With the increasing number of mails “Personal Task Management” is becoming itself an important task for everyone. Additional complexity is created by the fact that only very rarely there is the luxury of working only on one task until it is finished. Reality is that parallel streams of “work in progress” require to switch continuously on demand between the related actionable items. In this article I will demonstrate how Microsoft’s OneNote 2007 can be leveraged for task management. The following basic aspects of task management will be addressed:
- Put incoming stuff into related context
- Identify actionable items
- Select from the list of actionable items what should be done next
The way of how OneNote is used to accomplish these tasks is simple and straight forward.
(1) Put incoming stuff into related context
OneNote’s main concept to group stuff is the “Notebook”. A Notebook can have Sections. For each project that I have to work for I have created a section in my Task Notebook:
These Sections are the place where we can now collect incoming stuff. Think of Sections as of folders. Currently there are two projects setup in my Task Notebook (Project1 and Project2).
How to put incoming stuff into the related Project Section?
In case of a new incoming mail there is a simple way in Microsoft’s Outlook 2003 to copy mails to OneNote with one click:
In this example I am working with Mark together for Poject1. Project1 is not mentioned in the mail, but I know obviously the context that this mails belongs to.
OneNote can be configured so that whenever you press the “Send to OneNote” icon in a received mail it copies the mail with attachments to the current section in OneNote.
Let’s assume that we had opened the Section1 in OneNote before we opened the mail from Mark. Now we only have to click once in Outlook on the “Send to OneNote” button.
Then we have copied Marks mail into the project context it belongs to, in this example into our Project1.
While this is so far nice, I agree, it is not really exciting. It would have been much easier to do all of this in Outlook itself. The following steps 2 + 3 will show the benefits of using OneNote.
(2) Identify actionable items
In the newly inserted mail from Mark there are two actionable items included:
- Sent a photo
- Provide ROI calculation
(Side remark: I ignore his question about my new car; this is not an actionable item. I know that we are going to talk about this anyhow soon during our next flight.)
I do not have the photo that Mark is requesting in the office, so I can not take action and I have to put this item into my list of actionable items. Also the ROI calculation will take some more work; so again this is something I will defer and put into the list.
OneNote has a mechanism to tag lines of text. This works in the same way as tagging works on popular websites like del.icio.us or www.flickr.com . A tag in OneNote is associated with an icon and the user can customize tags (see the “Customize My Tags” panel on the right):
A tag can be attached to an object in OneNote (delicious allows to tag bookmarks; flickr allows to tag photos). Here I highlighted the line in Marks mail that contains the actionable item “Send photo” and I am just ready to click on the icon for the tag “Task”. Doing so will apply the tag “Task” to the line:
Doing the same for the actionable item “ROI” will give me the following:
Please notice that the two inserted task icons are showing me that these two lines in Marks mail have been tagged as tasks. The identification of actionable items is now already finished. This is a great usage of tags on the desktop PC. It is important to understand that no copy/paste operation is required. The tagging happens directly in the context of Marks mail.
(3) Select from list of actionable items what should be done next
Now comes the really clever bit: OneNote offers a powerful search screen for tagged items:
So basically by clicking on the “Tag Summary” icon, OneNote is executing a search across all sections of my Task Notebook (please notice that the scope of the Notebook/Sections that will be used for the search can be limited by the user). It returns all items that have been tagged in one convenient result list as shown in the “Tags Summary” panel on the right in the screenshot above.
In this result list we can now for example quickly see not only the two new actionable items from Mark but also all actionable items of Project2. This list of actionable items is integrating all actionable items across all my projects. It is providing the perfect overview to decide about what I should do next as soon as I am done with managing my tasks.
OneNote is an exciting tool for personal task management. It allows very easily to put together the stuff that belongs together (here only mails are shown, but basically you can put everything that is on your PC into the context of the Projects) and it allows in a very seamless integrated way to markup actionable items so that the tagged items can be later retrieved with one click. Microsoft’s OneNote is therefore highly recommended.
Closing comment: There are many books available that may help you to get fresh motivation and ideas about how to get your task management process into good shape. I would like to recommend GTD “Getting Things Done” from David Allen who was a great source of inspiration for me. His methodology works very nicely with the described method of task management in OneNote. Good luck.
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