Nothing clarifies the need for help managing the ol' inbox like being out of the country for a week. My inbox got pretty out of control last week, which drove me to search for some help. Don't get me wrong - Outlook is great, and has some interesting tools built in, and with over 1000 pieces of unread email, I needed to look outside the box (no pun intended).
The first tool I found is a new one on the scene (as best I can tell). ClearContext Inbox Manager automatically prioritizes your inbox, color codes stuff based on priority, etc. I'm still getting used to not dealing with my inbox in a LIFO fashion, and this looks pretty interesting. It makes you think about dealing with critical email first. It also seems to do a better job that Outloot does of presenting email threads together. So far, I really like it - I was able to blow through and delete all the non-critical stuff in about 5 minutes, and could then focus on important emails for a good 2 hours solid.
The second tool I found is one I've been watching for a while, trying to fit it into my own quirky mental processes. FranklinCovey's PlanPlus is a godsend for someone like me. I get techie-ADD very, very quickly. If there's a shiny toy to be distracted by, count me in! Overall, I have found this Outlook add-in to be incredibly useful, and it is now a foundation of my planning system. I've been using David Allen's GTD plug-in for Outlook for quite some time now, and it felt like something was missing. PlanPlus provides a great anchor for me - it helps me figure out what to focus on (mission, goals), and then helps keep me focused on achieving those goals. Tasks map to projects map to goals map to roles map to mission. It's very, very simple to use. I wish there were a tighter integration between Outlook's task categories (which I use to connect tasks to projects) and PlanPlus's project list, and I'll keep asking for that,
Overall, I feel much more on top of things right now. I'm sure all that will change around the Whidbey beta time, with multiple deadlines and masses of content to publish, and at least right now, I'm feeling pretty good...