Category Archives: GTD

GTD – Using Microsoft Outlook to colour-code e-mails

I receive a lot of e-mail that is not sent directly to me. I work for a large company with thousands of employees – at least 50% of my inbox is made up of corporate “global all” type e-mail. Whilst it’s important to read these, I personally prefer to read’n’process the e-mail that are sent directly to me before I look at the global all items. To do this, I make use of Microsoft Outlook’s built-in formatting options such that mail sent directly to me appears in my inbox in light blue.

Here’s how we do this…choose the Tools menu followed by the Organise menu item:

Next, click on Using Colours. I already have e-mail that is sent to me and me only appear in blue, hence the option to turn it off is available. Assuming that you don’t have this option enabled, click on the Automatic Formatting button at the top right:

By default, Microsoft Outlook provides a handful of automatic formatting rules, one of them is “Mail sent directly to me”:

Outlook will do a pretty good job working out the conditions required to make this happen. For the sake of completeness though, click on the Condition… button to see for yourself:

As long as you have a tick beside the “Mail sent directly to me” rule, Outlook will colour-code your incoming e-mail:

This is yet another small and simple product feature that you may well have been aware of, however if it’s new to you, it could be of some use.

Other posts
GTD Action/Deferred/WaitingFor/Someday folders in Microsoft Outlook – Show Item Count
Making e-mail simpler and easier to handle: using Microsoft Outlook rules
Elementary GTD using Microsoft Outlook “move to folder”

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GTD Action/Deferred/WaitingFor/Someday folders in Microsoft Outlook – Show Item Count

Following on from my previous posts about using Microsoft Outlook for GTD (here and here), I’d like to mention a further tweak that we can make to Microsoft Outlook’s folder view control. Most of us probably have Microsoft Outlook display the number of unread items in each folder. However, for the GTD folders that I mentioned earlier, it’s likely that you will have read the items before they are filed in the GTD Action, Defer, Waiting For or Someday Maybe folders.

For these folders, I prefer to see the total number of items regardless of whether they have been read or not. Like a lot of things in Microsoft Outlook, the folder list is configurable. Right-clicking on a folder, then choosing Properties will allow us to configure the “total” that appears after the folder name.

This is a simple little tip, but one that might be of use to you if are are “rolling your own GTD” implementation.

Other posts
GTD Action/Deferred/WaitingFor/Someday folders in Microsoft Outlook – Show Item Count
Making e-mail simpler and easier to handle: using Microsoft Outlook rules
Elementary GTD using Microsoft Outlook “move to folder”

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Elementary GTD using Microsoft Outlook “move to folder”

This is not the first time that I’ve found myself writing a blog entry about “managing e-mail”. However, it is the first time that I’ve written about managing e-mail and felt that I have a workable solution, for me at least. For the last 18 months or so, I have been trying to push Getting Things Done into my life – too many e-mails, an ever-growing to-do list and clutter have been putting a lot of weight on my shoulders. Something had to be done to alleviate that weight, GTD seemed like a popular/successful fit.

Whilst I have managed to enjoy the short-term benefits of Inbox Zero, reaching it a few times over the last 18 months, keeping on top of a fast filling inbox kept getting the better of me. As such, most of my “e-mail time” was spent processing immediate actions or fire-fighting. Working like this means somethings do slip under the radar and can come back to bite you where it hurts most. Something had to be done – it had to be simple, effective and something that I could run with for a long time.

I chose to stick with the GTD filing advice whereby tasks/items are organised into four pots: Action, Deferred, Someday and Waiting For, as explained in a little more detail over here (with thanks to Richard Peat over on Twitter). These folder names are working for me, your mileage may vary.

