Posts from March 2009.

Using ClearContext with GTD: Measurement and Metrics

Final installment in our using ClearContext with GTD series.  See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Measurement and Metrics

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The ClearContext Scorecard provides a way to track your progress implementing GTD. Use the scorecard to measure how effectively you are staying on top of your Inbox, response time, etc. See the Inbox Status graph on the MyStats tab to see your Inbox size over time.

Other Useful Features

In addition to the above, ClearContext provides many additional features to help you focus on your most important work and manage your email more efficiently. Here are a couple that are of particular interest to our GTD customers.

Prioritization

image A core feature of ClearContext is the automated prioritization of individual email messages. Though email prioritization is not a core tenet of GTD email processing, ClearContext’s prioritization engine can be extremely helpful when trying to get the Inbox down to empty. When there are too many messages to process in the time available, ClearContext’s prioritized views allow you to address your most important messages first while saving the less important items for later.

Priority is determined by the sender of the email, the recipient(s) of the email, your level of involvement in the email thread, and numerous other factors associated with the message. Designate given senders, messages, or message characteristics as higher priority and ClearContext will use that information to prioritize the Inbox exactly to your specifications. Messages are color-coded and ordered by priority, with the most important email from the most important senders appearing at the top of the inbox and junk mail appearing at the bottom. In addition, as you process individual emails, manually mark email conversations as higher or lower priority, changing future email’s placement in the inbox.

Do Not Disturb

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When you are ready to focus on your projects in Outlook, use Do Not Disturb to turn off all new message notifications for a given time period. For example, select Do Not Disturb from the ClearContext menu and set it to 3 hours. For the time period you have specified, ClearContext will suppress the Outlook pop-up alert, the new mail icon in the system tray, the cursor change and the new mail sound, allowing you to focus on your work without distraction.

Additional Information

There is a wealth of additional information on the use and optimization of Outlook available on the ClearContext Website. Of particular interest is our ClearContext Daily Workflow, a lightweight process for managing email on a daily basis. All of the above features are documented in more detail in our User Guide. We have created several short tutorials to help learn about the product. Check out our weblog for tips and techniques for getting the most out of ClearContext and/or our User Forums for technical questions and features and tips suggestions.

Download a PDF of the complete guide here. Have tips or tweaks that you use to implement GTD?  Post them here.

GTD and Getting Things Done are registered
trademarks of David Allen & Company.

Using ClearContext with GTD: Review

Part 5 of our posts on using ClearContext with GTD.  See Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Review

Once the Inbox has been processed, ClearContext provides several methods for reviewing and acting on To-Do Lists.

Summary Dashboard

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The Summary Dashboard is the control panel for your day. Use the Dashboard to view all of your messages, tasks and appointments by Topic or Category. This is a best way to review and work on your projects or action lists on a daily basis. Access the Dashboard from the button in the toolbar or by clicking on the ClearContext Dashboard folder.

Project Dashboard

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The Project Dashboard is a view of all of your Outlook data by Topic, including all tasks and appointments, email messages, contacts you correspond with and attachments you have exchanged in email. Open a Project Dashboard tab from the Summary Dashboard by selecting a Topic in the Topic Summary and double-clicking or pressing Open Topic.

ActionView

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The ActionView is a more robust version of the Dashboard’s To-Do list. Select ActionView button from the ClearContext menu and filter the results by category. This is your Action List – it shows all open tasks and appointments for the given context. Further refine the results by filtering by priority, topic, or date range. Show/hide filtering options by clicking the yellow information bar at the top of the ActionView.

Create pre-defined filters for lists that you review periodically. For example, to create a filter to show all of the tasks you need to perform when you are ready to work at your computer:

  1. Open the ActionView and press the yellow information bar to open filtering options.
  2. Select the category @Computer from the drop down in the middle of the options.
  3. Under saved filters, type a filter name in the drop down (where it initially says <DEFAULT> or <LOAD FILTER>).
  4. Click Save Filter.

The next time you are at your computer, select the newly created filter from the drop down and click Load Filter to open all of your To-Do’s assigned a category of @Computer.

