As mentioned last week, I’m trying to improve my workflow by looking at the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology and specifically thinking about how GTD applies to Outlook. One of the references I came across recommended some more general purpose solutions to improve Outlook that at first I couldn’t reconcile with GTD—what does a better search tool for Outlook have to do with GTD? Everything, it turns out.
I have long been a “filer” with my email. Both my home and work accounts have dozens of dedicated folders, some relating to projects, some to broad topics like “Company,” “Personal,” etc. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the problem is that of course most emails don’t fit neatly into one category, and it can be challenging to find something after I’ve filed it—which of course defeats the purpose of an organizational system.
The built in search in Outlook (I’m using Outlook XP, but I seem to recall the same problem when I used Outlook 2003 at Microsoft) doesn’t help matters much either. Searching just the content in a single folder is dog-slow, and if you want to search across all the folders in a mailbox you might as well go brew a fresh pot of coffee.
Enter Lookout, a dedicated plugin to Outlook that quickly, efficiently, and quietly indexes the contents of your Outlook mailbox and makes retrieval lightning fast. The software is so good that Microsoft bought the company a while back and uses the technology as the core of the MSN Toolbar Suite to index your whole computer. But the MSN Toolbar Suite (and Google Desktop) have always given me the willies for some reason. I don’t like running system wide utilities and I don’t necessarily see the utility of indexing everything on my hard drive when (a) most of my work is on Outlook and (b) the rest is in relational databases or on network drives. Lookout has just about the right scope for my comfort zone, and it works extremely well.
From a GTD perspective, Lookout increases my comfort with saving items for reference and getting them out of my inbox. It also makes me think critically about what I’m saving and whether I ought to be throwing some of it away (horrors!).