Every now and then someone asks about how to use Outlook 2007 with the Getting Things Done (GTD) /Take Back Your Life! methodology, which suggests heavy use of categories and tasks to manage your mail, tasks, and life. Here are some tips for getting started with Getting Things Done in Outlook 2007:


1.       Categories – Categories are now unified across all of Outlook. To set up your categories, such as @home, @work, @phone, @e-mail, etc. by clicking on Actions->Categorize->All Categories. If you used categories in the past, your categories may already be set up for you. (When migrating between Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007, all flagged mail becomes categorized with the corresponding color category (e.g. Red Category for Outlook 2003 Red Flags), all Calendar labels become categories, and all categories that had been used on Outlook 2003 Contacts and Tasks are migrated forward. All categories that were never used (e.g. the “Hot Contacts” category) do not get migrated.)


2.       To-Do Bar – The To-Do Bar, the panel on the right side of the main Outlook window, works much like the legacy Task Pad did. To best fit GTD, change the arrangement in the To-Do Bar to be Arranged By: Categories by clicking on the “Arranged By: Due Date” header in the To-Do Bar and selecting “categories.” Your tasks will now be arranged by category.  To collapse all of the headers (category names), right click on one of the category headers and select “Collapse all headers.”


3.       Flagging –  In Outlook 2007, flagging a mail makes it appear as a task in the To-Do list. To make this work for GTD, set your default flag to No Date by right clicking on the flag next to a mail item and selecting “Set Quick Click…” In the dialog, select “No Date” in the drop down menu. This way, you can flag your mail to make it tasks without a start date.


4.       Quick Click Category –  Categories have now been added (made more visible) in mail and they now have color. You can apply a category to a mail item by just clicking (and right clicking) on the square box on the right side of your mail items. To make it even easier, try setting the quick click category to your most frequently used category, such as @ E-mail, by right clicking on the category square next to a mail item and selecting “Set Quick Click…” In the dialog, select your most frequently used category from the drop down menu. Now next time you click on the square next to your mail, you can apply your default category in one click.


5.       Reminders – by default, when you set a due date on a task, the reminder is turned off in Outlook 2007. (We did this because the default flag has a due date so reminders would be firing all the time.) If you only use due dates rarely (i.e. not for the majority of your tasks), then you may want to turn setting reminders with due dates back on by going to Tools->Options->Task Options.


Now when you receive an e-mail that requires you to take some next action, you can flag it in the mail list view, then categorize it and then rename it in the To-Do Bar with your next action. If you want to get it out of your inbox, drag the mail to a project or other folder. Doing so will keep the item on your To-Do Bar/Daily Task List, but it will make your Inbox much cleaner.


When you are done with the task, just click on the flag next to the task to mark it complete. It will disappear from the To-Do Bar (completed tasks are filtered out) but it will continue to exist in the mail or task folder where you filed it.


If you want to schedule time for your tasks, you can go to the calendar and drag them from the To-Do Bar or Daily Task List on to the Calendar.


An alternative, and much faster approach is to drag the e-mail to the To-Do Bar under the category that the mail belongs to, and then drag the mail to the reference folder. In this way, the mail gets flagged, categorized, and filed for reference with two drags.


If a task pops into your head, you can type it into the To-Do Bar and hit return, and a task will be created. You can then drag it into the appropriate category grouping. (If you aren’t seeing the new item row in the To-Do Bar, you may need to reset your To-Do Bar and then arrange by category again.)


Let me know how this works out! And of course, please post other tips!