Posts from July 2010.

GTD & ClearContext: Introduction and Overview

The release of v5.1 has made it easier than ever to implement GTD within Outlook.  Over the next week I’ll be posting excerpts from our GTD Setup Guide.  See Part 1 here.

Introduction

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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.

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, Projects are assigned to messages, tasks and appointments via the ClearContext toolbar and native Outlook categories are used to denote context. Tasks and Appointments can then be viewed by project or context using the Dashboard and the ClearContext Organizer.

Workflow

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

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Task creates an Outlook task from the currently selected message. 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 from 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 Project) automatically moves messages, conversations, or entire projects of email into associated Project 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 Project 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. Pin the projects that are most important to you. Double click a project name to take notes and display all related tasks, appointments, contacts and files. 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, the ClearContext Organizer displays a list of global tasks that can be filtered by date, project, category, and/or priority. The Organizer 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. Click the More button at the bottom of the Dashboard to access your Scorecard.

GTD & ClearContext: Quick Reference

The release of v5.1 has made it easier than ever to implement GTD within Outlook.  Over the next week I’ll be posting excerpts from our GTD Setup Guide.

Quick Reference

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

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Projects: ClearContext allows the assignment of Projects to email conversations. A project is automatically created for each Outlook folder. Use the ClearContext filing buttons to file email to Projects. Use a “/” when creating a Project to designate sub-projects (i.e. “Project/Sub-Project”).

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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. Use File Original Message when replying or creating a Task/Appointment and ClearContext will automatically file the original email to a Project folder.

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Review: Use the ClearContext Organizer to review your Messages and To-Do’s by context, project and/or date. Open the organizer from the ClearContext Dashboard or via the ClearContext menu.

Getting Started with ClearContext v5.1

Along with the v5.1 release, we have updated most of our online help.  We’ll be posting over the coming weeks.

With ClearContext, you’re just minutes away from automatically keeping all your email, tasks, and projects organized using the folders and filing system you already use!  These 4 simple steps will get you started – ClearContext will take care of the rest!  If you haven’t done so already, download and install ClearContext here.

  1. File and organize email with Outlook add-inFile Messages to Suggested Folders

    ClearContext automatically suggests the right folders to file messages to based on your past email.  Click File Msg to file that folder or the down arrow to see more suggestions.

  2. Clear Your Inbox

    DeferUnsubscribe
    Click Defer to move messages out of your Inbox for a specified time.  They will return to your Inbox, unread, at the time you choose.  Unsubscribe from unwanted email conversations.  Future messages in this thread will be moved to the Unsubscribed folder.

  3. Create Tasks and Appointments

    TaskSchedule
    Click Task and Schedule on the ClearContext toolbar to turn email into tasks or appointments.  If you haven’t assigned a project name to the email already, ClearContext will prompt you to select one.

  4. Organize Tasks

    Organize Tasks Click Organize Tasks in the Dashboard to easily organize all your tasks.  Select a bunch of overdue tasks in the Date tab to re-assign their due dates, then go to the Project tab and hit Assign Project to make tasks part of a project.
  5. Project SummaryView Your Projects

    Now go to the ClearContext Dashboard sidebar in your inbox.  Select Active Projects to see a summary of your projects and upcoming tasks/appointments.  Click on a project name to switch to the Project Dashboard for detailed project information.

ClearContext learns where you file email from specific people and threads then automatically creates projects for those folders to keep all your project email, tasks, appointments, and notes organized.  Just follow the simple steps above and ClearContext will keep you on top of everything you need to get done in Outlook!

View a video demonstration of these concepts here.

MYN-Powered ClearContext v5.1 Available!

TWC Book

In addition to the product-wide improvements in v5.1, the release introduces an exciting new feature for TWC customers – single folder filing!  As TWC followers are aware, filing to a single folder is a core feature of Michael Linenberger’s methodology.  Use ClearContext filing buttons to assign categories and file to your processed mail folder.  Download the TWC version here.

Some TWC/MYN v5.1 upgrade notes:

  • Single folder filing is enabled by default.  To continue to file to individual project folders, go to ClearContext > Options and uncheck "File all messages to root folder"
  • By default, the MYN Powered version files all messages /Inbox/Processed Mail.  Change the folder you file to in Root Folder for Filing and Projects in ClearContext > Options.  Note that if you previously designated a different root folder here (i.e. /Inbox) single folder filing will file to that folder instead of Processed Mail.
  • If you are using the default TWC toolbar, filing buttons will appear after the upgrade.  If you customized the toolbar, you may need to add these buttons via ClearContext > Options > UI/Toolbar.

Michael has posted a wealth of information about v5 on his website.  Start here.



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