Posts from November 2007.

Review: The Value of ClearContext

Long time user Craig Kennedy has posted a thorough review of ClearContext IMS v4 and how he applies GTD practice using ClearContext + Outlook as his trusted system:

"Recently ClearContext released version 4 of the Information Management System, and with this release I finally uninstalled the Netcentrics add-in and have moved snugly into ClearContext as my sole workflow tool. What finally tipped the scale for me was the introduction of the Dashboard, a central hub where I can view all my appointments, email messages and tasks according to project. This welcome addition was what turns CC into a GTD powerhouse."

I was most pleased to see that Craig gets the theory behind the IMS Daily Workflow:

"What really knocked my socks off and has served to turbo-charge my work habits is Step 3 in the process, Succeed. … What ClearContext has provided is much needed "context". When I move into the dashboard and begin quickly clicking through my projects, I inevitably find a number of small actionable tasks that I’m all too willing to tackle because I can now see clearly "why" I wanted to do it. By seeing that clear link from task to project, my motivation remains high and I’m getting much more done."

Read the rest of the article is you are looking for additional insight into how to use Outlook and IMS as your trusted system.  Also, see our Using IMS with GTD setup guide for additional tips.

On a related note, despite the praise Craig has heaped on the Dashboard, this is just v1.0 of that feature.  Future releases will add additional flexibility and interactivity to make it an even more powerful tool for workday management.  If you would like to help us prioritize the features we build next, please go to this forum thread and let us know what you would like to see next.

IMS Daily Workflow: Manage the Inbox

gr_manage_30px_blue Once you have finished Identifying the day’s priorities, move on to the Manage phase of the IMS Daily Workflow.  Twice daily (or some other specified interval based on email response time requirements), starting with your highest priority email first, quickly act on each Inbox message or determine when you want to act on it: 

Act Immediately? 


If the message doesn’t have a Topic assigned to it, assign one.  IMS will link all future emails, tasks and appointments to this Topic. 


Reply to the message if you can do so in a minute or two.  IMS can automatically file the original message to a Topic folder for you. 


Delegate the email to someone else as appropriate. 


If no response is required, review the message and file it to a Topic folder


Act Later? 


If the message doesn’t have a Topic assigned to it, assign one.  IMS will link all future emails, tasks and appointments to this Topic. 


Defer messages that you aren’t ready to deal with to a later date. 


Create a task from email that requires further action on your part. 


Schedule appointments from messages that require a meeting. 


No action required? 


Unsubscribe from mailing lists or long email threads that you have no interest in. 


Delete messages that you don’t need to keep for archiving purposes.

This phase of IMS is the bridge that moves you from sizing up your day to working on your most important projects.  Consider it blocking and tackling – quickly and efficiently move through your Inbox and put messages onto your calendar or your task list.  The end result will be a cleared Inbox and a prioritized task list, allowing you to focus on your work rather than your email. 

Up Next: Succeed by focusing on your core work

How Bill Gates Uses Office

Bill GatesMicrosoft has posted how Bill Gates Office 2007 throughout the day.  Not surprisingly, Bill spends most of his time in Outlook:

"I spend the majority of my time communicating with colleagues, customers, and partners. As a result, Outlook is the application that I use the most. I receive about 100 e-mail messages per day from Microsoft employees, and many more from customers and partners."

"It’s very important that I hear what people think about our products and our company. Yet I need to balance that against the very real risk of information overload from all the e-mail that I receive."

At least Bill has the luxury of assistant(s) to help out.  Read the rest of the post for other interesting tidbits (for example, he just started using tasks in Outlook this year…).

IMS Daily Workflow: Identify the Day’s Priorities

gr_identify_30px_org The first step in the IMS Daily Workflow is to Identify the day’s priorities.  Before you jump into the morning’s email, take the opportunity size up your day.  Using the IMS Dashboard:


Review today’s meetings and appointments.  Reschedule any conflicts. 

IMS Dashboard 

Review your Tasks and Actions list for the day.  Adjust due dates based on task and project priorities. 


Review your IMS Alerts to see which messages demand immediate attention. 


Identify your highest priority messages so that you are prepared to manage your Inbox.

Taking this time in the morning to get your priorities in place is the key to a productive day.  Before you move on to manage your Inbox for the first time, work on one or two of your most important tasks.

