OK.  I'll admit it.  I'm a tools junkie.  I often think that tools can help me (and others) get stuff done faster, better, cheaper, etc.

As a program manager at Microsoft it's very hard to keep my head above water.  So much email.  Day after day of meeting after meeting.  A task list with 150 things on it...  Arg.

So I try tools.  Outlook is the thing I spend most of my time in because communicating with people is basically my job.  So my schedule and incoming and outgoing email are the most important things.  I've tried a bunch of time management systems.  Especially those with add-ins for Outlook that can automate the methodology.  I tried the Covey add-in, but I found the software clunky and the methodology somehow a good idea for people who are less busy that I am.  That's not a slam against their software and maybe it's something I'm doing wrong, but I just couldn't figure out how to be effective by sitting down at the beginning of each week to schedule out activities that would help me reach my goals.  By the beginning of the week my schedule was already booked out 80% with meetings. :-)

About a month ago I got the Getting Things Done add-in for Outlook.  It's pretty nice.  The software is well-integraed with Outlook.  So far I think it's the best I've found, but I seem to have run into a challenge: Important Things Disappear

I love that you can click on an email to take Action later.  A task gets created, linked to the email and the email is moved out of your inbox.  Awesome.  The only problem is that it's almost too easy.  Now I've got a very long todo list and really important things can get lost in there with all of the not so important things (but ones that I still need to act on at some point).  Ideally I'd be able to somehow mark them as important, but that classification is somehow much more dynamic.  It doesn't necessarily start as important enough to stand out (for example) in the MUST DO BEFORE I LEAVE TODAY category, but over time it can need to move there.  Maybe it's something I promised to do for somebody.  Maybe events have occurred that make it more important.  Often this important changes after the item has left my inbox.  Maybe I just need to review my task list more often and reasses priorities (though even that can take a while with such a long list).

Then there's the problem of small easy things that don't get done for a long time.  For example, I run a hosted server inside Microsoft that project teams can use if they want their own FlexWiki namespace.  They send me mail asking me to set one up for them.  It takes about five minutes to set one up.  But when the request comes in I've always got more important stuff to do at the time.  So I send the person a note saying “sure, I'll get to it over the next few days.”  And then this item just gets pushed out and pushed out because it's never quite big enough to reach the gotta-do-it-now state relative to everything else.

So, I'm still working at it.  I continue to try to figure out what works and what doesn't.  And to improve.  And to automate what I can.

I've finally decided that I'm going to bite the bullet and build an Outlook add-in that will help automate some of what I need.  The first problem it solves is Important Things Disappear.  I've set up an Outlook view that shows me all tasks that haven't been modified in a week.  One of the things I'm going to start doing every day is checking this list.  The Outlook add-in (which I'm going to name “Faster, Better, Cheaper“ without really thinking about it too much :-)) adds a touch toolbar button that will allow me to update the modification time of a task quickly just to say “yeah, OK, I remember this one and it hasn't slipped my mind just because it's buried on a big long task list.“

I guess I'll start posting again to this blog about my experiences trying to get my personal productivity improved.  This is the inagural post in the new Productivity category.  Suggestions welcome!