I had an interesting conversation with a number of people last about the amount of tools they were required to utilise during the day just to do their day to day work. There were things like outlook, lotus notes, groupwise, gmail and the like; Databases, spreadsheets, Edrms systems (edocs, trim, objective); mobile phones, blackberries, Pda, paper diaries, notebook and of course inside our heads. We carry the data we need to do our jobs in so many different places that it sometimes becomes difficult to know where everything is. Is it any wonder that we sometimes lose telephone numbers or double book ourselves for appointments.
So what is the solution?
One is to have one central place, one core tool that holds all of your information. Now don’t get me wrong here I am not suggesting that what you need to do is decide that you are going to use one thing to manage all of your information. Now don’t for a minute think that I am suggesting that you throw away all the other things away, that would be crazy. What I am suggesting is that what you need to do is have on place that holds all the things that you need to do and know, all of your time, communication and information. You need to have one place to go to, one place you can be sure contains all of the information that you need. The biggest question then is what tool are you going to use to manage your information, what is going to be your central core tool.
Pen and Paper, a diary for example is a tried and true method, something that has been used for a long time by a wide range of people. It works well and is simple and relatively easy to use and of course you can take it anywhere. These days however there is lots of information that we create, need to have access to and want to be able to have at our fingers tips that comes to us from a enormous number of different sources. A diary or pen and paper systems means that the information needs to be transferred into the system and in some cases this may not even be possible.
So what alternatives exist to pen and paper, to our trusty diaries. It is when we begin to think about this question that an overwhelming number of choices present themselves. In the hardware stakes there are Desktops, laptops, PDA’s, blackberries and all manner of other mobile devices. On the software side there is a seemingly never ending array of programs widgets and the like out there designed to help a person to manage their days. So what do we choose what is the best tool for us to use to manage all of time, information and communications in one place. The first answer is of course the easiest and that is which ever tool that you have. This is of course particularly true if you work for an organisation where you don’t have a choice about what programs or tool you use. In that case you have to make the best of what you have. However lets put that answer to one side and see what else we can come up with.
For most people today the majority of their workload and communications come primarily from one source and that source is email. So any tool that we are going to choose must have the ability to deal with and manage email as a central part of its bag of tricks.
But even just thinking about email management on its own leaves us with a fairly wide field of contenders. There are online solutions like gmail and hotmail, free software like thunderbird, shareware, and then the commercial programs like Outlook, lotus notes and Groupwise. But remember the thrust of what I am considering here is not just email, but a tool to be able to manage all of my communications, information and time in one place. This to me seems to limit the field considerably, probably down to the big three, outlook, lotus notes and Groupwise, and if we look at programs and systems that both individuals and organisations can utilise, I think that probably leaves us with outlook.
Now I am sure that this raises more than a few objections from people so let me look at just a couple of possible objections and see if they stand up. Importantly remember what I am looking for here is a tool to manage all (or at the very least most) of the information I need to have access to.
1. What about Gmail and Google apps.
I think that gmail and the range of applications offered by Google are fantastic and powerful tools. Currently however they are all separate tools, they do not integrate well and there is little to be seen to help us manage time and workload in the package Google gives us.
2. Program X does all the same things and is cheaper.
You may be right, there may be another program out there that is cheaper and does as much as outlook, and if I was only considering single or small groups of users than my answer may be different (though I think not), but when we begin to move to an larger organisational level things such as ease of integration with other software become far more important and again I think Outlook wins.
3. My mobile device does all of the things that Outlook can do.
Again mobile devices have their place, but not as the central tool for us to use to manage our time and workload. One reason for this is that none of them by themselves quite reach same level of functionality that is available in the any of Outlook,Notes or Groupwise. They are in fact best when they are used in conjunctions with these other programs as a tool for when we are not in our usual workspaces.
Now I am sure there will be other objections to my choice of Outlook as the leader of a relatively small pack (in the end) of contenders, but what I want to focus on now is what it is that makes Outlook so powerful.
what is it that makes outlook such a powerful time and workload management tool. Why is it able to manage all of our time communication and information in one place. It is able to do this because it has all of the tools that are vital in a time management tool.
1. Calendar – The calendar in outlook is somewhere for us to manage our fixed time commitments, those things that we have to get done during the day that have times attached to them, meetings, appointments and the like.
2. Tasks – If properly configured, offer us an ideal place to manage our flexible time commitments, those thing that we have to do during the day that don’t have time associated with them; ringing clients, writing reports, reading. The Key with tasks is that it needs to be properly configured.
3. Contacts – Offers us a place to manage the flood of information that streams into our lives everyday. There are a couple of key things that we need to remember about contacts though; the main one is that contacts do not have to be people they can be anything, groups, organisations, strategic plans, goals even things like Heavy machinery or problems with staff or supply issues.
4. Notes – No one thinks very much of notes, but they are a neat place to store things like passwords or lists of how to do things.
5. Journal – The journal along with contacts allow us to track and find rapidly any information anywhere in outlook.
6. Inbox – A place where our email is received and then moved to other places to be managed.
When you add all of these things together into the one package it makes outlook a formidable tool in our time and workload management arsenal. However it is only an effective tool when it is set up and managed properly. If you want to know how to make outlook work better for you then visit