Dragging and dropping into these folders is fine, however it is a little cumbersome and mouse-intensive – it’s easy to make mistakes with drag’n’drop. I really wanted an more integrated solution that was better than drag’n’drop and better than the keyboard shortcut for Move To Folder (Control+Shift+V). After a little hunting around for GTD solutions, I settled on my own home-grown solution. I say home-grown, I actually took some inspiration from Chewy’s Blog – where you can find an Outlook macro that invokes a “move to folder” action in Outlook. With a little modification I found myself with a handful of Outlook macros that would let me select one or more e-mails, run one of the GTD macros and hey presto, the e-mails would then magically file themselves in the appropriate GTD folder.

However, I wanted more than “running macros”, I wanted toolbar icons that would run these macros and offer me keyboard shortcuts. Fortunately, Microsoft Outlook allows us to create macros that can be run from a toolbar icon and these icons can have keyboard shortcuts associated with them.

Creating a Microsoft Outlook macro is fairly painless: simply click on the Tools, Macro, Macros menu item (or press Alt+F8). Enter a macro name that reflects your action, e.g. MoveGTDAction and then click on the Create button. With a little care, you should be able to cut’n’paste the code from this example into the VBA code editor.

One of the modifications that I made to the Chewy’s original code was the introduction of a separate routine that is capable of moving e-mail items to a given folder. I needed to be able to call this routine such that it would operate on at least four different folders (the GTD folders), so a separate routine seemed logical. Here’s the code behind MoveToFolder:

Sub MoveToFolder(objFolder As Outlook.MAPIFolder)
    On Error Resume Next
    Dim objItem As Outlook.MailItem

    If objFolder Is Nothing Then
        MsgBox "This folder doesn't exist!", vbOKOnly + vbExclamation, "INVALID FOLDER"
    End If

    If Application.ActiveExplorer.Selection.Count = 0 Then
        Exit Sub
    End If

    For Each objItem In Application.ActiveExplorer.Selection
        If objFolder.DefaultItemType = olMailItem Then
            If objItem.Class = olMail Then
                objItem.Move objFolder
            End If
        End If

    Set objItem = Nothing
    Set objFolder = Nothing
End Sub

Making use of MoveToFolder for each of the GTD folders necessiates the creation of routines for each of the folders. Here’s the code for MoveGTDAction – be careful to get the folder hierarchy correct.

Sub MoveGTDAction()
    On Error Resume Next
    Dim objNS As Outlook.NameSpace
    Set objNS = Application.GetNamespace("MAPI")
    Call MoveToFolder(objNS.Folders.Item("Mailbox - Murphy, Craig").Folders.Item("@ GTD").Folders.Item("Action (respond or process)"))

    Set objNS = Nothing
End Sub

Another minor tweak that I use is the notion of an “Archive 2008” folder. I delete e-mail when it needs to be deleted, but there are a lot of e-mails that you may want to hold on to for any number of reasons. Of course you don’t want them hanging around your Inbox or your GTD folders…so I have a folder called Archive with sub-folders 2008, 2007, etc. Equally, I don’t want the archived e-mails hanging around in my corporate Exchange folders, so I use Microsoft Outlook’s Personal Folders instead (with an appropriate backup regime in place!) Here’s the code that I use to move such e-mails into my Personal Folders for year 2008:

Sub MoveArchive2008()
    On Error Resume Next
    Dim objNS As Outlook.NameSpace
    Set objNS = Application.GetNamespace("MAPI")

    Call MoveToFolder(objNS.Folders.Item("Personal Folders").Folders.Item("Archive").Folders.Item("2008"))

    Set objNS = Nothing
End Sub

Microsoft Outlook’s toolbars are very customisable. Simply right-click on any area of the toolbar and you’ll be presented with a list of the toolbars that are currently available and those that are visible (ticked). You’ll also see the Customise menu option (yes, yes, Customize if you’re elsewhere in the world). Clicking on the Customise menu option will give us the option to add a new toolbar, one with buttons that run the macros created earlier. I have two toolbars, GTD and Organise. The GTD toolbar handles the four GTD folders whereas the Organise toolbar handles Archive 2008, Outlook’s built-in Move To Folder icon and the frequently used Delete icon.

