Getting things done: my way

I’m a procrastinator.  An expert at it, in fact.  However, at work, that usually doesn’t cut it.  I’ve been trying to figure out new ways to manage my to-do list, and I think I’ve come upon something that works really well for me.  I was reading a blog post over at 7Breaths about someone using OneNote and Outlook 2007 to manage their life, and it’s inspired me to write about mine, primarily using Outlook 2007.

Calendar View My workflow is pretty similar to Rob’s, especially with the categorization and coloring of items.  This helps me skim past personal emails and appointments while I’m at work. 

I make a point to block out two 30-minute blocks on my calendar for doing weekly reviews, recurring at 8:30am on Monday and Friday.  8:30am is usually early enough that I’m in the office, but not much is going on.  Monday mornings I’ll skim over my calendar and create tasks for major meetings that I need to do things in advance of.  Why have that blocked out on Friday morning as well, you say?  Well, what if I’ve got an important meeting that I need to prepare for on Monday morning?  I’d certainly prefer to find out about that before 8:30am on Monday.

I also make use of OneNote‘s flagging feature that Rob mentions, so I won’t go into that here.  One thing that I also do is, as e-mails come in, I’ll make use of Outlook’s flag feature to mark them as follow-ups.  After I’ve flagged them, I can get them out of my inbox and filed away in my filing structure (note: if you move a flagged email into a locally stored PST folder, it won’t show up in your to-do list.  Keep flagged items somewhere stored on the server!).

Flagged E-mail

(and no, neither Madden 08 or NCAA 08 are that good this year)

The to-do bar in Outlook is what really saves me.  By default, all your tasks will show up there grouped by time, as well as upcoming appointments (also color-coded based on the categories applied in the calendar).

One major change I’ve done is to change the filtering on the task pane.  It’s not very intuitive, so I’ll document what I’ve done here.  Basically, I got tired of seeing tasks that are (in some cases) a year out (no, I’m not that organized that I have things planned out a year in advance; it’s just that I setup a recurring task to renew some professional certifications).  If you right click on the "Arranged by" bar, and click on "Custom" as your filter, you’ll get a window that lets you customize your to-do task list.  Click "Filter" here, and jump straight to the Advanced tab.  Here’s the filters you’ll need to add to have it display like mine:

Field Condition Value
Date Completed does not exist  
Date Completed on or after today
Flag Completed Date does not exist  
Flag Completed Date on or after today
Due Date between today and 30d
Due Date on or before today
Due Date does not exist  
Status not equal to Completed

Some of these things are probably redundant, but it worked and I didn’t feel like digging through it to find out what I didn’t need!  The reason that Date Completed and Flag Completed Date have duplicate entries is because the Date Completed seems to affect only real tasks, where the Flag Completed Date items affect emails and other items you’ve flagged.  The heart of it is the Due Dates — this will only show me tasks that are due in the next 30 days or that are overdue (or don’t have Due Dates applied).  Finally, don’t show me things that I’ve marked complete.

This all keeps my to-do list manageable, not overwhelming, and fairly focused.  One other thing of interest: in that filter window, under More Choices, you can filter based on a Category.  Maybe you want to exclude things in your Personal category — that’s the place to do it.