Integrating Outlook and OneNote for task & project management

I started employing David Allen’s Getting Things Done methods many years ago, and I have had much success with it – when I stick to it.

My challenge has always been keeping things easily accessible. I find I have a task list, and then I have a project notebook. Well, how do they talk to each other?

I had been using EverNote to capture everything I wanted to keep, from recipes to Christmas lists and beyond.

I had OneNote before, but I never quite knew what to do with it. I am not sure why, but it didn’t seem to fit into my plans. I kept it more as a reference system – for things I might need to hold onto for a long time, but not as a working file. In the end, I just think I never really learned much about it, and therefore missed out on some cool features.

I got reintroduced to OneNote when I went through a SharePoint/Office365 course at the University. Then I took a full day class just on OneNote, and I learned how I could integrate Outlook. I filed that knowledge away because I wasn’t using the Office Suite for my work – I was on a Mac and using Gmail.

Now that I am back “home” in my Office Suite (can we get a heavenly chorus sound?) I can fully leverage everything Office has to offer, and organize everything according to project and task.

One peeve of mine is that the Outlook App doesn’t have a task list. I was looking at how I could get my task list onto my phone, and then I saw OneNote. I am just starting to learn how to do this again, so bear with me, but here is a starter video of how to go about “Getting Things Done” in Outlook and OneNote.

At first I thought, “Wow, that’s a lot of steps to go through to add a task, wouldn’t it be much faster to just create tasks in outlook from that email and categorize them?” But then I thought about what they were doing in a greater context, and it’s really quite ingenious. They have their projects in OneNote, and then have their actual todos in Outlook. But the beauty about putting them in OneNote first, meant that now they have all their tasks included in their project notes. GTD on the fly! So they don’t have to cross reference – they have everything together for their project in OneNote, including all the tasks they assigned themselves, and then they also have the actual todos in their task management system within Outlook. Brilliant!

I have just begun making contact with all of my departments and committees, and I can see using sections for my clients, having all the pages together, and then connecting my task list for that. Now I just need to figure out how to then get those tasks into my SP list rather than my computer task list, but that might just be a matter of clicking and dragging. We’ll see. Definitely going to do something with this though! Definitely!

GTD using Outlook and SharePoint

For those who don’t know, GTD is following David Allen’s model for “Getting Things Done.” I have been using his systems for years with varying degrees of success. When I capture everything the GTD way, it makes it easier to figure out where you should spend your time.

Being on Gmail for so long at work I had gotten away from the habit of GTD. I know there are a number of online services and apps out there to manage tasks, but none of them quite got me so far as using Outlook to manage my tasks, because I could move things from emails to tasks, to calendar, etc. One complete system.

When I was due to come back to PC, I must say I sighed a quiet sigh of relief, and I looked forward to getting it. Since I used to use SharePoint for task management at my previous work, I decided to incorporate my task list on my Admin site with my Outlook.

Only thing was, I wanted to have my GTD categories in both systems. How to do that when SharePoint’s custom fields don’t cross over? Modify a field that does.

The two fields that appeared to come over were “Custom Priority” and “Custom Status”. Because SP’s status field is tied into other functions, I couldn’t use it, but Priority was wide open, so I replaced the choices within the Priority list with my GTD categories of Project, Task, Next Actions, etc. It syncs beautifully, and on both systems I can set up a view that groups them by GTD categories. Score!

Setting up my “Control Panel” in Outlook

In a previous post, I mentioned that I generally follow the advice of Sally McGhee and John Wittry in “Take Back Your Life: Using Microsoft Outlook 2007 to get organized and stay organized” when setting up my Outlook. They have a slightly different twist on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, which is a method of task and time management that I have followed for close to a decade now. You will see me refer to GTD more than once in coming posts, I am sure.

A great resource for setting up your Control Panel is “Office 2013 All-In-One Absolute Beginners Guide.” It contains step-by-step instructions for setting up things as I am about to describe.

