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Getting Things Done in Outlook

Posted by on Oct 23, 2013 in Outlook Productivity Blog | No Comments

It’s hard to find a website dedicated to personal time management that avoids David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, since it has become so popular. In 2005, Wired called GTD “a new cult for the info age,” explaining that the method has become a kind of cult among knowledge workers and IT professionals. As a result, a number of software solutions have emerged, but only TaskCracker provides visual Getting Things Done for Outlook tool.

Empty your head

As David Allen once said, “Want to know one of the easiest ways to act on your creative ideas? Stop trying to hold them in your mind.” The basic strategy is to get your mind free of thoughts about what you need to do and put the tasks down on a sheet of paper or in special software. We often use Outlook for task management, so you can simply create a list of tasks in it, but with no deadlines or priorities. Simply put the tasks down and free your mind.

Getting Things Done in OutlookThis will allow you to focus attention on what actions you are going to take on your tasks, rather than losing time trying to recall what needs to be done. This is helpful because our brain basically fails at being a reliable “reminder system” since it reminds us of the things that need to be done in a rather random way, and the reminders rarely come on time. So basically it’s better to put your tasks down or insert them in special software so you can occupy your brain with something it does better, like taking action and doing work.

Perspective: Prioritize

You don’t need to put much effort into prioritization, or else you risk getting stuck in analysis paralysis. You can set approximate priorities and deadlines for your tasks and then simply correct your list a little after completing a part of it. Yes, you might perform some tasks that are not directly leading you to your goal. But Allen claims that it is often difficult to focus on big picture goals when you’re unable to control your daily routine, so daily routine tasks on your lists will only contribute to your moving forward with the GTD method. Outlook itself won’t help you prioritize your tasks, seeing how well they are spread out in terms of your major goals, but a rather simple Outlook GTD add-in named TaskCracker can fix that.

GTD in OutlookTaskCracker, which was specially designed for getting things done in Outlook, provides drag and drop capability for changing the picture of your daily and weekly workload. Simply move the task in the quadrant of the application where you want to see it, and it will automatically get the priority you’ve set.

At the same time, visual representation makes it possible to estimate the effort you need to apply to complete the workload you’ve chosen for the day or the week. After prioritizing, you can go back to an Outlook view in the form of a custom list and start doing your tasks one by one, as they are already prioritized.

Deliver: Focus on work

Your productivity “engine” is your focus. After your tasks are all on your list, with its priorities set, and you know that they match your goals (remember that you have double-checked this with the TaskCracker visual matrix), you can now trust your choices. This really helps you focus on executing tasks and delivering results, right down your list of tasks.

Outlook list, then prioritized them in TaskCracker view. The lists you have now can be completed one task after another without thinking very much. After you start one task, it’s easier to perform the others after it when you “go with the flow.” At this point, you can add other GTD-related techniques that help you focus on your work, like the so-called Pomodoro timer, where each task should be completed within 25 minutes, then a five-minute break, then on to the next task until the set of tasks is over. This not only helps you focus but also pushes you to work at a higher speed because you need to deliver your completed task on time.

Review

Weekly reviews give you perspective on how what you’ve done matches your goals, and they help you prioritize your future tasks in a more efficient way. The GTD technique suggests doing such reviews weekly. Actually, you can do them as often as you need to: weekly or daily, for example. Allen suggests that you group your tasks according to the areas (or projects) they belong to; for example, a list of tasks you need to do when you’re downtown or a list of telephone calls that need to be done. This is called context lists.

What questions should you ask yourself during the weekly review? It’s up to you, but one of the questions we can suggest is “Have I come closer to the goal I set a week ago?” Or “How many tasks that I’ve completed were distracting me from my goal rather than pushing me toward to it?” Then try to avoid these time leaks when planning your next week.

Your GTD activity in Outlook will be easy for you with TaskCracker’s add-in visual matrix, where each task can be put in the relevant quadrant. This is probably one of the best ways to organize your GTD tasks in a visual system in Outlook, and it is what I use.

   

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Mark, independant marketing guru

Being a big fan of personal productivity tools, Mark is using TaskCracker for Outlook to manage his tasks every day.