Let Entourage manage your projects
While a lot of Mac users rely on Microsoft Entourage 2004 for e-mail and simple calendar management, many ignore its Project Center. That’s too bad, because the Project Center is a powerful project-management tool. Here are some of the ways I use it (as with the advice in “The Inbox Makeover,” much of this advice was inspired by David Allen’s book Getting Things Done ).
Set Up Filters
Entourage 2004’s Project Center is where you collect appointments, tasks, e-mail, notes, and other documents, grouped by project, in one convenient location. The key to making it work is to use Entourage’s automatic filtering tools.
When you create a new project, you can define filters that tell Entourage to automatically associate specific e-mail messages, contacts, documents, and tasks with that project. Once you identify the key attributes for each project (contact information, likely e-mail subjects, and so on), those tools will automate a lot of your project maintenance, giving you more time to focus on the real work at hand.
I like to create a new Entourage project early in a project’s planning stages, because the Project Center’s filtering can come in especially handy during a project’s ramping-up period, when my task assignments and e-mail messages are typically in a flurry. It helps to be as aggressive as possible about using consistent e-mail subjects for each project (for instance, begin the subject for all “XYZ Corporation” project e-mails with the letters
XYZ)—this is especially necessary when you work with the same people on different projects, and therefore can’t just file all messages from one colleague as part of a single project. Even if others don’t adopt your nomenclature, at least their replies to your messages will contain your disciplined subject lines and be filtered accordingly.
Create New Categories
You might find Entourage’s preloaded Categories (Work, Personal, and so on) useful, but I don’t. I prefer using categories for the specific purpose of identifying where or how each of the tasks in my to-do list needs to be performed.
So I use my own categories, such as Errand, Office, Home, Online, and so on. That way, I can quickly identify all the tasks I need to be doing at any given time. If I’m in the office, I need to do the Office tasks and can safely ignore the Home ones. (You can assign more than one category to a given task.)
Customize Views for Current Tasks
If you have more than a few items in your Tasks list, you may find it hard to locate all your high-priority tasks. You can remedy that by using a handy Entourage search trick that finds matches by determining what they are not.
In my Tasks area, I created a custom view called Important Today (by selecting File: New: Custom View). After selecting Match Unless Any Criteria Are, I chose these criteria: Due Date Is Greater Than 1 Day From Now, Is Complete, Priority Is Low, and Priority Is Lowest (See “A new view”).
You could add other criteria—for instance, to filter out projects that aren’t related to work (Jamie’s Soccer Team or Costa Rica Vacation)—but that’s the general idea.
Custom views like this are useful through-out Entourage: the time you spend creating a good one will save you countless hours of man-ual searching and make sure that nothing falls between the cracks.
Link to Text Files
A lot of folks (including me) like to maintain information in simple plain-text files. (For example, I keep a list of the questions and issues I want to discuss with someone the next time we meet.) These files are small, efficient, and extremely portable, and you can create and add to them from many different apps.
Entourage supports this habit: it lets you quickly attach any kind of document to tasks, appointments, and other Entourage objects. So I can link my list of questions to the appointment when I’ll need to ask them, for instance.
Just pull up the appointment, task, or contact you want to attach your document to. Go to Tools: Link To Existing: File, and then locate and select the text file you want to link to (See “Stay connected”).
Now you’re never more than a couple clicks away from your important text-based information—and that information is always in the appropriate context.— Merlin D. Mann
[ Freelance writer Merlin D. Mann also runs the 43Folders Web site .]