Getting Organized While Drinking from the (Outlook) Fire Hose
Microsoft appears to run on Outlook and Exchange. Seems like an obvious statement as many places run on Outlook and Exchange. But I'm saying it with emphasis. These guys used Outlook like it's an IM client. There's also a distribution list for everything.
New job, new fresh email box, time to get organized and serious about ZEB (Zero Email Bounce.) You can't really get your Inbox to zero and stay there but you can "bounce" against zero, which I do a few times a day. If it's in your inbox it's not been processed.
I used a number of techniques and features in Outlook to make my life (theoretically) easier:
I use a "Getting Things Done" style of organization. I've got my folders laid out like this.
I've got Outlook Rules for the Various Mailing Lists I've gotten myself on in the last few weeks. That's the other other "Inboxes" are for.
The "Inbox - CC" folder is for when I'm cc'ed on an email. The actual Inbox itself is only for when an email is sent directly to me. Everything else goes somewhere else.
The Action folders start with an @ sign and are at the top.
- There's things that require @Action that aren't projects.
- Topics to @Blog about
- People to see and things to do on my @Next Redmond Trip.
- Emails I need to @Reply to that will take longer than 5 minutes to respond.
- There's things I'll do @Someday soon, but just not now.
- Things I'm @Snooze-ing on, but I'm not willing to move them completely out of mind.
- Finally there's things I'm @Waiting For other people do to for me.
- The Conversation History folder is where internal Instant Message conversations go. This is REALLY useful for reference. Missed IMs appear in the Inbox and are filed as needed.
Anything that comes into the inbox needs to be processed and one of the following GTD things needs to happen:
- Do It
- Drop It
- Defer It
- Delegate It
Then there's the Projects folder. These are long-running (more than a few days) projects that I'm actively working on. Emails that are important to those Projects go in those folders. It's pretty minimal reference stuff.
The Reference folder is just that, it's Reference stuff. Things I'll want to search for later, and under it is the IT Issues folder which is also for reference, but specific to IT stuff I'm
suffering with working through.
When my inbox is at zero I do a quick sweep through my @ folders before continuing work on a Project.
I really like Outlook 2007's calendaring and it grows on me more and more. I use colors to categories my appointments, but I also use multiple calendars more and more using the ICS Webcal standard. I've got four different calendars in addition to my standard calendar.
- One is fed from TripIt.com - I'll blog about them later, but they're freaking brilliant.
- One is the feed from my wife's Google Calendar (this is also fantastic)
- One is fed from my wife and my Project at BaseCamp. We're building a house and we're managing the project, the move and appointments with many subcontractors via this tool and I'm subscribed to the Milestones in Outlook, and she in Google Calendar.
- One is from my publisher something we're working on.
Note that the tabs are next to each other near the top (under where it says "October 2007"). This way, rather than split-screen, each calendar is transparently overlaid over the other. I've found this to be a REALLY effective way of visualizing up to six different calendars while keeping each one separate.
If you're not using this feature, I'd encourage you to check it out.
The last thing I've done to make it easier for external folks to schedule meetings with me is I've made a redirect from http://www.hanselman.com/freebusy to my published Free/Busy information. This can be done by right-clicking on your calendar and publishing just the free/busy information to the Internet. I just made a single default.aspx file to rediect to the ultimate URL. This makes scheduling meetings with folks outside Microsoft just that much easier.
Last and least, I've got a Windows Mobile phone and it's hooked up to Exchange and I've made the (difficult) conscious decision to only sync the "Inbox" and the "Inbox - CC" Folders to the device.
The thinking being that there's little that's totally crucial that could happen on a Mailing List (as I don't yet own any) that would require my immediate and mobile attention.
This system has worked for me so far - three-plus weeks. We'll see if it holds up under the weight of the unknown future.
I'd be interested to see if there's anything in this system that you find either interesting/compelling or totally lame. You and your 6000 inbox emails. You freak. ;)
The fire hose child is not my son.
Update: The flickr member who took the Fire House photo asked me to take it down. I replaced it with another. Bummer. Fair-use and copy-right is a confusing thing.
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Projects/ASP.NET ______ is the new MVC framework.
Projects/_______ is the Wrox project that also got redacted in the calendar.
The Conversation History folder is where internal Instant Message conversations go. This is REALLY useful for reference. Missed IMs appear in the Inbox and are filed as needed.
What combination of server-side and client-side software makes this happen? I currently use Trillian and FolderShare to archive/sync IM histories, but it's hacky and I can't convince anyone else to do it.
Scott, your use of these blacked out areas makes your inbox and calendar look like a new form of sudoku! ;) I'm glad my Outlook isn't anywhere near that busy!
You must spend a lot of time mucking through your Inbox, sorting things out, writing rules, remembering the names of folders when looking for old emails, and other related activities.
I said crap with it a long time ago. I give. I can't keep up. I just send it all to the Inbox and let Microsoft Search index everything.
Saves me lots of time. Anyone else use this method besides me and Tony?
How do you (if you do) sync multiple calendars to your Windows Mobile device?
In my case I have my personal calendar, a department calendar in a Public Folder, my wife's calendar in Yahoo. How would you merge them all into your Inbox (so it could be synced with Windows Mobile)?
You should really watch that Scott. You should be scheduling more and @Someday'ing less.
By the way I think there's a typo in your post: "I use colors to categories my appointments"
I have quite a similar structure, also because I have (always) too many projects running parallel. I make heavy use of the tool Speedfilter (http://www.claritude.com/products/sf/speedfiler-addin.htm) because most emails are not easy to store with a rule. So I read them, press ctrl-alt-V and store them using speedfilter. I found out that that is really working for me in order to get my Inbox empty.
