Using ConnectedText for project and task management

Here is a copy of a post I just made on the OutlinerSoftware forum, in response to a forum member’s problem about how to deal with a large volume of tasks prompted by emails with attachments:

… since I’m a CT enthusiast, let me describe how CT could be used to deal with the above type of problem (partly also for my own amusement at the end of a long week, but also if anyone else might be interested in this).

This might not satisfy your “quick entry” requirement, as there is a bit of setting up involved, but after a while a lot of it can be automated by using keyboard shortcuts and templates (and even more so with AutoHotkey scripts).

There would be many different ways to do it, but here is the simplest scenario (using either the desktop or USB portable version), and the benefits:

1. create a new CT database (“project”) for managing your work projects.

2. when you get an email with attachments that you need to do something about,

2a) create a new “date and time topic” (a new document with temporal features) in CT and give it a descriptive title (can have up to 256 characters),

2b) select all relevant text in the email,

2c) drag and drop it into the CT topic,

2d) if the attachments are important, save them on the hard drive in a folder, and then drag and drop the files into CT from your file explorer, which would create links to the files (clicking on which would launch them in their respective applications, such as Word, PDF reader etc.).

Benefits so far:

Moving the email and the attachments over into CT will identify them as important (a todo), and they won’t disappear as more emails arrive in the Outlook inbox.

Keeping such tasks in “time and date topics” will automatically order them chronologically, and can be also sorted in reverse chronological order, and viewed as a list in the Topic List pane. They can also be navigated through a Calendar interface.

Links to topics created on the same day will be displayed at the bottom of each “date topic”, as “tasks”.

Having the contents of the email and the links to attachments in the same topic will serve as a mini dashboard for that task. More content and files can be added to it, and it can be linked (using wiki links) to other tasks in the CT database.

It can also be split into smaller, linked topics, as a task grows (which can be visualised as a mind map or outline in the graphical Navigator pane).

It is also possible to open and view multiple topics as floating (repositionable) windows, which helps when you need to refer to other tasks in other topics.

3) In order to identify this task as part of one of your larger projects, add a “Category” label to the topic, denoting the project. This will help filter tasks belonging to the same project, e.g. by ticking that category in the Category pane. Alternatively, a separate CT “project” (database) could be created for each real world project, if we are talking about huge projects. But normally it’s better to work from one database initially.

4) Add a red warning type icon to the topic in the Topic List pane to signify it requires attention. Topics can be filtered according to their icons in the Topic List.

Now, let’s say that you’d want to reorder these tasks according to their priority/urgency, which currently are listed in chronological (or reverse) order. For this, you can create an “outline” file in the Outline Pane (or multiple outline files, one per each project, i.e. category). Then,

5) Drag and drop selected tasks (i.e. “time and date topics”) from the Topic List pane into the Outline pane. This will create new outline items with links to the topics.

The benefits are that you can now quickly reorder the various tasks in a hierarchical tree, and it only takes a click to launch any of the linked topics. The Outline Pane has other useful features such as checkboxes (that cross out the done tasks), icons, hoisting etc.

When a task is done, then you can also change the topic icon from a red warning sign to a green tick. The benefit of using CT and date and time topics is that a permanent record of the task and all its contents and linked files will remain in the database and will be easy to find in the future (through search, or the dates, or other parameters).

This would already work as a basic task management system. The above assumes that you have the Topic List, Category, and Outline panes docked in the CT desktop, so it’s easy to see everything and drag and drop stuff from one to the other.

But CT also has a host of other features that make it possible to make the task management system more sophisticated.

This is a long enough post, so I don’t want to go into the details, but there are commands that one can add to templates that can be automatically inserted when a new topic is being created, and they enable you to add “attributes” or “properties” to each topic easily, e.g. to display a pulldown list to choose whether the task’s importance is “very important, important, medium, low, or none,” or a checkbox that, when ticked, adds the “Done” property.

Other options could include adding start and due dates to a topic (task).

The key benefit of using such attributes/properties is that now you can create a summary page (e.g. the Home page of the wiki database or “project”, that is easy to click on or call up with a hotkey), which will automatically populate and update a table of todos with the dates ordered according to a selected parameter (such as start or due dates or importance), another table for actions that are done but you’re waiting for others (this requires adding a “waiting” property, and the name of the person responsible), and another table with the Completed tasks, just for the record.

Here is a link to a CT forum discussion with some templates and more details on this approach:

http://connectedtext.com/forum/index.php/topic,3139.msg15299.html#msg15299

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Visitor stats for launch week

It’s been a week since I’ve launched this blog and posted my list of favourite software and hardware tools for research, note-taking, outlining, writing and other aspects of personal information management and productivity. About 70% of the visitors came from the Outliner Software forum, so the following stats may also give a quick snapshot of which countries readers of Outliner Software are based in and what software that was discussed here they were most interested in.

Here are the countries of origin where visitors came from (or at least where their servers were based in) (click on graphic on the left):

66% came from English-speaking countries, which is understandable, considering that the Outliner Software forum and this blog are in English and that these countries have led development in information technology. One of the most curious absences is Australia, considering the size of the country and their software sector (and that they are English-speaking). I even mentioned two Australian software on my list (Mindsystems Amode V2 and Directory Opus). However, three other giants in terms of population and size and importance of IT sector are also missing: Russia, India (I did mention WhizFolders), and China. Looks like folks in these countries haven’t discovered Outliner Software or haven’t been reading it recently (or just weren’t interested in my blog). They don’t know what they’re missing – I’m talking about Outliner Software :)

In terms of which software visitors were most interested in, here is the top 10 list, based on the number of clicks on links:

1.  ConnectedText  – personal wiki
2.  Mindsystems Amode V2 – project management
3.  Protopage.com – customisable home page (free)
4.  Freeplane – mind mapping (free)
5.  Noteliner – fast outlining (free)
6.  Nebulous Notes – note-taker for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad (with Dropbox)
6.  VUE – concept mapping (free)
6.  Natara Bonsai – outlining
7.  CarbonFin Outliner – outliner for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, with online companion
8.  MyLifeOrganized – to-do list
8.  Storybook Pro – for structuring writing
8.  NoteTab – text editor (free)
9.  A-PDF Collector – PDF utility
9.  Directory Opus – Windows Explorer replacement
10. PureText – utility for stripping rich text formatting (free)
10. Debenu PDF Maximus – batch PDF processing
10. Surfulater – note-taker for websites
10. PDF XChange Viewer – PDF viewer (free)

It’s understandable that CT and Amode were top of the list, considering that I have reviewed both in dedicated posts. I’m happy that Protopage has made it to no. 3, as I’ve been a long-time fan and user and I can’t imagine my life without it. (Apparently there is even a way to embed your Google Calendar into Protopage – although I haven’t tried it.) There are two one-trick ponies on the list: A-PDF Collector and PureText. I use PureText several times daily, pretty much every time I am doing copying and pasting. A-PDF Collector is a more occasionally used tool but can be very useful for the specific job it does. Debenu PDF Maximus is the one software I use the least frequently, simply because those big jobs it’s designed for don’t come along that frequently. It’s quite expensive as well, though I was able to grab a free copy at the ever so useful BitsduJour service. In my top 10 I would have probably also included other iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps such as iThoughts, GoodReader and PDF Expert.