I plan to do a series of blogs on the Home View and how I use it. I am going to concentrate on one panel at a time – I generally work with 7 panels, the quickviewer and I sometimes turn on an 8th panel, making 9 content areas in total. At the end of the series I will bring it all together. The aim is to give you some ideas on how to the use the Home View yourselves, and drive additional productivity which, in turn, makes your company more effective.
This first blog is going to be about task management and my task panel. Everyone one of us has projects that we run, in one form or another. Some of them are formal projects that we are a part of, but most of what we do are simply work items or To-Dos. Some of these To-Dos are part of a broader, long term thing that we are working towards, and some are just one off tasks. For example “Get Milk” is a one off task, but “Create upgrade plan” is a project, regardless of whether you are the only team member, or not. This “create upgrade plan” project will have a number of required tasks that you need to work through to complete the project.
Without a good way of recording, prioritizing and tracking all these items, both personal and work related, it is very easy to lose sight of everything that you need to do, or to be able to recognize where you might need help. Many email users today have a variety of methods to track this work. Some use their Inbox as their To-Do list, some use Task items (I will refer to these as Hard Typed Tasks), some use folders to track each project, and I am sure that there are many more examples out there. Each method has flaws, so I will share some of the things that we did in GroupWise 8 to help, and how I work with it.
With GroupWise 8 task management we did a few things. Firstly and, in my opinion, most importantly we allow users to create task hierarchies. This allows you to create a project – “create upgrade plan” – and then create the steps needed to complete that project underneath, as sub tasks. Sub tasks can have their own sub tasks – allowing for projects within projects.
I already mentioned Hard Typed Tasks, but there are more. A Hard Typed Task is one that you create under File | New Task, or by clicking on the New Task toolbar item. Now, I think that there are acceptance issues with Hard Typed Tasks. By that I mean that when someone sends me a Hard Typed Task I feel objection to it. Basically, what they are saying is “You have to do this, because I said so, and this is the priority that I am giving it, whether you like it or not”. This is not collaboration, and I come across very few customers that actually send Hard Typed Tasks to each other – possibly for this reason. The other kind of task is an item with ‘Taskness’. This is what I use for most of my work tracking. Most of these Taskness items in my Tasklist are mails that I have received where I need to do something on. I drag them from my mailbox into my Tasklist panel and this gives them Taskness – they remain as emails, but they gain some task fields that you can use. These fields are Due Date, %Complete and Order. You can reorder the task list, and nest tasks under each other by simply dragging them to the right place in the Tasklist folder. From a collaboration perspective this turns it from someone else’s priority for you, into your own priority list.
The last kind of task is one that you create yourself, as a posted item. To create the task you just put the focus in the Tasklist folder or panel and start typing. This will create a task at the same level as the item you highlighted. The item type can either be a Hard Typed Task (posted) or a posted email with Taskness, this is controlled with a user option under Tools | Options. I use posted emails.
So, now I can record what I have to do much more easily. For example, for GWAVACon that just happened in Las Vegas I created tasks for each session I was delivering, and created subtasks for everything I needed to do to be able to create the slide decks. By defining it this way I was able to much more clearly define all the things that I needed to do myself, and where I needed to gather information from other people.
That covers task types, task creation and projects, tasks and subtasks. There’s a lot more. You can track your progress on a task in a couple of ways – either by using the %Complete field, or by marking an item complete. This rolls up into the parents so, for example, if you have a task with 4 sub tasks and you mark one complete then the %Complete value on the parent become 25%. You can display this graphically in the tasklist too. If you mark a parent task complete then it marks all of the subtasks complete also. If you mark all subtasks complete then the parent also automatically gets marked complete. In GroupWise 7, when an item was marked complete it stayed where it was in the checklist, which got hard to maintain. In GroupWise 8 there are now 4 options on what happens when I item is marked complete. One is that they are hidden immediately, so you no longer see them in the list, the next is that they are hidden the next day, and the third is do nothing – in these last 2 cases the complete items move to the bottom of the list, so that they no longer confuse the users. The 4th option is a rule that triggers when an item is marked complete – this is what I use. Whenever I mark an item complete my rule moves the mail to a folder with all of the other information that I want to retain.
Finally – categories. I use these to prioritize my tasks. We made categories much easier to get to. If you move the mouse to the left side of the mail icon in the list view you see a colour swatch – click this to access the categories. This is true for all item types, not just tasks. I have 5 categories I use for prioritization. Today, Urgent, Medium, Low, Waiting on Others.
Finally, how do I have it set up? I have a panel that points at my Tasklist folder. I have positioned this panel in the center of a 3 column Home View, and it takes up that entire column. I work from this panel more than any of the others, which is why I dedicated as much room as I could to it. By Contrast, my mailbox panel where I do all my triage work, is a small panel in a column with another panel in it. I try to keep the contents of my mailbox folder as low as possible, normally under 40 items, and often less than 10. Using a combination of tasks, subtasks and categories I am much more able to deal with the email overload that affects so many of us. I don’t need to keep searching through a bloated mailbox for what I have to do and I don’t need to keep switching folders to see what is going on in my projects.
I am sure I have forgotten something, but I encourage you to try working with your Tasklist more – for me this was the key to getting control of my email bloat, and allowing me to do other things besides email processing.