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Outlook Tip 1: Handling Groups of Tasks
New ClearContext Feature:Group Metrics
Outlook Tip 2: When to Use Bulk-Filing vs. Topics

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Welcome to the June 26, 2009 Outlook Productivity Newsletter!

We have an update on Webinars, an exciting new update on ClearContext, and a number of Outlook Tips articles. And we are starting a new Newsletter format this time, let me know how you like it.


Getting Started Webinar: Friday July 10, 2006 at 12 noon Pacific Time

4-Part Core System Webinar: Tuesday July 14 through Friday July 17, 1pm to 2pm Pacific Time each day

These popular webinars, taught live by the author, will help you get ahead of out-of-control e-mail and tasks. All Webinars include a free book and training CD. Click the links above to get pricing and content information, or to register.


I get this question a lot: how do you handle groups of related tasks that you intend to do all at once. For example throughout the week I receive many e-mailed receipts for business purchases I make online. A couple times a month I sit down and enter all of them into my accounting system. So as those receipt e-mails come in should I create separate tasks for each? That can build a long task list, and it seems silly to create one for each since I will process them all in one sitting; their separate presence on the Now-Tasks list adds no value.

Well, here is how I do it. I create one task called “Make Accounting Entries” as shown above. Then, as e-mail receipts come in throughout the week, I open the Make Accounting Entries task and drag a copy of the e-mail into the task body, and then save and close the updated task. You can also drag-copy other related tasks into the body to consolidate them. Later, when I finally sit to do my accounting processing, I open that task and work through all the items in the body. This way I only have one task on my Now-Tasks list, which makes sense since I do this processing all in one sitting. And this avoids a long cluttered list.


The ClearContext Outlook Add-In application has evolved into a new very powerful area recently, and I predict this will offer a major new dimension to e-mail management (and by the way, continue to make ClearContext the add-in of choice for Outlook).

BACKGROUND In a recent newsletter I mentioned that the ClearContext software now has an e-mail Scorecard metrics feature allowing you to track your e-mail efficiency using a variety of built-in measures like Inbox Control, Response Time, and more. Just click on the ClearContext Metrics folder in Outlook to see that Scorecard in action (ClearContext v4.5 or higher needed, Pro, MYN Pro, or Personal). That feature is great, and now there is even more.

NEW GROUP FEATURE The crew at ClearContext has just released a new slant on this that makes the metrics feature much more powerful. ClearContext Corp can now create specialty groups and track performance of users in these groups as a whole. They do this using their new ClearContext Online website; follow this link to learn how to see and use metrics groups there. Once there, you will see there are currently public groups set up for TWC users and GTD users; and more groups are coming. You can then review the group’s e-mail efficiency graphs and scores (for example go to: online.clearcontext.com/group/twc to see the TWC group scores). You can also compare your own stats against other users or specialty groups, once you register there (see this example of a comparison).  Technically, this website metrics groups feature is in beta, but it looks pretty solid and I encourage you to start using it now.

WHY IS THIS GROUP FEATURE SO IMPORTANT? Imagine you are an HR or IT manager and concerned about your corporate e-mail efficiency. You may wonder “is my company using e-mail efficiently, or are users wasting lots of time and dollars on it?” Well, data to answer that is now at your fingertips. Using a private group, you can compare your entire company’s performance with best-practice scores to see how your company is doing. If doing poorly, then training is in order, and you can measure the results of that training to justify costs. If doing well, you now have the data to show that. Just contact ClearContext Corp and ask them to set up a private ClearContext group for your company, and you can then assess your corporate e-mail efficiency easily. And even without corporate groups, any individual can benefit by comparing their performance to public groups, to other users, or to best practices.

BY THE WAY, these features are now included in all updated variants of ClearContext (version 4.6.3 or higher), including the free version; if you are using the MYN-Special Edition of ClearContext, it supports these features too. If you need to upgrade to a newer MYN version, follow these instructions.

TWC-MYN USERS PLEASE REGISTER. Membership in the TWC group at ClearContext Online is brand new and lightly populated at present. Your stats only contribute after you take a moment to join the group. So if you are a TWC (MYN) methodology user and have any variant of ClearContext 4.6.3 or higher installed (you do not need the MYN Special Edition variant to join) please go to ClearContext Online now and register (it’s free), and then add yourself to the TWC group by clicking the Join Now link near the top of this page (the Join Now link only shows it you are logged in). Again, MYN Special Edition users are not joined automatically, so you will need to join manually as just described. GTD Users consider doing the same (you can join more than one group). Joining these groups will allow us to generate the data we need to make the group information powerul, so thanks for joining now.


This is a subtle topic and one I think more people should think about because it can have a huge impact on your filing effort: when should you use bulk e-mail filing (without topics), vs. using topic-based filing?

If you have read edition 2 of my Outlook book (Lessons 5) you know I recommend you consider bulk filing (and later using full text searches) when possible, instead of topic-based filing. That’s because topic filing takes so long to do. But I also say in the book Lesson 8 that you may want to consider doing topic filing as well (into folders, or better, using tags like Outlook categories). So you may wonder when or why you should use one or the other.

There are times when either makes sense, depending on the mail. Here is my guideline on what type of mail to use bulk filing without topics on, vs. topic-based filing; this guideline may save you lots of effort if used wisely:

If you are about to create a topic for an e-mail merely because you think the topic name will help you find that mail item later, then save time and don’t create a topic; instead file it in bulk and rely on full-text search later to find it. On the other hand, if you think you will later need to see or extract ALL mail items on a given topic (say you know you will need to review or move ALL Project X mail in the future for some reason), then that is the time to take the extra effort to create a topic and start filing with it.

So the distinction is "will you ever need to see ALL members of a topic group together?" If not, if you just plan to search for individual items, do not create a topic; file in bulk instead and use full-text search. Using this simple rule may save you many hours of work each week because it allows you to use topics only when needed. Best-practices for topic filing are discussed in Lesson 8 of the book.