GTD: Hacking Outlook Categories

As I’ve said in a previous post, the 15 categories provided by the Palm Task manager are enough contexts for my GTD implementation.  Except at work, where I sometimes use Outlook Tasks to assign work to other people, which I want to keep track of.

Outlook allows multiple categories to be assigned to a Task.  The Palm doesn’t support multiple categories, but with a little planning, that won’t matter.  Outlook will always list multiple categories in a known order, and moves the first one back and forth to the Palm.  My list of Next Action contexts (Palm and Outlook categories) includes

  • @Agenda
  • @Computer
  • @Home
  • @Waiting For
  • @Work

I also keep my projects and someday/maybe lists in Tasks, and separate them by home and work.

  • ^Projects-H
  • ^Projects-W
  • Someday/Maybe-H
  • Someday/Maybe-W

Notice the non-alpha characters at the beginning of some categories.  They keep the list sorted so that the ones I need most are at the top.  They also mean that when multiple categories are assigned in Outlook, the funny character categories will be listed first.

So if I have three team members I assign work to, Allan, Bob, and Charlie, I will create a category for each:

  • w-Allan
  • w-Bob
  • w-Charlie

I also may create categories for ways I might want to retrieve data, for example by product:

  • w-WhizBang1.0
  • w-WhizBang1.1
  • w-GeeWhiz3.7

Now I can create an Outlook Task for a project to add a feature to WhizBang 1.0, and assign it to Allan.   The Task might be titled Add Super Sexy Feature to WhizBang and be assigned to the ^Projects-W, w-WhizBang1.0, and w-Allan categories.

On the Palm I’ll find Add Super Sexy Feature to WhizBang in my Tasks list in the ^Projects-W category, just where it should be.  And on the Palm, I don’t see the w-WhizBang1.0 and w-Allan categories.

In Outlook, I can order and filter my Tasks in many different ways.  I usually use a view that groups by category.  Now I can see Add Super Sexy Feature to WhizBang in my ^Projects-W list, and it also shows up under w-WhizBang1.0, so I can see all the projects currently under way for that product.  And I can look at the w-Allan category to see what his workload is like.

The trick to making this all work is to preface the “extra” work categories with a character that sorts alphabetically after all the Palm categories.  For me, a w- (for work-) does the job.

I try to do two reviews a week.  One is primarily for work, and only visits the NA contexts that are applicable for work, and the work projects and someday/maybe lists.  The other is primarily for non-work, and usually does not include the work projects and someday/maybe lists, but when it does, entries are there as they should be, because I make sure that every Task entered in Outlook has one of the categories assigned that matches a Palm category, and the sync manages to keep it all lined up correctly!