The Weekly Review

Many GTD users find David Allen’s suggestion of a weekly review to be the most critical component of their GTD implementation. To automate the weekly review with ClearContext, use the ActionView and ClearContext’s custom Inbox views to process actions by project. To perform the review, use these tools on a weekly basis:

  1. Select the ClearContext Prioritized By Week view (ClearContext > Inbox Views > Prioritized by Week), go through the email remaining for the last week and action it using Task, Schedule, Delegate, Defer or Delete.
  2. Select ActionView from the ClearContext menu. This creates a list of all Tasks, Appointments, and Deferred messages in the mail file.
  3. Use Filter By Date to review the last week’s tasks and appointments and take action or mark complete as appropriate. Optionally filter by category (action), topic (project), or priority.
  4. Change the filter to review future tasks, appointments, and deferred messages. Capture any new actions that come to mind using the buttons at the bottom of the ActionView dialog.
  5. If filtering by category or project, repeat for each item on these lists.
  6. Review the Someday/Maybe folder and transfer any items to your system that have become active or delete any items that are no longer relevant.

MessageContext

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The MessageContext is a view of all related items for a given conversation. For example, your Inbox is empty and you receive a new message regarding a meeting you are attending later in the week. Open MessageContext to see previous emails about this meeting, along with any tasks or appointments created from the conversation. In Outlook 2007, the MessageContext is integrated into all messages, tasks and appointments.

For Advanced Outlook Users: Creating Custom Task Views that Include the Topic Name

The Dashboard and ActionView are the quickest ways to view all To Do items, including Tasks and Appointments, by Topic name. If desired, the Topic name can be added to custom task views so that tasks within the native Outlook task pane can be sorted by project as well. To add Topic to a Task view:

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  1. Go to the task pane and click on the view that you want to alter.
  2. Right click the header on the tasks list (i.e. where it says Subject, Due Date, etc.) and select "Field Chooser."
  3. Select "Form…" in the drop down where it says "Frequently Used Fields:"
  4. In the "Select Enterprise forms for this folder" dialog select Application Forms.
  5. Highlight ClearContext and press Add
  6. Close the current dialog.
  7. In the Field chooser, add CC-TopicName by clicking it and dragging it to the headers you initially right clicked.
  8. Exit out of the field chooser.
  9. If desired, change the name of the header on this field by right clicking CC-TopicName, selecting Format Columns, and changing the Label.
  10. Repeat for each view that you want to alter.

Next up, Measurement and Metrics and Other Useful Features

GTD and Getting Things Done are registered
trademarks of David Allen & Company.

Using ClearContext With GTD: Project Designation

Part 4 of our posts on using ClearContext with GTD.  See Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Project Designation

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Using ClearContext Topics to designate projects ensures that all messages in an email conversation – past, present and future – are automatically associated with these projects. Each email message may be assigned a Topic via the ClearContext toolbar. All future email in that email thread (or “conversation”) will be automatically assigned this Topic name.

image For each Topic assigned, a ClearContext Topic folder is created for project-based filing of messages. File Msg, Thread and Topic buttons quickly move email messages with assigned topics from the Inbox to automatically created Topic folders for later reference. In addition, ClearContext can automatically save sent messages in these topic folders to ensure that all project correspondence is properly tagged and stored together in one filing system. Topic assignments are automatically carried over to Tasks and Appointments generated from email conversation and Topics can be easily assigned to new items as they are created. ClearContext suggests Topic assignment based on your email history with the current contact.

image In addition to the Topic drop down on the ClearContext toolbars, the Topic Selector can be used to quickly assign Topics. Press the Topic button to the left of the Topic drop down to pull up the Topic Selector window. Start typing the Topic name and ClearContext will narrow the Topic list to match your search. Arrow down to select a Topic and assign to the conversation. This dialog is particularly useful for those who have a long list of projects. The Topic Selector is also launched when a file button is pressed on a message that does not have a Topic assigned.

To automatically assign projects, create AutoAssign rules to analyze incoming messages based on sender, domain, keywords, etc… To create multi-level projects, place a “/” between the Main Project heading and the Sub-Project (i.e. “Client/Implementation”). ClearContext will automatically create Topic folders that reflect the hierarchy (i.e. main folder “Client” with sub-folder “Implementation”).

