Tsk-tsk, So Many Tasks-tasks

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Daddy!”

Ah, let the parental games begin…

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Kahlua’s gots Tori’s sock!”

All around the mulberry bush, daddy chases the puppy! Sigh…

Empress Erika

Empress Erika

Considering a neighbor of my mother-in-law had to have a sock surgically removed from their Corgi, our family must be vigilant in what gets haphazardly thrown to the floor. For some reason, socks are the favorite house prey of the Corgi, perhaps reflecting a deep seated desire to stay overnight at the vets.

Reflecting back across my myriad blogs I have imparted to you, I realized that it is a bit overwhelming to see so many tools at your disposal to simply manage your time. But I hope you’ll take away from this a greater understanding of its importance. If we allow our time to be dictated randomly without purpose, we will fail in all our endeavors. Again, don’t be the “What could have happened if…” and be the one who can say, “I did this!”. Patience.

Indeed, patience is a rare commodity in today’s culture of now-now, me-me, but that is what makes it precious, too. Starting down the wrong path will eat away at the precious time you must manage. You likely have heard the saying that there is never enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over. Let’s do it right from the outset, and spend that extra time devoted to doing it over on your writing.

As promised last month, we will look at the task management capabilities built into Microsoft Outlook, an email, calendaring, and task management system sold as part of Microsoft Office. It has several advantages over calendaring in that it supports a single view (all) along with various filtered views you can sort. Add to this that it also supports reminders and you can see it is a pretty powerful tool for managing your writing tasks.

I already hear your thoughts through my dog’s barking: If this is so good, why do you keep saying Microsoft Excel is the one you use? Good question, but one that is complex to answer. First, I actually use Microsoft Outlook tasks to manage my tasks at school. Considering the vast number of things I manage as a teacher and the fact I use Outlook for my email, it seemed a natural fit. However, it lacks portability with the exception that I can synchronize it with my Crackberry. Without Outlook installed and setup with my personal store, I cannot access these tasks.

All right, enough talk about what it can and can’t do, let’s talk about how you can use it to manage your Appointment to Write. I prefer the following basic fields to help me manage my tasks:

    TaskName of the task
    DueWhen the task should be completed
    Status Is it in progress, stalled, what?
    Comment Any specifics you need for the task (ie. web address, contact, supplies, etc)

It is a basic list of attributes, but simplicity is sometimes the best approach. The question is, can Outlook support these basic attributes? The answer is yes. In earlier versions of Outlook, you had to modify the field structure of the underlying task object, but with Outlook 2007, the basic task object has pretty much everything you need. Considering a new version of Microsoft Office is just around the corner (2010), I highly recommend you update to Office 2007 now.

However, as mentioned last month, you first must take your decomposed list of writing tasks and sort them by any order you wish to perform them in, or that makes logical sense. Once you have completed this, you must assign how many appointments it will take to accomplish each task. This is the duration of the task. Now, you are ready to enter each task into the system.

Open Microsoft Outlook and select Tasks in the left-hand menu. It should be the last item in your menu at the bottom of the menu pane. Notice that when you click on it, you get something eerily familiar to the email and calendaring view. This is one of the Outlook 2007 changes where the views are more consistent between the different services provided.

Now, in the To-Do-List Pane, double click on the Type a new task. Dialog Box. This opens the Task Edit Dialog which is remarkably similar to the Calendar Edit Dialog we looked at last month.

Outlook Edit Task Dialog

Outlook Edit Task Dialog

In the Task Edit Dialog, enter the following information for the first task in your task list:

  • Subject: – Enter the name of your task
  • Start Date: – Enter the appointment to write date you will begin this task
  • End Date: – Enter the actual due date for completion (duration)
  • Status: – Leave as Not Started until the start date
  • Reminder: – Select checkbox if you want a reminder and set the date to your appointment to write

In the open dialog box at the bottom, you can enter any comments, notes, web addresses, or supplies you need to begin or work on the task. The following image illustrates an example task created for my Appointment to Write.

Sample Writing Task

Sample Writing Task

Save and close your new Outlook task. In the main Outlook task pane you should see your task listed in the To-Do List. Click on the task and the preview pane will display the details of your task. The following illustrates this.OutlookTaskPane

Enter all your tasks into the system one by one and you will soon be managing your tasks to pursue your publishing dreams. The beauty is you can sort the To-Do List on any field you wish, you can filter using the left-hand menu items, and you can track your progress as you work on each task. Now, when you keep your Appointment to Write, you can open Outlook tasks and see what is currently due and then work on it until you have completed it.

With so much power built into Outlook Tasks, it still begs the question why I don’t use it for my writing tasks. Well, first, I must admit portability is less important today than in the past, so I could use it on my home computer where I normally write. Second, it does require less skill than Excel, so my task management could become less burdensome. However, I think ultimately my problem with it is I simply have too many things to manage.

In fact, I actually maintain three separate task lists in Excel for Publishing, Marketing, and Sales. Although each on their own are manageable, having all three combined in Outlook might be overwhelming. If you are starting out and only have writing tasks to contend with, I highly recommend Outlook tasks to manage those tasks and your time. Between the power it provides and the reminders to keep you on track, you can’t beat it for free if you already purchased Microsoft Office.

However, as you pursue your publishing dreams over time, you will find you need something more powerful and flexible as the number of your tasks increases. Not only do I use a spreadsheet for managing tasks, but it manages my sales, my web site statistics, my contacts, my web addresses, my future goals, my ideas, etc.

Next month we will finally discuss how you can use the companion spreadsheet to manage your tasks. In the meantime, if you do not own Microsoft Excel, you might want to purchase it and install it.

“Okay, Erika, close all the doors so we can corner Kahlua!”