Up Next: Manage your Inbox

What’s Coming Up: IMS Product Plan Update

We’ve received a ton of great feedback about IMS v4 via email and on the forums since our release a few weeks ago.  So far, our response to most of it has been “That has been added to the feature request list” or “That’s something we hope to do.” That doesn’t mean we’re not paying very close attention – we just wanted to get as much feedback as possible to help us prioritize everything in a manner that best reflects what our customers need.  Additionally, we’ve had to poke around on some of these requests to gauge the development effort required to fully implement. 

Now that we’ve had some time to gather that information, here’s a general outline of what we’re planning (subject to change, but this should be pretty close). We’re breaking things into four areas – a 4.0.x maintenance release, various prototype projects we’ve been working on for a while, a 4.x upgrade (free to all registered v4 customers), and our next major product release:

4.0.x Maintenance Release

We’ve got a point release in QA that will address a couple of issues in found in the initial v4.0 release, specifically: 

  • Improved handling of recurring appointments in the Dashboard and ActionView
  • Enhanced installation to accommodate some quirky Vista installation problems we have been seeing
  • Minor fit/finish changes

Most of these changes address minor problems reported that won’t impact existing users.

Prototype/beta projects

We’ve been working on a bunch of areas in parallel with our core IMS development.  Clues to the direction of this development are in Deva’s blog posts on the future of email, but we’re not quite ready to talk about details publicly yet.  We hope to roll out the first component along with the 4.0.x maintenance release, at which point we’ll share more information about the types of things we’re developing to leverage and extend core IMS capabilities.

4.x Upgrade

We’re planning to deliver a 4.x update in the first half of 2008.  This is going to largely address feature requests people have made around the following areas: 

  • Dashboard Display and Interactivity
  • Setup Improvements
  • Better Handling of Un-scored Messages

While some of the major components are being worked on, we’re still prioritizing a number of the specific smaller chunks of functionality to see what makes it in to this release.  We’ve created a forum thread here to get input from everyone on what your top priorities are. 

Next major release planning

We’re also in the process of scoping out and scheduling the future release plans for the next major version of IMS and other applications in the ClearContext suite of products. Much of this involves brand new functionality (related to the prototype/beta projects above) that we’ll discuss in more detail in the coming weeks and months.  On the technical side we’re working on ways to improve multi-machine support.  We’ll also continue to enhance existing IMS features, especially around areas of new v4 functionality like the dashboard.  Existing IMS areas we’re looking to improve/expand include: 

  • Improved Threading
  • Message Tagging
  • Dashboard Flexibility
  • Enhanced Automation Capabilities

We’ll have a more detailed post on this in the future, as well as a forum thread discussing the release plan.

For right now, though, our priority is making sure we get the right set of features delivered in our 4.x upgrade to improve the usability and value of new pieces of functionality such as the IMS Dashboard.  We really appreciate everyone’s feedback and pay close attention to every suggestion and forum thread.  Please post any ideas/suggestions you have there; we’ll continue to do our best to get as many of those features as possible into the product.

Ferris Research: Overly Responsive Email Behavior

I stumbled across this Ferris Research article on measuring email response time and email SLA’s at Ferris Research.  David Sengupta basically says that using email response time as a metric is a sure fire way to develop unproductive work habits in the organization:

“Being hyper-responsive to email around the clock suggests that you live an interrupt-driven work life and that you likely have a hard time concentrating for prolonged periods of time. Your overall productivity is likely to be reduced as a result, making you less valuable.

Many people are intensely productive but block hours or even days of email-free time, in order to focus on priority projects. When you hear managers or others in the company suggesting that there is some inherent value in someone’s ability to be instantly responsive to any message that comes their way, or in someone’s ability to process a massive amount of email, think again.”

This is, of course, exactly what we have been saying.  Focus on your projects rather than your messages and you’ll be a lot more successful in the long run.

Introducing The ClearContext IMS Daily Workflow


Over the last several years we have been working with experts in the field of productivity along with a very passionate and vocal customer base to develop a world class productivity tool to help ease the burden of information overload.  Along the way, we have collected a series of best practices for managing information and squeezing more productivity out of the day.

gr_workflow In conjunction with the IMS v4 release, we have distilled these concepts into a process to help our customers get the most out of the product.  The result is the ClearContext IMS Daily Workflow, a three step process for managing information that will help save an hour or more per day:

gr_identify_20px_org First thing in the morning, identify the day’s priorities:

  1. Review your calendar 
  2. Review your daily task list 
  3. Review your alerts

gr_manage_20px_blue Twice daily, manage your Inbox:

Quickly review each message and determine when you need to act on it:

  1. Act immediately?  Reply, Delegate, or Review and File 
  2. Act later?  Defer, Create a Task or Appointments 
  3. No action required?  Unsubscribe or Delete

gr_succeed_20px_grn Throughout the day, succeed by focusing on what’s important:

  1. Work on your tasks by project 
  2. Review high priority messages only 
  3. View all related information on To Do’s

We believe in the benefits of productivity methodologies such as Total Workday Control and Getting Things Done.  The IMS Daily Workflow doesn’t replace these methodologies, but rather provides a framework to hit the ground running with IMS.  We still recommend that you take best practices from all of these methodologies to find something that works best for you.

