MyLife Organized: Progress Review

Today I’d like to tell you how some minor tweaks helped me greatly improve my experience with the MyLife Organized software and enjoy managing my daily tasks even more.

This week has been quite controversial for me. I’m enjoying the week because I’ve managed to do so many things already, and it’s not even Friday evening yet. But I also felt somewhat frustrated about the things I had plans to do but never found time to make them happen. It wasn’t a major frustration now, but more like a disappointment of some opportunities you missed without any reason for doing so. Having seen the negative impact on my daily performance imposed by this frustration, I’ve decided to stop and analyze the situation.

You see, what happens quite often is that we get so caught up in doing things, that we neglect the processes of thinking about our tasks or reviewing the results accomplished. We’re so busy that we aim for the immediate result, and because somewhere deep inside we have a rough idea of how effective we really are, we trust this feeling and we skip the review process. We postpone such reviews till “it’s appropriate to have a break” or when we “don’t have so many things to do”. And while we’re conscious enough that such good times may not come in the nearest future, we usually find it an acceptable sacrifice to be made. After all, the things are still being done on time, and that’s what really matters! That is not entirely true. And I’d like to explain briefly why I believe reviewing your progress is a vital part of your personal development, and any area where you’re aiming for major improvement, for that matter.

So, looking back a few days, here is the single thought that I found the most frustrating when reviewing my tasks for each day: I’ve been working really hard, yet there are many things from today left to be done tomorrow.

As you remember, I’m trying to organize my plans and tasks in a form that I have an easy overview of things to be done today, this week, this month, and in some distant future. At the end of each time period, I take few minutes to review it. Usually, I do this review at the end of my day, right after I get back home – this is done so that I finish off the open loops for the working day, and review the plans for the rest of the evening.

The frustration I had was seeing a long list of things which were meant to happen today, but never had the time allocated to them. So these tasks effectively become plans for the following day. Having started day with a certain number of tasks to do, it is very frustrating to finish the day with the same or even bigger number of similar tasks.

But in reality, the only reason for the frustration there was the lack of my focus. When reviewing your day, it is absolutely vital to keep track of not only the things you have left to be done, but also the once you’ve completed. When I stopped for a moment to analyze the frustration of mine, I was surprised to notice that all the frustration was caused by my recent switch to the MyLife Organized software for managing my tasks, and the particular way this software presents the lists of tasks and plans.

What happened is that the default behaviour of MyLife Organized didn’t have few important things:

  • completed tasks are not hidden
    By default, all the completed tasks are still visible there in the Outline view of the software. This means that your to-do lists only grow in size and therefore increasingly irritate (and quite often, even intimidate) you. Luckily, there is a checkbox right there to hide the completed tasks and this makes the Outline view look a whole lot better :)
  • there is no separate tab for the completed tasks
    I was getting frustrated cause I didn’t really have an easy way to see how much I’ve done during the day. Because of this, I was automatically maintaining my focus on only the things not finished, which isn’t such a bad idea, but is definitely not enough to see where you really are. Again, I’ve found out that Outline tab has a number of different views, and one of them is the list of completed tasks sorted by either the day or the project they belong to.

I must say I’m impressed with the software. I definitely appreciate the flexibility it has. While not all the features are obvious and intuitive, it’s still a great joy to finally discover them and realise that they do exactly what you want.

I guess the most important lesson I’ve learned from this week about personal development, is that it’s always important to maintain your focus on things that matter to you most. Given a particular situation or environment, you may want to pay more attention to the list of current things, but generally it’s always a good idea to review what you’ve done to really appreciate the amount of things you ticked off your list.

MyLife Organized review

Just like I promised earlier, this entry is going to give you a brief explanation of what MyLife Organized is and how I'm using it in my daily organizing. Hopefully, this will help you make you own opinion of this software, and easily see some of the benefits it might have for you.

 

I've been using the evaluation version 1.5.06 of MyLife Organized to replace the organizing process I had been using after my recent to-do lists revolution. So far it's proved to be reasonably easy to manage tasks using this software, but I'm still not sure if it's the ideal solution for me, and I'll explain why.

 

First impressions

MyLife Organized is a really nice software for your time, tasks and projects management. It supports most of the concepts you're ever likely to need organizing your time, and attempts to present information in an easy-to-read form.

There are three editions of this software application, the simplest one provided to you absolutely free. The basic differences are that in the free edition you're pretty much limited to managing your time with simple tasks lists, while standard edition ($45.95) adds the idea of places (locations in GTD) and adds flexibility for time management. The professional edition (59.95) supports basic project management and allows you synchronize your lists with Outlook or PocketPC edition of MyLife Organized.

For more details, please consult the MLO features comparison page.

You can get a professional edition 45-day trial, and it takes only seconds to download it. Once you start the application, you have a demo database to work and play with. The main window allows you switching between few tabs, and I'll cover them later on.

 

Outline tab

This is where you'll be spending most of your time working with this program, as it allows you to manage all your tasks and projects. Everything is represented by a tree-like structure, and using the right-click of your mouse you can access all the functionality available to you at any moment and within the current scope. For each task, apart from lots of properties, you can also have a notes section where you put text information. These notes can be printed out along the task when you're printing reports or to-do lists.

MLO-Outline

 

To-Do tab

This is where you'll be looking from time to time just to make sure you're right on schedule. All the tasks are shown as a list, and you can see the dates and times when they have been allocated to a task. You can limit a to-do list to a particular context (place) or a date.

