Improving Your Outlook On Time

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…


Here we go again…

“Yes, sweet pea?”

“Ehwika, ma dem seto me!”

Where did I put my secret decoder ring? Sigh…

Tori the Terrible

Tori the Terrible

Language is such an amazing thing, especially when you watch someone develop it over a couple years. It is amazing how fast they acquire a working vocabulary. Of course, she understands five times more than she can say, but I rather think her understanding can be selective. If it is to her advantage, she understands it.

Based on the minimal hits on the blog last month, most of you are not really into ancient technology like a Dayplanner. Not to worry, the computer age has freed us from the bonds of dead trees, at least to some degree.

This month’s blog will explain how the Microsoft Outlook email program can be used to manage your time and your tasks. If you don’t have this program, then you might want to consider purchasing a copy of Microsoft Office. I realize that some of you are into the open source code movement, and hey, I have OpenOffice installed as well. However, as far as email, calendaring, and task management systems go, Microsoft Outlook is near the top, and OpenOffice doesn’t have an equivalent program.

Okay, you have Outlook installed, and you are ready to enter your hard created task list into it so you can start making the most of your appointment to write. Stop for one minute. We have two ways we can manage our list: Calendar and Tasks. Yes, Outlook comes with both features, and both provide a wonderful way to manage your time and/or tasks.

But which should you use? Calendaring? Tasks? Both? It can be a bit daunting to make the call because once you go down a path, you certainly don’t want to have to backtrack again. Let me explain the value of both, then you can decide which seems right for you.

First, with Outlook calendaring, you can use a real calendar with multiple views: daily, weekly, work week, monthly. Since Outlook is also an email program, you will likely have it running while you are working on your appointment to write, so having an open calendar to view can be wonderful and effective. The calendar feature is simply a Dayplanner on your computer. However, because it is on your computer, you can set reminders to popup and remind you of your current appointment to write, thus helping you keep that appointment, in theory at least.

With Outlook tasks, it more closely models the spreadsheet format we will discuss in the future. Using this feature allows you to enter more information than just the task name, and you can customize it to have different fields for the tasks you are managing. Once setup, you can display and sort the tasks based on the fields you have defined. It can be powerful, but still lacks portability.

In fact, using Outlook at all reduces your portability dramatically. Your writing tasks will be tied to the one computer on which you have Outlook installed. For many, this may not be a problem. For me, I need portability. You’ll have to decide which sounds best for your needs and then follow the directions below to get started using it.

This month, I will give you the instructions for using the calendar feature which somewhat mirror those for the Dayplanner I discussed last month. Take your decomposed list of writing tasks and sort them by order you wish, or that logically makes sense, then assign the number of appointments it will require to complete each task. When you are done, you should have a good list to begin entering into the calendar system.

In Outlook, select the calendar feature in the left-hand window pane. Once in calendar, at the top of the main pane, select the Week view and be sure it shows the full week, not just the work week. If you are like me, you’ll be working on weekends since you have a day job! Now, use the date control arrows to move to the week where you intend to start your first appointment to write. Find the day and time of that first appointment and then click on the start time to open an appointment dialog.


In the appointment dialog, you will setup this appointment to write for every week until infinity. To do that, you must access the recurrence option dialog as indicated in the diagram to the left. Within this dialog, you want to set the Start and End times based on what you have etched out of your week to write. I find two hours a couple days a week to be perfect. Now, set the recurrence pattern to Weekly, and select the day or days that you will write on. If the different days have different times, then enter another recurring appointment separately for the other day. Set the Start date and make sure it will not end. Hit OK to save the recurrence.

Once you are back at the appointment dialog, you need to specify the Subject of your appointment. I suggest “Appointment to Write“, but you could make it more whimsical like “Dancing with my dreams!“. Either way, setting your appointment is a big step towards pursuing your writing dreams. Now, set the appointment to show Busy and set the Reminder to whatever time makes sense to you. For a weekend appointment, I suggest a reminder one day in advance so that you see it before the weekend gets there. Save and Close the dialog to enter it into your calendar.

Okay, you wondering how this manages your tasks, right? Hang in there, we are not done. You have established your weekly appointment(s) and will be reminded each week to keep that appointment. This is good, even for those who won’t manage their tasks using the calendar feature.

However, if you want to use your calendaring to manage your tasks, then you have more work to do. Starting at the top of your list, go to date of the first appointment you will work on that task. Click on the recurring appointment to write, but when asked whether to open this occurrence or the series, open that occurrence only. In the Comment/Description field at the bottom, enter in the task name and any information pertinent to that task. The image below shows an example I did for writing this blog.

Outlook Appointment Occurence With Task

Outlook Appointment Occurence With Task

Now, for every appointment required to complete that task, go to the next occurrences and enter the same information. Or, if you have multiple appointments per week, then you might work on one task on one day and another on the other day. You decide and enter the task into each particular occurrence. When you become an expert at it, you can setup recurring appointments for each task as opposed to single occurrences for each task. Either way, you will now have your tasks and your appointment set to remind you each week. Very effective and hard to ignore if you spend time on your computer.

Unfortunately, besides portability, the calendaring feature lacks an important aspect that you will find disconcerting over time. You cannot look at your complete list of tasks, and when your tasks do change, you must track down every appointment for that task and modify it appropriately. This is the same level of work you would have to do with a Dayplanner, thus why it is less effective.

Fortunately, with Outlook tasks, you can overcome this deficiency in calendaring and see and manage your tasks appropriately. However, they will not be attached to individual appointments, but that may not matter. We will look at using Microsoft Outlook Tasks in next month’s blog which will provide a good lead in for the oft lauded spreadsheet we are working our way towards. Patience if you are waiting:)

Play with Outlook calendaring anyway, regardless if you decide to manage your writing with something else. It is a powerful appointment program that can help you manage your time, if not your tasks.

“Okay, sweet pea, show me what Erika did!”