GTD with Outlook Pt 2: Task views

I’ve spent another week and change on GTDsince implementing good search in Outlook. I’ve spent it exploring the core concepts: capturing all (most) of the stuff that’s been floating around in my brain waiting to be done or dealt with. Discovery number 1: while it’s a relief to capture all (most) of the stuff into lists so I’m not spending all the time panicking about things I’ve forgotten, I’ve learned that I’ve made a lot of commitments that need to be fulfilled. Hence my relatively light blogging as I regain some balance.

My capture systems are just now starting to get in shape. I spent much of my airplane time between here and Vegas (and back) setting up some of the systems and have some progress to report.

First thing: my new favorite view in Outlook (XP version) is the Calendar view, with the small Task pane to the side. Something about having the task view shrunk to a manageable size is really helpful in preventing it from being terrifyingly unmanageable. But the out of the box view, which features only in progress tasks ordered by no particular mechanism and ungrouped, needs work. We can do this.

If you right click on the view title (“Tasks”), you can edit the view definition. I found it most helpful to group it by status. The out-of-box statuses (statii?) in Outlook are Not Started, In Progress, Completed, Waiting for Someone Else, and Deferred. That turns out to be just about perfect for GTD task organization. I have yet to use the Deferred status; I keep the Completed group collapsed and open it when I need motivation. That leaves Not Started, In Progress, and Waiting for Someone Else. Email “next actions” that need responses go to Waiting and everything else keeps getting worked.

Okay, but what about when you need better statuses? This is where Categories come into play. I did a quick listing of categories that made sense from a “next action” perspective: phone, email, mail, computer, research, writing, errands. Then I went to the main Tasks folder, went down the list adding categories, and grouped the whole shebang by Status and Category. I also set the view to show the long description column when present, so I could glance at the list and see information like, for instance, phone numbers. Advantage: the main Tasks view can become a printable view to bring with you for errands and phone calls.

Next up: project lists and how there’s not a perfect system for tracking them in Outlook… yet. (But how one kind of project list freed me from keeping project names in the Category field.)