talked about how I have used Outlook 2010 as a great tool for implementing the Getting Things Done strategy. In this post I look at how you can manage your projects as you are getting things done.


We all have multiple concerns in our lives. Personal concerns such as home improvement, health, etc.; work related concerns such as the individual projects that you may be working on at work. In order to quickly view all assets (incoming mail, outgoing mail, calendar appoinments, tasks) neatly organized by each project, I use the dual power of Outlook categories and Search Folders.


First, I create a category for each project or concern that I wish to track using the naming pattern “.Project – Project Name”. If you wish to sub-categorize then use multiple categories, for instance for (main category) Personal à(sub category) Home Improvement, I create 2 categories: “.Project – Personal” and “.Project – Home Improvements” and use them in conjunction.

Now make sure that you categorize every message you receive (which you will be if you are following my previous blog), every appointment that you create or receive, every task that you create. The only caveat is when you try to categorize outgoing messages. Yes, this can be done by clicking on “new message” and expanding the Tags group but who wants to click so many clicks? Here is a way to add a Categories group to your New Message form.

Do a bit of scripting (really very easy if you follow the steps)

1.       First, launch the Visual Basic window by pressing Alt+F11

2.       Next add some script. Start by right clicking on the Modules folder ->Insert -> Module

3.       Clear out the contents of the module and then copy/paste the script below

Public Sub CategoriesGroup()

  Dim Item As Outlook.MailItem

  Set Item = Application.ActiveInspector.CurrentItem


End Sub

4.       Save the module and close the Visual Basic window.

Now customize the New Message form

1.       First, click the "New E-Mail" Button

2.       Next, right-click on the Ribbon Menu -> Customize Ribbon -> Macros

3.       On  the right side, add a new group (custom group) and rename it to "Categories" and select it

4.       From the left side, under Macros, select "Project1.CategoriesGroup" and add to the custom "Categories" group on the right that you just created.

5.       Rename the macro to "Add Categories" and change its icon.

Now test this setup by clicking on the “New E-Mail” button and you will notice that your “Add Categories” button is now available on the Ribbon.

Organize, Find and Discover

Now you simply have to create a new search folder for each of your projects.

1.       Right-Click “Search Folders” -> New Search Folder and choose “Categorized mail” from the “Organizing Mail” group.

2.       Click the “Choose” button below and choose the project you wish to create a search folder for. Make sure that “Search Mail In” points to the top-most parent folder of your mailbox.

3.       You can now drag this newly created search folder to your “Favourites” section of the Outlook left navigation bar. Clicking on this will now give you all assets belonging to that project.

Isn’t it nice to see incoming messages and your replies to them as a conversation all in one place?


-          Aref

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Lifestyle | Technology | Outlook

Getting GTD’ish with Microsoft Outlook 2010

by Aref Fri, May 13 2011 14:49

You know that sinking feeling, that you were supposed to have looked at something or done something or responded to someone or followed up on an email but just don’t know as the evidence is buried somewhere in the 1000+ messages in your inbox??

Well, I had looked at Getting Things Done or GTD as a sanity restoring methodology for managing my Inbox (and most of my life) and there are quite a few tools out there that either integrate deeply into Outlook as an add-in or run beside it to help you do this.

Cheap though that I am, I created a way to do this using the native functionality provided in Outlook 2010 without any programming or coding. Interested? Okay here it goes…


Before we get to the tool, let us look at what we are trying to accomplish here and my GTD borrowed or GTD Lite philosophy.

Essentially, you want a clean Inbox, having taken care of all your messages. To do this, set aside for yourself intervals during the day when you will process your Inbox. While you are processing your Inbox, for each message ask yourself,

1.       Is this something that needs immediate action?

2.       Is this something that gets discarded?

3.       Is this something that I need to work on but not until later?

4.       Is this something that I can delegate to someone?

For each option above you will take a specific course of action that I describe below, processing each of your messages until your Inbox is clean! Sounds simple eh? So what actions do we take and how do we do this?

Some prep work


Let us first prepare our categories. To do this, first click on any email message, then drop-down the “Categorize” button on the ribbon (upper right hand side maybe for you?) and choose “All Categories”. Now click on the New button and create the following categories, one at a time:

a.       @Computer

b.      @Calls

c.       @Waiting For

d.      @Errands

@Computer will be assigned to all tasks that you need to be at your computer to complete,

@Calls will be assigned to all tasks that you need to make phone calls to accomplish,

@Waiting For will be assigned to tasks that have been delegated to someone, and

@Errands will be assigned to tasks that you need to accomplish when you are out and about.

… so far so good?


Next we will create a folder for all messages that are processed out of Inbox. Right-Click on the root folder (Mailbox) and click on “New Folder…”. Name this folder: Processed.

Quick Steps

Now let’s create some macro wizardry in Outlook that are “Quick Steps”. Click on an email message and in the Home tab ribbon, in the middle you will see the “Quick Steps” region. Click on the “Create New” thunderbolt button to create your first quick step.

Name this “CREATE WORK TASK @COMPUTER” and in this quick step, you will do the following

a) Categorize message [@Computer]

b) Mark complete

c) Create a task with attachment

d) Move to folder [Processed]

Similarly create the next quick step and call it, “DELEGATE AND CREATE WORK TASK @WAITING FOR”. In here, clone the “CREATE WORK TASK @COMPUTER” step above and insert the following action between steps c and d above

Insert: Forward

Next, modify or create the quick step called, “DONE” and specify the following as its actions.

a) Mark complete

b) Mark as read

c) Move to folder [Processed]

… almost there …

Let us know prepare your task view so that you are focused on the tasks that you need to tackle today. I like to view my tasks for today. You can additionally create additional views for weekly reviews and such. I also like to do this customization to my “To Do Bar” to the right of the screen.

Right-click on the “Arrange By” in the To Do Bar to the right and click on “View Settings”.

Now do the following in using the buttons shown on the dialog box.

·         Group by - categories, ascending

·         Sort by – start date ascending, priority descending

·         Filter

o   Status - not equal to - Completed

o   Categories - contains - @Computer or @Calls or @Waiting For or @Errands

o   Start Date - on or before - Today

Now you are all set to use the system.

When a new message arrives do the following for the scenarios we identified earlier.

1.       Is this something that needs immediate action?

Well…. Do it and get it out of the way by clicking on the “DONE” quick step.

2.       Is this something that gets discarded?

: - ) delete it.

3.       Is this something that I need to work on but not until later?

Click on the quick step, CREATE WORK TASK @COMPUTER and assign a start date (and priority) to it.

4.       Is this something that I can delegate to someone?

Click on the quick step, DELEGATE AND CREATE WORK TASK @WAITING FOR and assign a start date of when you expect your delegate to complete the task (and priority) to it. Also complete the forwarded message to your delegate and send it.

Now, you just need to make sure that you examine your task list and complete it each day.

I hurried through this and had wanted to put in screen shots, etc. I hope that this helps bring back some more sanity to your life.

Take care.

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Lifestyle | Technology