Posts by deva.

Managing Your Outlook Email Like Fred Wilson

Prominent VC/blogger Fred Wilson gets a ton of email.  In this blog post he describes how he “just spent four hours going through my inbox and taking it from 500 emails to zero.”

Fred uses Gmail, but the general techniques he uses to keep on top of email can be used by anyone. At ClearContext we’ve found techniques like these to be key parts in a successful email workflow process, and the MS Outlook team recently posted some similar thoughts on email best practices.

Here’s how ClearContext automates and enhances key pieces of these techniques to let Microsoft Outlook users take advantage of Outlook the way Fred uses Gmail – and get through the email even faster!

The first step Fred mentions is “quickly check off and delete all spam in my inbox at least once and ideally twice or three times a day.”

ClearContext highlights messages from known senders and VIP senders.  This lets you easily scan through all your unsolicited messages and quickly get rid of all your unwanted/unimportant email.  Features like AutoAssign and Unsubscribe automatically move all emails from specific senders or threads out of your inbox.

Fred’s next step is to “scan my inbox for emails from my top priorities; wife, family, partners, colleagues, portfolio, etc.”

This is another place ClearContext shines.   It automatically analyzes your email activity to highlight email from your most important contacts, so you can easily pick them out of the mass of email.

There’s one thing Fred wishes Gmail did better – highlight email from his most important contacts. “I can’t for the life of me understand why they don’t build a tool to source up all of those emails automatically. Please build that feature google.”

We’ve already built that for Outlook users by not only highlighting email from the most important people in your life, but also providing optional views that can move those messages to the top of your inbox!

Fred mentions a few other points in Gmail that he loves.  “Send and archive is so awesome”

We agree. The File Original Message” feature in ClearContext lets you automatically move messages out of your inbox once you reply to them.

Like many people, Fred is a fan of Gmail’s conversation threading and writes “now i love it and could not do email without this feature”

In ClearContext we provide two ways to take advantage of conversation threading (and other features slowly inching their way into Outlook). First, we provide a threaded view that groups messages in a conversation together in your inbox.  Additionally, MessageContext adds an expandable pane to each email to display other messages in the thread.

There’s one place where Fred differs from most of our users. “i’ve never used a to do list… it’s not part of my routine”

However, I’m sure he does use a calendar. For both of those things, one-click task and schedule buttons convert emails into to-do items and calendar entries. The emails can be moved out of your inbox, while still maintaining a link from your to-do list or appointments to the original email thread.

ClearContext is committed to making email better for people.  It’s great to see people like Fred and the MS Outlook team contributing their thoughts on one of the biggest issues facing just about everyone in business today. With ClearContext v5 we’re making it easier than ever for Outlook users to take back control of their email.  We hope you’ll give it a try. Thanks again to Fred and the many other bloggers who are sharing their email management techniques! We’ll continue to highlight the best posts and practices on this blog.

Information Overload Awareness Day Web Event 8/12 – free guest pass!

Did you know August 12th is Information Overload Awareness Day?  Our friends at Basex are putting on a web event focusing on ways to decrease the impact of  Information Overload. 
I'll be speaking on a Visionary Vendor Panel representing ClearContext along with speakers from Microsoft, Xerox, Xobni, and Nordic River. 

Thanks to Basex and conference sponsors, we're able to provide you with a free pass ($50 value) to attend the event!   Please come as our guest on August 12 – use the code "DevaGuest" for your guest ticket.  The web event begins at 8am PST and the Visionary Vendor Panel is at 11:15am PST.  You can see the full agenda here.

The keynote
presentation will feature Nathan Zeldes, Intel's former Information Overload
czar, speaking about his work at Intel and will coincide with the release of
the forthcoming  Basex report, Intel's War Against Information Overload.
 All attendees will receive a complimentary executive summary of this

Additional speakers include:

  • Noted authors Maggie Jackson
    (“Distracted”) and Mike Song (“The Hamster Revolution”)
  • Edward Stern, Occupational
    Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Dept. of Labor
  • Mark Hurst, Creative Good
    and author of "Bit Literacy"
  • John Hagel, co-chairman, the
    Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation
  • Seth Earley, CEO, Earley
    & Associates
  • Anne-Katrin Neyer, School of
    Business and Economics, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg
  • Peter Marksteiner, Colonel, Air
  • Paul Silverman, Integra
  • Christina Randle, The Effective
  • Jonathan Spira, chief analyst
    at Basex

Over 500 people are
expected to attend worldwide.  I hope you're able to join us.  C
lick here to register now – and use the code
"DevaGuest" for free admission!

Free IORG online event on Information Overload – Monday April 27

The Information Overload Research Group is putting on a 90-minute online event on Monday with a great group of speakers. 

Dr. Oliver Brdiczka from PARC, Prof. Gloria Mark from UC Irvine,  Col. Peter Marksteiner from the USAF, and Jonathan Spira from BASEX will be sharing a wide variety of perspectives on INFORMATION OVERLOAD: THE IMPACT ON THE ORGANIZATION.