Set up your To-Do Bar

From the View tab, click on To-Do Bar and turn on the Calendar to-do bar, then turn on the Tasks to-do bar. I personally don’t like seeing the agenda – I just like seeing the calendar in the top, so I slide the tasks section up to where it just shows the calendar and hides the agenda. I don’t use the contacts bar.

The tasks to do bar is really my bread and butter. It shows all the emails I have flagged, and any tasks I have set for myself. It does not include the tasks I keep in SharePoint, but that’s for a different post.

Folder Pane

I also customize the Folder Pane and choose Options, a maximum of 4 visible items and choose Compact Navigation. I don’t like wasted real estate on my screen if I can help it, and so I now have four icons at the bottom of my window. Not that it really matters, but I have Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks listed as my top 4.

Follow Up Default

The next step is setting my default follow up to be next week. Click on the follow up button and choose Set Quick Click. Choose your default option.

Views for different purposes

I set my calendar to show a work view. You can manage your views or control panels by folder, or by type of work you’re doing. So, I saved one for my default view when I am in emails and applied that to all the folders. Then I created a different view for when I am in calendar mode.

Customizing Outlook: Signatures, Categories and Rules

I make Outlook my go-to center for getting things done. I generally follow the advice of Sally McGhee and John Wittry in “Take Back Your Life: Using Microsoft Outlook 2007 to get organized and stay organized”. While the book was written for 2007 all of the features still exist; some are just located in different places.

Getting my Outlook set up the way I want it can be a process that takes several hours. I got a start today with setting up my Signatures, Categories, and Rules.

Signatures

For signatures I generally set up two of them: one for new emails, and one for replies. The one for new emails has all of my information in it, including name, title, location, phone number, email address, as well as my strengths. The one for replies only has name, title, phone number and email. I do that to save on clutter throughout the email.

You find signatures in Outlook 2013 by going to
File | Options | Mail and then finally: Signatures

Categories

I love categories because they help me set up my agenda for any meetings that I have with people. They also help me with my rules so that I can move things to folders after they have been categorized and dealt with.

Categories are fairly easy to set up: there is a Categorize button right on the ribbon on the Home tab.

Regarding colors, I tend to set up like items with similar colors, so my team members all have the same color; all departments have the same color; all committees have the same color. I save my category colors mostly for calendar and task-related items.

Rules

Rules are (for me, anyway) where the magic happens in Outlook. I like to minimize the clutter in my inbox, but at the same time, I don’t like to have unread messages in folders. So for that reason, I don’t tend to have rules run automatically except on messages that I know I won’t need to deal with right away. Those messages get filed away so they don’t clutter up my inbox immediately.

Some of those messages include:

  • listserv messages – they get put into a folder where I can handle them as I have time
  • newsletters from experts – they get filed away as well
  • automated messages that come is as a result of me doing something (such as sending out the newsletter)

For all other rules, I run them manually because in that dialog screen, I have the option to run the rules only on read messages – leaving all unread emails in the inbox.

You can find Rules right on the ribbon.

Using Doodle…

While this has very little to do with SharePoint, it does have a little to do with organization, and getting things done. Today I set up my doodle profile, and connected it with one of my calendars – one that I will only use for Doodle, and here’s why:

  1. While I could connect it to my work calendar, I have way too many open spots on my calendar that people could cannibalize when I want to keep them meeting-free
  2. I have a time divide calendar that I use for my supervisor – basically a macro view of in which area I am spending my time, but without the detail of tasks and appointments. While this is nice for her, I can’t use this for my Doodle, because it would show me busy all the time.

So, I created a new calendar where I just blocked off the times I am working for one department, as well as the days that I want to keep clear for deadline purposes. I will see how much of a chore it is to keep up, but I do like that I get an email notification, which I will be able to drag directly over to the calendar for a meeting; and any meetings it schedules for me are automatically no longer available for anyone else.

For more information about Doodle…. visit doodle.com