Users of mobile devices can instruct ClearContext to duplicate Topics in the category field to ensure that project designation is communicated to the external device in addition to context. See ClearContext > Options > Preferences > Topic Options for more detail.

Someday/Maybe File

If you would like to follow David Allen’s suggestion to maintain a Someday/Maybe file, create a special ClearContext Topic called “Someday.” Assign Topic “Someday” to ideas that you want to think about later. Click the file button and the message will automatically be placed in a subfolder of your ClearContext Topic folder. When you’re ready to review these items, open up the Topic folder for review.

Next up, Review

Using ClearContext with GTD: Action Management

Part 3 of our posts on using ClearContext with GTD.  See Parts 1 and 2.

Action Management

Following Allen’s advice, the bulk of your email messages (those that you can’t answer in two minutes, delete, or file away for reference) will become tasks or appointments in your trusted system. ClearContext Pro’s Task, Delegate and Schedule buttons allow you to quickly create tasks and appointments from email messages. Assign Outlook categories to these items to denote context, ensuring that they are assigned to the appropriate action list.

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Category Assignment in Outlook 2007

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Category Assignment in Outlook 2003 and Earlier

Setup

The first step in setting this up, customize your Outlook Master Categories list to include the action list categories you use as you process your Outlook information. Putting the ‘@” symbol in front of each description will ensure that these display at the top of the categories list. We realize that this is a very personal list that each user will want to tweak for his/her on working style. Examples of common categories many of our customers have found useful include:

@Car

@Delegate

@Desk

@Home

@Internet

@Phone

To customize the category list in Outlook 2003 and earlier:

1. Open a new task or appointment

2. Click the categories button in the lower right hand corner

3. Click the Master Category list button

4. Edit the list as desired

To customize the category list in Outlook 2007:

1. Right click the category color field on an email, task, or appointment

2. Select the “All Categories…” menu item

3. Click New and add a category

4. Optionally add a color code

5. Repeat for each category

Processing

Once this setup is complete, process the inbox using the ClearContext workflow buttons, answering those emails that you can, deleting those that you don’t need, filing reference material using ClearContext File buttons, and creating tasks or appointments for future work. As tasks and appointments are created, assign a context using Outlook’s native category assignment feature and one the categories created above. This will automatically associate the item with the appropriate action list.

The “Tickler” File

Many GTD’ers follow Mr. Allen’s suggestion of creating a “tickler file.” ClearContext’s Defer button is an excellent way to maintain an electronic version of this file. The Defer button moves an email out of the inbox and schedules it as unread at a given time interval or on a given date.

When a message is deferred, a dated folder is created as a subfolder of the “ClearContext Deferred” folder. Consider these your tickler files. Click on any day’s folder to review upcoming items or simply wait for the message to re-appear in your Inbox as scheduled.

image For example, say you receive an invite to a corporate networking event on the 25th. It’s still three weeks off and you don’t need to RSVP until the day before. Click Defer and “schedule” the message for the 24th. The message is moved into a subfolder with the month and day you have designated. You can click on this folder at anytime to see all messages pending for that day. Alternatively, the message automatically re-appears in your Inbox, unread, on the 24th, reminding you that you need to make a decision about the event.

Next up, Project Designation

GTD and Getting Things Done are registered
trademarks of David Allen & Company.

Using ClearContext With GTD: Introduction and Overview

Part 2 of our posts on using ClearContext with GTD.  Part 1 is here.

Introduction

Many individuals overwhelmed with information take control of Microsoft Outlook by combining ClearContext’s flexible and customizable email management features such as inbox prioritization and automated categorization with their favorite parts of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology to create a powerful information management strategy. Below, we outline basic steps many of our customers have taken to set up ClearContext and Microsoft Outlook to support GTD email processing including creation of context-specific action lists, project categorization, creation and maintenance of a “tickler” file, and steps to quickly implement a weekly review. ClearContext also provides email metrics and measurement to help track how well you are handling email. Use this guide to get started – we expect everyone will tweak the system to match their particular information processing requirements.