MLO-To-Do

 

Places tab

This is the MyLife Organized way of placing tasks into certain contexts. You create various locations here, and then assign tasks to these locations as you create them (or at a later stage, if you wish). The idea is that places will help you narrow your to-do lists down to something very specific when you need it.

MLO-Places

 

Pros and cons

There are some things I've found very useful, and some others which I don't like at all. And there's probably many more features I simply don't know about this software, so just be warned. As for me, I'll certainly do my best to update this entry later when I discover more about this application.

 

So here are the things I like about this software:

  • very compact piece of software. I've copied its folder to my iPod, and this solved the problem of accessing the same tasks list at work or at home.
  • adjustable appearance. You can change the way application looks to make it present your tasks either as a dead-simple to-do list or as a very useful tree-like structure
  • extensive set of features for time management
  • excellent handling of recurring tasks
  • places support is great for managing place-specific tasks

 

And here are few things I don't like:

  • it's not free. It would be much better if the standard edition was free, and the professional one would cost something like 30$.
  • not all features are obvious - it takes time, some trial-and-error experiments, and, finally, reading the thankfully informational help file before getting some things done the way you want it
  • templates for printing are still very basic. If you're familiar with the freely available DIY planner pack of PDF forms, you'll know exactly what I mean
  • working with groups of tasks (like changing the location or time for all the subtasks) could be improved and simplified

 

Why I don't think it suits me in its current form

While MyLife Organized certainly allows me keep track of all the tasks and projects I have, I really miss some of the features specific to my previous way of organizing things. Here are just a few:

  • To-do lists are cluttered – by default, any tasks which don't have their start date set are going to show up in your to-do list. Unfortunately, I have cluttered to-do lists – that was one of the reasons I tried moving away from them. In my organizing, there are plenty of things I know I'll be doing this month or this year, but I dont' even want to spend time thinking now of a possible date for them. I haven't found the way to make such tasks disappear from the to-do list, cause these tasks would appear on the list even if I try and filter it by the date.
  • Outline is only 1 tab and it's not flexible enough. If you remember, I like having few outlines – one for today, one for the week, another one for the month, and yet another one for all the rest tasks and plans I'll be doing someday. Outline tab gives you only 1 structured list of tasks and projects. The same goes for the To-Do tab, as I would really like to have my to-do list show only the things and plans I have for today.
    UPDATE: Turns out, the tab is actually too flexible ;) If you employ the View feature, this would allow you sort filter and sort your tasks by date or completion (for both tasks and projects). 
  • Lack of history tracking
    Because I'm only developing my own approach to daily organizing, it's vital to me that I keep track of my progress and have the ability to go back and review what I've done or haven't done today or yesterday. This is the part which wasn't excelled in my previous organizing approach, and it's not found in the form I would like in MyLife Organized neither.
    UPDATE: That being said, the View feature allows you to view completed tasks sorted by date.

 

That's it, I think I've said enough to raise your interest and explain how and where this software could be improved even further. Seeing how active its development is, I'm looking forward to reviewing future versions of MyLife Organized. It's definitely one of the best organizers around.

LookOut – Extremely Fast Search for Outlook

This post marks the beginning of another category on this blog: Useful Software.

Being in IT for the past 10 years, I’ve accumulated many useful tips and tricks – and more importantly, a hunger for new and more optimized ways of doing things. Nowadays, if you want something done in a computerized way, you’re very likely to find a piece of software which does just that. We’re facing challenges daily, and sometimes the solution is just few mouse clicks away, so hopefully you’ll find it easier to decide whether you need something or now and how you can use it, by just reading this category of my blog.

Meet lightning-fast email search: LookOut

LookOut is an amazing add-on to your Microsoft Outlook email client, and it allows you do all kinds of searches in any emails you have ever sent or received.

MS Outlook is mostly a corporate tool these days – you’re most likely to be using it at your workplace. And while some of us are blessed by having only a handful of emails a month, other people like me are facing hundreds of emails on a daily basis. And so as the volume of useful messages grows, so does the time it takes to find something unless you’ve got a perfect email filing workflow in place. Which I don’t. Not yet, anyway :)

So LookOut helps you improve your productivity by minimizing the time and efforts to find a particular email in your inbox or any other folder. It takes 15 minutes or so the first time you start it, because LookOut has to index all your emails before it can speed up your searches. After the index is generated, all new emails are being indexed automatically.

What LookOut can do for you

  • index all your emails AND documents to ensure everything is accounted for when you search
  • make any search return results in just few seconds. What this really means is that you’re going to save lots of precious time simply because you’ll never have to wait on a search again
  • empower your searches with a flexible search query language
  • easily limit periods or places you search in: limit search to last month or last week, or search only emails or contacts. You can also specify a certain folder you’re interested to search in

Search query examples

This is really just to give you the idea of how powerful the search is with LookOut:

from:gleb – this will find all the emails which have “gleb” anywhere in their “from” field
from:alex yesterday – this will find all the emails you received yesterday from all the people with “alex” in their name
from:alex nice – this will find emails from people with “alex” in the name and word “nice” anywhere in the email body
from:alex subject:nice – this will find emails from people with “alex” in the name and “nice” in the subject

LookOut: why you need it

So, if you:

  • hate waiting longer than 2 seconds to find an email
  • do lots of email searching daily
  • like the idea of having intelligent searches (LookOut has a very simple yet flexible system of queries)

then this is definitely a tool for you. Go on, download it and give it a try: Lookout for Outlook