The event is free, but does require registration, so please take a look at the agenda, sign up, and join us Monday for what will be a very interesting session.

It’s all about Inbox Zero…

…or at least it seems that way based on a flurry of articles lately.  We've posted about inbox zero and ways to get started before.  Today, the guys at 37 Signals made a post on their excellent blog about Highrise and inbox zero and referenced a new inbox zero article in the New York Times.
It's great to see so much focus on inbox zero and email efficiency in general.  It's not a big surprise, as people are definitely having to get more done with less resources these days.  And getting better at email is one key way they can make that happen.

The 37 Signals post showed how Highrise users can snooze emails to make them go away for a while, which is very useful when aiming for inbox zero. ClearContext Pro users are able to do this by deferring emails and having them return to the inbox whenever they choose.  
That's just one of the many features in ClearContext Pro to help quickly process emails.

The New York Times article has a ton of straightforward and useful tips, as well as pointers to some good resources about handling email and achieving inbox zero.

InboxzeroWe're especially excited about all of this because of the Email Effectiveness capabilities we're introducing in ClearContext (in both Pro and our free Personal product).  Our current release has a sneak preview of these capabilities, including the ability to track your progress towards inbox zero within Outlook.  And there's much more coming soon.  You can download here and check it out!

Hopefully you're now well on your way to earning your Inbox Zero Nerd Merit Badge!

Microsoft Office Labs Email Prioritizer

Brad just blogged about a Lifehacker post about email innovations people want.  Right on the heels of that discussion, Microsoft Office Labs has released an experiment called the Email Prioritizer this week.  It’s for Outlook 2007 running on Exchange only and features two parts. (image from Microsoft)  Emailprioritizersmall_6

One is a "Do Not Disturb" feature that pauses new email from being sent from the Exchange server to your Outlook client. 

The other is an email prioritizer that puts 0 to 3 stars next to each email to help identify important email. 

Webware reviews the product and Todd Bishop writes about the project’s background based on a Microsoft Research project from 2005 led by Eric Horvitz.

This is interesting and exciting stuff to us at ClearContext, as  we’ve
been focused on prioritizing and organizing emails in Outlook based on a customizable set of parameters for a few years now in both our free personal product as well as in our Professional
paid version
– which also helps people manage workflow and projects within Outlook.

Over the past few years we’ve learned a lot about how email prioritization and triage can help people deal with overloaded inboxes.  It’s an important part of the solution, but only one of many required parts to help people deal with information more effectively. Really helping people solve the problem requires a lot more than just identifying important messages.

We’re currently beta-testing a new version of our completely free product,
ClearContext Personal (for Outlook 2003/2007 on Exchange or POP) that includes those inbox prioritization capabilities as well as advanced ways to
automate the filing and organization of messages and threads, view and work
with groups of contacts, explore attachments within email just like viewing
files in desktop folders, and manage unwanted email threads by
"unsubscribing" from them.   Enter your info on the beta page and we’ll send you download information so you can try it out.

It’s great to see Microsoft and others acknowledging what a critical issue information overload is for people, and we’re confident you’ll find ClearContext Personal a very useful tool to help highlight your most important contacts and messages – and much more.

ClearContext Personal Beta Launch Update

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who has downloaded
or signed up for the ClearContext Personal beta. The level of
interest has been incredible. We’re
working hard so we can send invites to everyone still on the waiting list as
soon as possible.


One thing we didn’t really expect was how quickly so many people
would download, install, and send us feedback about their experience with
ClearContext Personal. Based on that, we’re
changing our plans a little bit. The
initial plan had been to roll out the first wave of invites to a group of
Outlook 2007 users, follow that with a quick round of bug fixes, and roll out
to a larger group of Outlook 2007 users plus Outlook 2003 users. We’ve received a lot of enhancement requests
and feature suggestions (many of which were already on our plans for the next
beta) from our beta testers in a few key areas that we agree will make the product both easier to use and more valuable to our users. So we’ve decided to extend development a few
weeks and roll a number of these changes into the product. People currently on the waitlist will
have to wait a little longer than initially planned, but the beta you’ll get
will be a much improved version of the product. Again, thanks a ton to everyone who has provided us with all this great
feedback. Here are a few key areas
we’re working on:

  • Guided Setup – walk-through during setup with more details
    on contact prioritization and options for
    color-coded inbox views
  • Filing – make one-click filing capability
    even smarter and more automatic, so keeping email organized will be even easier
  • Contacts and Attachments – additional
    actions on contacts and attachments, and make it easier to work with groups of related items
  • Message Prioritization – make it easier for people to customize how important messages from different contacts are to
  • Notification Managers – simplify the installation
    process for notification managers

We really appreciate all the feedback we’ve received so far
and are excited about these improvements that will make the product even easier
to use and give users a much better email experience from the first moment they
install the product. Please keep signing
up for the beta
and stay tuned to the blog for more
updates. Thanks!

