Outlook and Getting Things Done

Why Outlook?

The key to an effective task management system is having a system that’s easy to use and available wherever and whenever you need it. Microsoft 365 and Outlook are used by many companies for communication and collaboration. and with a little tweaking, can replace separate project and task management apps and be available on your home computer, work computer, and your phone – seamlessly.

Folders, Not Email.

What makes Outlook a great tool for task management is that task requests come to most people via email. What most people do with Outlook that hampers its effectiveness is to use the Inbox as your collection and task management tool.

When you use Outlook this way, you’re reading emails, acting on them, flagging them within Outlook, working on requests in your Inbox, and finally archiving them when complete – which means you’re scanning and reviewing the same emails over and over again – and having to ask yourself what the next action is in each task.

How I set up Outlook

My goal is to have an empty inbox and a neatly sorted list of tasks with contexts, due dates, and specific actions. I want to be able to ask myself “what’s next?” and have a list of next actions readily available.

How do I adapt Outlook for my everyday workflow?

  1. Go into the tasks folder and create categories @Work@Waiting ForAgendas, and @Someday-Maybe. When you change the view to category view you’ll see your tasks in GTD categories. These will correspond to the traditional GTD categories. I’m not a fan of the location-based categories like @Home@Computer, I instead prefer separate @Project-<projectname> categories to more easily capture multiple project tasks.
  2. To make Outlook tasks work effectively, always use action-based task names and include a logical Next Action in the description. I fall into a trap of naming tasks based on the outcome, not the action needed. You want your tasks list to easily prompt you into action.
  3. I have a category called @Weekly-Review where I collect planning information I want to review on a regular basis.
  4. Set your notification period to as long a period as you can practically manage in your organization. One hour is ideal, as you want to minimize interruptions.
  5. Use the “Delegate Tasks” function in Outlook to delegate tasks to your colleagues and track progress and updates through Outlook. You may want to inform your colleagues of what you’re doing has a handy feature for delegating tasks which I’ve used with varying success in the workplace. Here is a great link showing how to manage tasks – https://www.webnots.com/how-to-manage-tasks-in-microsoft-outlook/

Using the System

  • I receive tasks in the form of emails requesting information or services.
  •  I use a traditional GTD “intake” process:
    1. I’ll read an email and complete the task if it’s a quick 2-5 minute task.
    2. Move the inbox to a task item with a defined next action and due date.
    3. Delegate the task to a colleague if needed.
    4. Create a calendar item if I need to block time out to complete the task.
    5. Capture the item for future use by archiving the email or copying and pasting text into an Outlook Note.
    6. If there’s no future need for the email, delete it.

Microsoft has an IOS and an Android client. I used to use a third-party tool to sync tasks and notes for Outlook, but now I recommend Nine, a wonderful, full-featured groupware client that includes all of Outlook’s workflow folders.

There are other guides to building an effective GTD system in Outlook, but this minimal system works well for me without requiring a lot of maintenance.

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