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.