Using the Customise dialog, it’s easy to create a new toolbar, simply click on the New… button.

Once you have a toolbar, getting the GTD macros on to that toolbar is also a simple step. Click on the Commands tab and choose the Macros category, as shown below.

It’s possible to drag the macros (e.g. Project1.MoveGTDAction) onto your ‘GTD’ toolbar – a toolbar button will appear. If you were to right-click on the newly created button, you’ll be able to change its name such that it has a keyboard short-cut, simply by prefixing the letter that you would like to use with an ampersand (&). The screenshot below demonstrates how we might use Alt+A to invoke the “file to Action folder” button.

Repeating this process for all the GTD actions, you might end up with a toolbar that looks similar to this one:

For the sake of completeness, my GTD folder structure looks like this:

I’ve used these folders, macros, toolbars and keyboard shortcuts to clear down both my corporate inboxes and my personal inbox (which was by far the worst). I have a few more tricks that I’m using to keep my inbox “flowing”, I’ll share those in a follow-up blog post. In the meantime, if you have any tips and tricks that you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment!

With thanks to TechSmith for the SnagIt screen capture software. It is truly wonderful.

Other posts
GTD Action/Deferred/WaitingFor/Someday folders in Microsoft Outlook – Show Item Count
Making e-mail simpler and easier to handle: using Microsoft Outlook rules
Elementary GTD using Microsoft Outlook “move to folder”

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Where are you most productive?

May be it’s just me, but I find that certain places allow me to be more productive than others. 

For example, I find these places rather good when it comes to getting things done:

  1. airport departure lounges
  2. on a plane
  3. on a train
  4. sometimes, on a bus
  5. hotel lounges / bars, sometimes even hotel rooms

The reason I find most of these places so good for productivity stems from any combination of the following:

  • Public transport, e.g. buses.  We have no control over how fast they go.  If you arrive at your destination late, perhaps because of heavy traffic, there is little you could do about it.
  • Airlines.  Like public transport, there’s little we can do to make the “process” go any faster.  If you are delayed, too bad, nothing you can do will make the aircraft depart any faster or any closer to its original departure time.  And once you’re in the air, headwinds, tailwinds, all you can do is sit there and get one with something, it’ll take as long as it takes.  Use the time usefully and productively.  You may struggle in some lounges where other users insist upon using their mobile ‘phones and are almost shouting to the person at the other end – this is annoying me as I type this, there are two loud-mouths talking tripe on their ‘phones on my left and my right.
  • You are unknown.  In a lounge, nobody knows who you are or what you do.  You won’t get any drive-by help-desk type requests.  You won’t get anybody shouting ay you to deal with their request before you deal with the task that was on your mind when they came over and started shouting, etc.

Even if you manage to play out what I refer to as a “James May Moment” – whereby you realise that public transport is going so slow, you decide to oust the driver and drive yourself, knowing you can drive faster – it’s unlikely that your intervention will have any downstream benefits whatsoever.

So far, I have refrained from buying cheap tickets in order to get time “air-side” where I can get things done without interruption…but it could happen!

GTD – Brother PT-80 Label Printer – £12.99

OK, so this is perhaps a bit geeky or freaky, you choose.

As some of you may have noticed, I’m getting into David Allen‘s Getting Things Done model of working. I’ve got a huge “in” box that’s filling up nicely, my head’s gradually emptying its content into “the system”.

One of David’s recommendation was the Brother PT-65 label printer (for labelling files of course). Today, I noticed that Maplin are selling the newer PT-80 for £12.99 (reduced from £19.99).

So I went and bought one. David recommends a label printer for ease of printing – if you want to use the PC to “batch up” a lot of labels, that’s fine, but it’s very likely that your “stuff” will mount up and you’ll stack it instead of process and file it.

Now, all I have to do is get myself a huge stack of Manila folders or Manilla folders as they are known at the shop I’m planning to purchase them from.

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