Now that the festive period is behind us, it’s time to get back to the mundanity of the New Year. The salad bar in every restaurant is heaving, every gym has lots of red-faced semi-exuberant new members, and offices are chock full of workers who want to do things better this time around.
Those of you who ended 2015 with a clear inbox and task list, well done! Those of us who have a new resolution to get more organised in 2016, well, read on.
The “Getting Things Done” methodology (or GTD to its many devotees) espouses a system for making sure you don’t forget stuff and that you can prioritise what’s important, and like any similar system, it shies away from telling you which tool to use – if a stack of printed cards works for you, then go for it. There is, predictably, much discussion online as to which software tools to use and how to set them up “just so”. YMMV.
Out of the box, Outlook isn’t a fabulously GTD-optimised tool. There are numerous addins and guides online to try to get it set up in a suitable way (such as ClearContext, as featured in ToW #233), but true GTD evangelists often give up trying to wrangle Outlook tasks to do what they want: Wunderlist has a new tranche of fanatics. It’ll be interesting to see if and how its task management ideals start to bleed into other tools like Outlook.
Follow me, follow you
If you are a habitual email user and Outlook is your main tool, there are a couple of simple things that everyone could do without needing to get stuck into categories, tasks, projects and the likes.
The problem here is, most of us don’t start Outlook from scratch very often – laptops get put to sleep and woken up again, and it could be days or weeks between reboots, so most of the time, you already have lots of Outlook windows open.
To work around this, we can fall back on a technology that’s been part of Windows since NT 3.1, all of 22 years ago – the AT command. This allows the console operator (ie you) to schedule some background task within the bowels of the OS, and to specify how it runs as well as when – will it be silent, will it be able to interact with the current logged in user?
The intrepid among you could delve into AT (just start a command prompt by pressing WindowsKey+X and choose the Command Prompt (Admin) from there) but most of us would prefer to use the Task Scheduler UI that was built to make the process easier. Reading the instructions below, this might sound like a faff, but if you follow them step-by-step, it’ll take 2 minutes.
What we’re going to do is to set a time when a new Outlook window will be fired up, at a specific folder. So, you could say at 7:00am or the next available time after (ie when your machine wakes from sleep), then create a new Outlook window pointing to the Follow Up search folder we just created above.
Start by running the Task Scheduler (press start, type task s…). Don’t be put off if you see lots of tasks you don’t recognise. Expand the Task Scheduler Library and right-click on Microsoft then Create Basic Task. This will walk you through a wizard to set up the task.
Now you can OK out of the properties and return to the task list view – right-click on your newly-created task, and try “Run”- you may not see the Outlook window come to the fore, but if you look on your task bar, at the collection of Outlook windows you may otherwise have, then it should be there. If you see the “Last run result” in the task view showing something other than (0x0), then something went wrong – you may want to open the task up again, and check that you’ve got the right path to Outlook and the right path to your chosen folder.