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For the purposes of this guide we assume that you have a working knowledge of GTD prior to implementation of ClearContext software. If not, we recommend you visit the Getting Things Done website and find some reference materials to get you started. For an introduction to Getting Things Done, see “What is GTD?

The process in this whitepaper was developed by ClearContext customers and is the result of real-world use of the product. For detailed discussion on Getting Things Done and ClearContext, see the ClearContext discussion forums. In particular the forum post GTD Users: Start Here contains a collection of GTD-related links.

Overview

In his methodology, David Allen suggests categorizing your email by project and context. Most technology solutions address one or the other well, but do not give a comprehensive way of tracking both. Using ClearContext, Topics can be used to maintain projects and native Outlook categories can be used to denote actions. Actions can then be viewed by project or context using the Dashboard.

Workflow

ClearContext gives several features to process the Inbox quickly and get it to empty. Each button below will automatically file the original message to an associated topic folder and link the item to the current message conversation:

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Task opens an Outlook task. Assign an Outlook category to this item to maintain action lists.

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Delegate automatically creates either an assigned task or a forwarded message with an associated task for quick delegation to another person.

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Schedule creates an appointment with the current message contents.

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Defer places the current message in a deferred folder for a given period of time or until a given date. This is an excellent way to create and maintain a “tickler” file.

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Filing buttons (File Msg, Thread or Topic) automatically moves messages, conversations, or entire topics/projects of email into associated ClearContext Topic Folders. Use these buttons to archive reference material that does not require one of the actions above.

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Followup Message allows the creation of a special task tied to a message conversation. When sending an email, create a follow-up to remind you if you do not receive a response within a specified amount of time. If you do receive a response, the follow-up task is automatically cancelled.

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Unsubscribe automatically files current and future messages of a given conversation to either their Topic folder or an unsubscribed folder. This helps remove those long email threads that you have no interest in that are cluttering your Inbox.

Review

In addition, several ClearContext features provide a view across all messages, tasks, and appointments; regardless of location:

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MessageContext displays all activity for a given message, task, or appointment. This includes all messages in the current email conversation (the original message and all replies to it) and all appointments and tasks created from the conversation using one of the workflow buttons above.

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The Dashboard displays a project view of your data. Drill down into individual projects by opening tabs that display all messages, tasks, appointments, contacts and attachments by Topic. The Dashboard is the control panel for implementation of GTD in ClearContext, providing project centered information within Outlook.

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Much like the Dashboard, ActionView displays a list of global To-Do’s (tasks, deferred messages, and appointments) that can be filtered by date, topic, category, and/or priority. The ActionView is perfect for those who want a more robust way to filter and review their task list, providing an efficient vehicle for performing the weekly review.

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ClearContext measures your email productivity and presents the results in the Scorecard. The Scorecard helps identify problem areas to work on and shows how you have managed your Inbox size over time.

Next up, Action Management

GTD and Getting Things Done are registered
trademarks of David Allen & Company.

Using ClearContext with GTD: Quick Reference

All the talk about the GTD Summit inspired me to update our GTD setup guide.  It now includes the Project Dashboard as a way to manage by project and the Email Scorecard for metrics and measurement.  Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting excerpts from the guide.  First, a quick reference…

Quick Reference

For those of you who want to dive right into setting up your trusted system, here are the basics for setting up GTD with ClearContext Pro:

image Topics = Projects: ClearContext allows the assignment of Topics to email conversations. Use Topics to designate Projects and the ClearContext filing buttons to file email to Topic folders. Use a “/” when creating a Topic to designate sub-projects (i.e. “Project 1/Sub-Project2”).

image Categories = Context: Use ClearContext workflow buttons (Task, Schedule, Delegate, Defer, etc.) to quickly process messages in the Inbox. When creating a Task or Appointment, use Outlook native categories to denote context (@Work, @Phone, etc.) for easy viewing of context-specific action lists. ClearContext will automatically file messages to their Topic folder as Tasks and Appointments are created.

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Review: Use the ClearContext Dashboard to review your Messages and To-Do’s by context, project and/or date. The Dashboard displays all To-Dos’ – tasks, appointments, flagged items and deferred messages – and filters them by Topic or Category.