The IMS Daily Workflow is the culmination of years of development with our customers via product and process feedback, forum participation and weblog conversations.  We will be expanding each of these steps in great detail via the weblog in the coming months.  In the meantime, check out our Solutions Pages for more detail.

Up Next: Identify the day’s priorities…

Simply GTD: Digging out from an email landfill

After Thanksgiving, GTD coach Kelly Forrister had 1,155 new emails in her Inbox.  She brought those down to zero in three hours following the 4D’s – Delete, Do, Delegate and Defer.  Read the rest of the article for the detail.

I like Kelly’s style – she recommends really taking the time off when you go on vacation and scheduling extra time when you get back to tackle the inevitable information build-up. 

"First, I knew the morning I got back to work I’d have about 6x more input than normal, so I blocked that extra time on my calendar to give myself the time I would need to get it processed. I think this is essential. There is no way a week of email can be processed in the same time I normally allow. I need a cushion of extra time that first morning back."

I advised something similar in my Vacation Email Triage post:

"I have two more "peace of mind" tips for you.  I have read several recent articles that quote people who feel the need to check email while on vacation to try and avoid the inevitable email crunch.  This is a mistake and should be avoided at all costs.  Email begets email – the more you send the more you get in return.  If you answer the important messages while "relaxing," the result is likely to be the same amount of email when you return.  My advice is twofold:

  1. Block the last day out before you leave to tie up all your loose ends, clear your Inbox, and hit the road with a sense of accomplishment and relief knowing that you got things done before your break. 
  2. Keep your schedule on your first day back clear.  You’ll have a full free day when you return to devote to catching up before everyone realizes that you’re back in business."

Keep that in mind when you take vacation over the holidays this year.

On a related note, if you haven’t seen it already, we have recently updated our GTD setup guide for v4.  Check it out here.

ClearContext News & Reviews

There have been some new articles and reviews written about IMS v4 over the last couple of weeks:

Email’s Friendly Fire – November 27, 2007
Rebecca Buckman – Wall Street Journal
"ClearContext… uses algorithms to quickly analyze a user’s email to determine which contacts and messages are the most important." 

Email Overload – November 27, 2007
Gui Cremerius
"Who doesn’t suffer from email overload these days? Even my 75 year old mother sometimes claims she’s getting too much email!" 

ClearContext : pour mieux organiser ses e-mails dans Outlook. – November 26, 2007
Stéphanie Renault – 01net.
"IMSv4, édité par ClearContext, permet de s’y retrouver facilement face aux avalanches quotidiennes de messages, grâce à des règles simples de tri, de priorité, de suivi des alertes…" 

ClearContext IMS Review: How to Manage Email – November 25, 2007
Bill Masella – Projects Possible
"With each release of this product I find that I am becoming more and more of a fan and my Outlook life is now so entrenched in it’s use that I couldn’t even imagine what Outlook would be like without it." 

Annoyed By Your Boss’s Email? No Problem. – November 17, 2007
Neil Smithline – My Geekdom
"All-in-all, CCIMS is a wonderful tool." 

ClearContext Information Management System Pro 4.0 – November 11, 2007
Heinz Tschabitscher –
"Version 4 adds a helpful Dashboard that collects emails, tasks and appointments on a project basis. Also new are ClearContext alerts for messages from certain people or in a particular thread — as well as a handy Do Not Disturb button that turns off Outlook’s email notifications for a while."

IMS in the WSJ: Email’s Friendly Fire

Email continues to be a hot topic in the news! A great Wall Street Journal article on email technologies being developed to help people deal with email overload mentions ClearContext along with a couple of other companies also developing Outlook-based products, Seriosity and Xobni.  The article focuses on the message management capabilities of IMS and includes a couple of good examples from ClearContext customers.  Deva was interviewed for the article and has written some follow-up thoughts at his blog, Email Dashboard.