“The years go by so fast, let’s hope the next beats the last”– a sentiment that rings so true over the last couple of new year celebrations. Whether setting resolutions to do new things, read more, lose weight, be a better human etc, we all tend to reflect, even if just trying to do the same things as before but a bit better. Steve Clayton’s Friday Thing for the end of December had some great tips on things to do and try in the coming year.
If we can’t reduce volume of professional communications (be that emails, Teams messages, whatever – just look at Steve cleaning his mailbox and removing >100,000 Sent Items from a single year), then maybe we could do a better job of managing the stuff that we have to deal with. Much ink has been spilled on how to be more effective and how to get things done, but one useful time/focus management principle to revisit is sometimes known as Eisenhower’s Matrix, of which a variety of depictions exist:
The premise is that any task has separate degrees of importance and urgency; we tend to prioritize urgent and overdue things versus things that are actually important. Discipline in task management can give us the clarity to not worry about seemingly urgent yet non-important tasks, and to stay focussed on things which are important, regardless of their urgency.
Carve out 75 minutes if you can – because this stuff is important – to watch Randy Pausch’s lecture on Time Management, with the context that when it was recorded, he knew he only had weeks left to live: talk about prioritizing important vs urgent.
How you put time and focus management into practice will differ depending on your own style and what tools you want to use. For the Windows / Microsoft 365 user, there are a few quick wins to consider:
As most of us look to put 2020 firmly behind us and take some down-time over the festive season, there may be a list of jobs which get left to this time of year – filling out the annual tax return, maybe, or clearing out that drawer with miscellaneous stuff in it.
You could set your sights higher, even – like gathering all the papers scattered throughout your house (user guides, receipts, utility bills etc etc) and putting them in one place, as recommended by Getting Things Done guru, David Allen.
Or just scan them all in then recycle…
Maybe it’s time to finally sort out all the passwords you use for different websites. Even though Multi-Factor Authentication is gradually replacing the need to enter a username & password every time you access a resource, there’s still often a need to create a username and password combo when you sign up for something. If you’ve used Edge or Chrome to remember your passwords, you might find there are many hundreds of them, and being weak carbon-based lifeforms, we’re quite likely to use the same ones for many sites. Naughty!
There are browser addins and other tools you can use to remember the passwords you use, and (using LastPass as an example) can give you the option of generating something strong and unique at the point of signing up on a site, then syncing that username and password back to a central service so you don’t need to re-enter it next time (or remember something truly unmemorable). LastPass recently announced their 2020 stats – they’ve generated 94 million secure passwords and been used to log in more than 10 billion times.
Microsoft Edge offers some password management capabilities – as well as being able to remember passwords within the Edge browser, and sync them between different machines or mobile devices, Edge is also getting to be capable of suggesting and storing complex passwords for new sign-ups.
Edge is beefing up its password security in other ways, offering proactive warnings if your passwords have shown up in databases of leaked credentials (at the moment, this is a test feature in the dev builds). One-by-one, you can use Edge’s “fix leaked passwords” function to check what the existing password is for each site, and then click a button to jump to the site to reset it – in some cases, going straight to the change password part of the site.
Finally, the password sync feature is getting some extra legs – using the Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone and it’s new beta Autofill feature, you can use that app to provide the username/password for website or even mobile app logins. There’s a Chrome extension too, so if you want to switch back and forth between Edge & Chrome on a PC, your passwords will be available to both.
In some senses, storing passwords and allowing them to be automatically filled in feels like a security risk – anyone with access to your unlocked computer or phone could potentially access your online services. Using Autofill and Authenticator, though, the default setup is to require biometric authentication – so you’ll need a fingerprint or camera, or unlocking with a PIN, before the auto-fill will happen.
Also, it’s more important to have complex passwords that are hard to break or guess, and to have different ones for each and every site or app you use.
This is the final ToW for 2020. Let’s hope ’21 brings us all better luck.
|Now that the festive period is behind us, it’s time to get back to the mundanity of the New Year. The salad bar in every restaurant is heaving, every gym has lots of red-faced semi-exuberant new members, and offices are chock full of workers who want to do things better this time around.
Those of you who ended 2015 with a clear inbox and task list, well done! Those of us who have a new resolution to get more organised in 2016, well, read on.
The “Getting Things Done” methodology (or GTD to its many devotees) espouses a system for making sure you don’t forget stuff and that you can prioritise what’s important, and like any similar system, it shies away from telling you which tool to use – if a stack of printed cards works for you, then go for it. There is, predictably, much discussion online as to which software tools to use and how to set them up “just so”. YMMV.
Out of the box, Outlook isn’t a fabulously GTD-optimised tool. There are numerous addins and guides online to try to get it set up in a suitable way (such as ClearContext, as featured in ToW #233), but true GTD evangelists often give up trying to wrangle Outlook tasks to do what they want: Wunderlist has a new tranche of fanatics. It’ll be interesting to see if and how its task management ideals start to bleed into other tools like Outlook.
Follow me, follow you
If you are a habitual email user and Outlook is your main tool, there are a couple of simple things that everyone could do without needing to get stuck into categories, tasks, projects and the likes.
The problem here is, most of us don’t start Outlook from scratch very often – laptops get put to sleep and woken up again, and it could be days or weeks between reboots, so most of the time, you already have lots of Outlook windows open.
To work around this, we can fall back on a technology that’s been part of Windows since NT 3.1, all of 22 years ago – the AT command. This allows the console operator (ie you) to schedule some background task within the bowels of the OS, and to specify how it runs as well as when – will it be silent, will it be able to interact with the current logged in user?
The intrepid among you could delve into AT (just start a command prompt by pressing WindowsKey+X and choose the Command Prompt (Admin) from there) but most of us would prefer to use the Task Scheduler UI that was built to make the process easier. Reading the instructions below, this might sound like a faff, but if you follow them step-by-step, it’ll take 2 minutes.
What we’re going to do is to set a time when a new Outlook window will be fired up, at a specific folder. So, you could say at 7:00am or the next available time after (ie when your machine wakes from sleep), then create a new Outlook window pointing to the Follow Up search folder we just created above.
Start by running the Task Scheduler (press start, type task s…). Don’t be put off if you see lots of tasks you don’t recognise. Expand the Task Scheduler Library and right-click on Microsoft then Create Basic Task.
This will walk you through a wizard to set up the task.
Now you can OK out of the properties and return to the task list view – right-click on your newly-created task, and try “Run”- you may not see the Outlook window come to the fore, but if you look on your task bar, at the collection of Outlook windows you may otherwise have, then it should be there. If you see the “Last run result” in the task view showing something other than (0x0), then something went wrong – you may want to open the task up again, and check that you’ve got the right path to Outlook and the right path to your chosen folder.