More to come

GTD and Getting Things Done are registered
trademarks of David Allen & Company.

New Feature in v4.6: Jump to Topic

image We added an oft-requested feature in v4.6 – a Jump to Topic button.  It’s on the toolbar by default or you can add it via ClearContext > Options > Preferences > UI\Toolbar.  The feature pretty much does just what it says – click Jump or hit Alt-J, select or type the name of the folder you want to open and hit enter.  ClearContext even suggests your most recently used folders at the top of the list.  Quick.  Easy. 

New Feature in v4.6: Email Scorecard

For those of your who haven’t customized your toolbar, the first thing you will notice when you upgrade to v4.6 is the addition of the scorecard button. The Email Effectiveness Scorecard provides an overall assessment of how effectively you’re managing your email and how heavy a workload you’re facing.

Email Effectiveness Scorecard

Email Effectiveness Rating

This score is an overall measure of how effectively you are managing your email communications.  The higher your score, the better you are doing with email!

Star Excellent (80 – 100)

great job at staying on top of email and getting a lot done!

Blue Ribbon Very Good (60 – 79)

you are doing a good job at keeping up with email!

Envelope OK (40 – 59)

you are just managing to stay in control of your email.

Attention Required Warning (20 – 39)

you are falling behind in your email communications.

Da Bomb Danger (0 – 19)

Your email is getting totally out of control.

Rating Areas

Your email effectiveness score is made up of three components:

  • Response Time: This factor measures how promptly you are responding to emails.  Getting back to emails that require responses within 24 hours will result in a good response time score. Use the ClearContext Daily Workflow to get through your email faster.
  • Inbox Control: This factor measures how effectively you are processing the messages in your inbox.  The more messages you have in your inbox and the longer it takes you to read, file, and/or delete messages, the lower your score will be.  Manage your Inbox more efficiently with these tips.
  • Communication: This factor measures how well you are doing at sending out messages and processing messages that require response/action.

Workload Workload

Your workload score measures how heavy your email communication volumes are.  The more emails you send and receive, the higher your workload score will be – and the harder it is for you to keep on top of your email!  Review Top Five Ways to Reduce Email Traffic.

My Stats

The My Stats tab allows you to see your email performance over time and compare your email statistics with other ClearContext users.

** Due to the online component of our metrics, you must be connected to the internet to view stats **

My Stats Summary

Summary

The stats summary provides a snapshot of your email activity over the past week and an overview of your message priority breakdown while using ClearContext.

Received

Compare Stats

The compare stats graphs let you view aspects of your email activity (messages sent, received, and average response time) over the past month, and see how they compare to the average ClearContext user’s statistics.

Inbox Status

My Stats

The my stats graphs let you view how well you are keeping your inbox under control (especially users aiming for “inbox zero”) and track changes in your email effectiveness and workload over the past month.

ClearContext Online

You’ll notice a “Compare your stats online” link in the scorecard section.  This component is in beta testing and features much richer stats and analytics capabilities than what’s contained in the ClearContext Outlook client.  We have a lot of exciting things in store there that we’ll begin rolling out over time.

Outlook February Cumulative Update

The Microsoft Team has posted a FAQ for the Outlook 2007 February Cumulative Update.  The extended release notes for the February CU are here.  Bottom line, if you run Outlook 2007, you should install this update.  Outlook performance is greatly improved and the app shuts down more elegantly. 

One warning – your mail files will go through a conversion process the first time you open Outlook.  This can take a considerable amount of time if you have gigs of mail available in Outlook, so make sure you upgrade when you have some free time to let Outlook complete the conversion.

You have to jump through a couple of hoops to download, but it’s worth it.  Go here and click View and Request hotfix downloads:

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Forum URL\RSS Change

Our support forums are back up on a new server:

http://online.clearcontext.com/forums/

If you’re unable to access, give it another few hours as the DNS changes make their way across the tubes.  If you subscribe to the forum RSS, you will need to re-generate your feed here:

http://online.clearcontext.com/forums/create_syndication.php



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