The biggest issue I still have is my @Waiting_for_Answer forlder, which tends to get all filled up and it's a real pain to make sure it is cleaned up regularely.
Interesting post, I have long struggled with the best way to organise data inside Outlook. I have tried a whole bunch of methods - GTD Addin, macros/rules that implement custom GTD functionality etc... could not seem to find a method that I was happy with.
More recently I have given up the fight and reverted to :-
Inbox = stuff still to be done.
Reference Folder = everything I'm done with.
Outlook Search All Folders = finding / looking up any reference / old information (ever)
Appointments = defering tasks (I have a macro that copies the mail body and embeds the original in an appointment)
This does however mean that I have between 20 - 50 mails in my Inbox at any one time (no chance of ZEB) and I pay a lot of interest on the stuff sitting in there.
Maybe I'll try the @folders again...
This means that when I sync my Windows Mobile I get all my tasks without having to sync all my mail and the original email is already in the right folder when the task is complete.
You might wanna read these two posts:
The @ for action is an interesting idea, do you email those to yourself or something? Also how did you sync the google calendar up with your outlook one? Thats something I have always wondered...
Why would IM be a "terminable offense?" Although the distraction is regretable in many cases, it's been a useful tool over the last 7 or so years I've been on development teams. Using email in the place of IM means cruft and latency for disposable conversations, no?
Then again, you may work at a bank or some place where they use COBOL...
Can you explain the difference between @Action and flagging something as a task in Outlook? Why not put the emails into their respective project folders and flag them? Then use a search folder to find all flagged items. Also, where do items go after they're in @Action and have been completed?
I guess it's because rather than view IM as a valuable means of communication and collaboration, it's viewed instead as preventing the employees from being productive because they'd be chatting with each other all day via IM instead of working.
* My personal calendar
* My work calendar
* My wife's personal calendar
I've not been able to get a synching solution to work correctly. All of the calendars end up with everything on them. I've not been able to get a public free/busy to work either. <bleh />
And overlaying calendars? How? Is it a 2007 function only? 2003 does not seem to support it. Franklin-Covey Plan-Plus does not support 2007 - yet. <sigh />
Have you structured your Outlook rules in some way to catch these or are they making it to your inbox?
I've tried several solutions, but nothing ever works quite right. Making my "Inbox - Lists" rules all "Stop processing rules", with a final rule that places all messages without me in To/CC into a special folder has worked, but making sure all my rules have the "stop processing rules" is an annoying step that is easy to forget and I would like to get rid of.
I essentially had 3 inboxes: Work, Client Work and Home along with the same three calendars. I wanted my Pocket PC / Cell phone to be the central holding spot for everything, but I just couldn't get everything to coordinate. I'm happy to see that you have it all together.
Others may be shocked, but really, you have the system that most busy professionals should have, something to abstract out details and minimize the sheer volume of noise that you have to handle regularly.
There is definitely NO middle ground here.
Everyone is either insane like you with tons of rules (automated or in-head) or doesn't give a crap and uses some sort of simple is stupid method.
To each his own. As long as we all keep up with our responsibilities and crank out code I guess that's all "they" care about.
I'm more with Mr. Inbox-Only... but unlike Tony I live in Outlook and it generally works great. I use flags and color catogorization right there in the inbox, and I use rules to automatically route (most) DLs to a single "Discussion Lists" folder. The biggest issue I run into is the Inbox can get so big that it sometimes takes a little bit to index, search. I'm (I think) mitigating this by creating an archive file for each quarter (as in 3Q07).
One of the key benefits of this kind of approach is that I don't ever worry about taking an action on emails that don't require action. I don't even click on about about 15-20% of the notes I receive (AFTER filtering out most DLs), and if I thought I had a reason to keep a "clean" inbox, I'd have to manually select each note or group and delete it. This by itself saves me time every day. (And yes -- I do occasionally miss something, but not often....)
but on the syncing windows email.. I hate to my my phone beep at useless email, so i think i like only one folder to be syncronized...
I wish mobile outlook had abilities to have a whitelist , or patterns on when a notification would be played, and ability to have different sounds.. but i digress..
Though having a limited sync means less email, sometimes you need more.. you need some in your history, but i find in those cases OWA over the browser in windows mobile (touch screen phone) is workable for that 5% of use-cases
Also, great find with Trip It. I've even told the events coordinator at work about it, and it looks like we'll be implementing it sometime next week! :)
Your BaseCamp link is broken in the post:
It goes here: http://www.hanselman.com/blog/BaseCamp
But nothing is returned.
People - A folder for each person that I want to keep track of history of conversation with
Projects - One folder for each project
Software - One folder for each tool with download links, keys, etc.
Sent Items - I keep a separate PST file for all my sent items (much like the auto-archive which I turn off)
Knowledge Base - Tidbits of info and stuff I collect through mail (usually forwarded web pages or RSS feeds)
Works great but if Outlook dies I'm screwed so maybe I'll write some add-on to move everything into a Subversion repository or SQL database someday...
Hi Scott, I've gotten a lot of use out of your Tools section. To return the favor, here's a tip regarding copyright and fair use. Fair use usually only applies if you're commenting on the work itself (i.e. journalism, education, criticism, parody). There are exceptions but that's the basic rule of thumb. Fair use does not apply if you are, for instance, using an image as an illustration for a blog post, as you were here. (Unless the topic of your blog post was "A Review of Fire House Photos", in which case it would qualify as criticism.)
That said, Flickr has a ton of photos (about 5.6 million, last time I looked) offered under a Creative Commons attribution license that allows derivative works and commercial use. You can use these on your website as long as you give credit to the photographer.
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