ClearContext Personal Beta Launched to Improve Outlook for Everyone

All of us at ClearContext are really excited to announce the start of the beta program for ClearContext Personal.  This free Outlook add-in helps people organize their email and make their inbox (and email experience) just plain better.  At ClearContext, we have years of experience solving information overload challenges for email power users who deal with incredible amounts of email while managing multiple concurrent projects within Outlook.  In talking to lots of individuals and companies about those problems, we’ve found that it’s not just those users that are overwhelmed with email; it seems like just about all business email users are frustrated with email and feel stressed trying to keep up with it.  With ClearContext Personal, we expand the reach of our solutions to all Outlook email users who want a better answer to dealing with email overload.  Here’s a demo:

Our goal with ClearContext Personal is to identify the most common problems with email faced by users of all types and provide solutions that work without requiring any effort or behavior change on their part.  We want to help people figure out which email they need to deal with, put it in context with the information related to it so they have what they need to take action, and then automatically file it in the right place so all related information is neatly organized for them.  And all those huge reply-to-all threads, automated notification emails, and other unimportant messages clogging the inbox?  Yeah, put that to the side so they don’t keep getting interrupted.  Doesn’t that sound better already?

I’ve written a lot about how email needs to improve.  With this release of ClearContext Personal we’re taking some big steps towards addressing some of the key challenges I’ve discussed involving volume and context.  And that’s just the start.  TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and GigaOm have already written about this launch – we really appreciate the great coverage from those writers and are really excited that improving email has become one of the hottest topics of discussion and innovation lately.   

We’re all pretty tired around here and we still have a few finishing touches to put on some of the new web pages, so for now I’ll send you over to check out the ClearContext Personal product pages.  Later today or tomorrow I’ll make a post that goes into more detail about the functionality of this release, what to expect in upcoming releases (including ClearContext Professional – a free upgrade for registered IMS v4 customers that incorporates all the new features in ClearContext Personal), and all sorts of other  information about this launch.

I’ll end this post with a big THANK YOU to everyone who helped make this launch possible – everyone at ClearContext, the journalists/bloggers, and all of our incredible users who have given us such great feedback and assistance in developing a product we are sure you’ll love. 

There’s a lot more to email management than SNARF

Microsoft Research today released a new utility called SNARF that “filters and sorts e-mail based on the type of message and the user’s history with an e-mail correspondent.
It’s interesting and good to see Microsoft acknowledging the
significance of some of the problems we’ve been tackling at ClearContext for the past couple of years, but there’s a lot more to solving these problems than prioritization and triage.

In March 2004 we described a number of email-related problems and discussed our approach to solving them in our white paper, Designing a More Effective Inbox.
In that paper we describe the design philosophy behind the
patent-pending contact analysis and email prioritization algorithms at
the core of the ClearContext Inbox Manager product we released last
year.  A key consideration in our design was to seamlessly
integrate this functionality into the existing Outlook Inbox that
people use every day, We chose not to add more overhead to their busy
worklife by creating a second interface for them to use (as products
like the SNARF utility or NEO require).

Based on our survey of high-volume business email users, we found
that email prioritization and triage was definitely an important factor
in effectively dealing with email, as described by a number of our
users, including Omar Shahine.  That was just one of three key areas where our users wanted help with email, though.

The second area we received the most feedback about had to do with
filing and organization of email.  ClearContext Inbox Manager
allows topics to be assigned to email conversations, automatically
organizing related emails in easy to manage topic folders as described
in William Bartholomew’s review.

The third key area has to do with action items and workflow
generated from email.  Email is no longer just about
information.  The tasks, appointments, and other action items that
make up an individual’s workday are largely driven from email.
Our focus in our 2.0 release has been on extending ClearContext
functionality beyond just the Inbox and emails to integrate across and
link all of these items.  We describe a number of the features in our product plan.

We have recently started beta-testing ClearContext v2.0
with a small group of users.  We will very shortly be announcing
an openly available beta 2.  In advance of that, we’d like to give
you a sneak-peek our ClearContext 2.0 product line (that will be
officially announced in more detail upon GA release).

ClearContext Inbox Manager Personal Edition 2.0 – this free product will be focused on inbox prioritization and color-coding functionality

ClearContext Inbox Manager 2.0 – this upgrade to our existing
product will expand functionality beyond the inbox and add a number of
brand new features, such as unified views of all Outlook items related
to the same topic/project

ClearContext Professional Information Management System 2.0
this product goes beyond email management to add email-driven task
assignment, scheduling, deferral, delegation, follow-up management, and
other workflow functionality

As a special bonus for our existing 1.0 users, all registered users who participate in a follow-up survey to our email usage survey will be given a free upgrade to our IMS 2.0 product.

It’s good to see a lot of awareness and momentum building around
something we’re very passionate about here, making email a better and
more efficient tool for communication and workflow.  We’re excited
about our upcoming releases and look forward to hearing your feedback
as more of you try out our new products in the coming weeks.