Archive for June, 2008

Better Blackberry Mail

Blackberry, e-mail management, personal productivity, task management 2 Comments »

If you use a Blackberry, I highly recommend you take a good look at a useful Blackberry software add-in, BBSmart Email Viewer. This application has one primary feature, and a hidden productivity gem as well.

Its main feature is that it properly displays images, graphics and special formatting in incoming e-mail messages. As their website explains: When you open emails using the default email program, they can be cluttered with hyperlinks, email addresses and large chunks of unreadable text. BBSmart Email Viewer transforms all this – making emails clearer, displaying images that were in the email.

In other words, it displays messages on your Blackberry much closer to the way they look in Outlook. You may be surprised how much smoother this makes your Blackberry e-mail reading experience.

In addition to its above claim to fame, it provides a fantastic feature for those who use the Tasks portion of Outlook to manage their commitments. As I discussed in a previous post, Outlook makes it easy to turn an Inbox message into a Task.

But what happens when you read a message on your Blackberry and it contains an actionable item that you want to turn into a Task? You’re out of luck – at least you were until now!

The BBSmart application adds two options to the menu of an e-mail message:
- Add as Task
- Add to Calendar

Selecting one of these options opens up a new Task or Appointment, with its Subject and Body pre-filled in from the e-mail’s information, just as Outlook does. Nice!

Being able to convert an e-mail right when you read it initially on your Blackberry, instead of having to leave it in your Inbox and then remember to convert it when you next read it in Outlook, can make a big difference in your personal productivity if you use your Blackberry a lot.

One note about BBSmart’s message formatting: by default, it displays your e-mail messages in an odd (in my opinion) Comic font with a yellow-cream background. But it’s quite configurable – so if you don’t like that look, just click the menu key in your Inbox and select “BBSmart Options”, and you can change the font and/or background (and a lot of other things as well).

P.S. No, I don’t get any financial compensation if you purchase BBSmart – I just recommend it because I find it valuable.

Hide Your Completed Tasks

personal productivity, task management 18 Comments »

The normal way that Outlook handles completed tasks leaves something to be desired. By default, when you mark a task as completed, it remains in view with a line drawn through it, in effect “crossing it off the list”. While crossing an item off of a printed or written list serves well enough, in Outlook we can do better.

One key to an effective task list is its ability to provide FOCUS: you want the format and construction of the list to allow you the maximum focus on those actions you need to attend to. Forcing your brain to look at and thus process tasks that you’ve already completed has the exact opposite of the desired effect – it hampers you in focusing on those active tasks that still need doing.

Fortunately, Outlook allows you to modify the view of your tasks so as to hide your completed tasks. Making this change is not difficult; just follow these steps.

1. In Outlook 2007: From the main Outlook View menu, select Current View > Customize Current View.

In Outlook 2003: From the main Outlook View menu, select Arrange By > Current View > Customize Current View.

2. In the Customize window that’s displayed, click the Filter button.

3. Switch to the Advanced tab.

4. Click the Field button, and select All Task Fields > Complete. Click the Add to List button. Then click OK to close the Filter window.

5. Click the OK button to close the Customize window.

Your completed items will now be hidden in that view. You can perform the above steps on any Task view that you use.

Does this mean your completed tasks are gone – deleted? No, they’re not – they’re still available on a list of Completed Tasks within Outlook. Even better, Outlook records the date you marked a task complete and shows you this date on this Completed Tasks List. To view this list, switch to your Tasks folder, and from the Current View list, select Completed Tasks.

A Tip for Procrastination

personal productivity, task management No Comments »

One productivity tip I’ve been practicing lately, and recommending to my clients, is what I call the “Just Get Started” approach. I’ve found it an effective way to deal with tasks you’ve been procrastinating on.

If you have an item on your to-do list that you see you’ve been putting off and avoiding doing, take a 5 or 10 minute chunk of time and start the task. Just spend those 5 or 10 minutes on it, then stop and put it away in a state in which you can easily return to it. Then go back to your to-do list and change the action item for that task by using the word “Finish”. For example, if the original task was
Write proposal for Smith Co.
the revised task would be
Finish writing proposal for Smith Co.

By taking this approach, you’re likely to find that it’s easier to go back and work on the task once it’s been started – you’ve short-circuited your procrastination by just getting started for those 5 to 10 minutes.

I think this works for a couple of reasons. First, before we begin something, it lives in the realm of “the unknown” – a place where uncertainty and apprehension are often present. Once we dive in, though, and focus our thoughts on the task, it quickly moves out of that realm, as our intellect, knowledge, skill, and experience take over.

Second, the human mind does not like “incompleteness”. When something is left incomplete or undone, our natural tendency is to want to complete it. In this way, the in-process task naturally draws you toward it to finish it later.

And as a bonus, updating your to-do item in the form of “Finish the task” provides an additional mental boost, as it’s easier to return to a task to finish it then to start it.

One final note: after your initial 5 to 10 minutes of work on the task, you may find you’ve been sufficiently drawn into it that you don’t want to stop. DON’T! If you have the time available to continue, by all means take advantage of the momentum you’ve generated, and keep going on it.

Try this tip out, then use the Comments section below to let me know how it worked for you!