Two new add-in software products give Outlook an organizational boost.
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I can remember a time not all that long ago when advisors craved more information about financial planning, investments, asset allocation, and the like. Now, most are experiencing the opposite problem: too much information. Over the past few months, I've spent a considerable amount of time at industry conferences, listening to advisors, and two of the most common problems they face are time management and information management.
Time management and information management are distinct issues, but they are closely related. If you can't organize and process information effectively, you end up spending too much time trying to do it; hence, it adversely affects your ability to manage your time. Says Tracy Beckes, who coaches many leading advisors in the United States, "I work with my advisor/clients on this daily. You cannot have an effortless, outrageous practice unless you manage your time, tasks, and e-mail effectively."
Beckes is a proponent of the Getting Things Done methodology advocated by David Allen. As it applies to e-mail, the Getting Things Done method calls for the user to ask the following questions:
Your answers to the above questions guide you to the proper e-mail handling procedure. This might includes deletion, action, deferral, and delegation. While Beckes concedes that other personal management systems can be effective, her experience indicates that Allen's methodology is adaptable to the broadest range of circumstances
Today, the root of many information/time management problems is e-mail. Many advisors receive hundreds of e-mail messages per day. Even those with much lighter e-mail loads can quickly become overwhelmed if they do not employ good e-mail-processing skills. On a related note, many of the tasks, appointments, and other chores that occupy our time now originate with an e-mail.
For example, a client e-mails you requesting a meeting, or a client e-mails you requesting an up-to-date personal balance sheet. In the first case, an appointment will result. In the latter case, a task or an action item must be created. Your effectiveness will be greatly affected based upon how you integrate these action-related e-mail requests into your workflow.
I've written about CRM programs such as Junxure-i and ProTracker that allow you to process workflows. I've also discussed e-mail programs such as Nelson E-mail Organizer, which is designed to help you better organize your e-mail. Today, I'd like to introduce you to two e-mail add-in products for Microsoft Outlook that can help you boost your productivity.
ClearContext's Information Management System Pro
ClearContext Corp. recently released version 3.0 of its Information Management System. The application is an Outlook add-in. This means that it sits atop Outlook and adds some additional functionality to the application. The new version is compatible with Outlook 2007, as well as other recent Outlook releases.
I think of IMS Pro as the effortless way of getting your e-mail organized because it automatically analyzes e-mail. Then it highlights, prioritizes, and groups the most important new messages in your inbox. It also screens unwanted messages out of the inbox. IMS Pro allows users to "unsubscribe" from unwanted conversations that often occur as a result of group e-mails or distribution lists, preventing responses from cluttering the inbox. So, for example, if someone sends a joke for a group of friends, you can screen out all the responses generated as a result of that particular e-mail.
In essence, IMS Pro uses artificial intelligence to act as a personal assistant for your e-mail. It saves time for users by automatically identifying which messages need immediate attention and which ones can be addressed at a later time; but it does much more.
Setup is easy and, for the most part, automated. In the first step, the program automatically identifies the user's e-mail accounts. Next, users enter domain names (mycompany.com) from which they often get important e-mail. This could be a place of business, domains owned or used by top clients, and key suppliers and collaborators. IMS Pro will give priority to all e-mail sent from these domains.
Since users can assign topics to each e-mail, and the e-mails can be sorted into folders by topic, the next step is to tell the program where you want the topics folder to reside. (The Inbox or a folder called ClearContext Topics residing within the inbox are two common choices.) Next, the user defines which Outlook files and folders are to be analyzed by the software.
After that, the program automatically analyzes your contacts and prioritizes them, based on the information provided in the previous steps, plus the default settings. Next, the program tries to determine who your most important contacts are (if it gets them wrong, or if it omits a few, they can be added after the setup is complete). Finally, you specify how you want messages presented.
Once all of the initial steps are completed, the system is ready to use. Because the application is highly configurable and flexible, everyone will use it a little but differently, but the key features can be described as follows:
I've only been using Information Management System Pro version 3.0 for a short time, but my initial impression is favorable. The ability to effortlessly create appointments and tasks from e-mail boosts productivity tremendously. Some of the other features that the program provides can be replicated (sorting to folders is possible through the use of Outlooks rules, for example), but this application really simplifies the processes. Other features, like automatic prioritization cannot be replicated so easily.
I've tried it with Outlook 2007 beta as well as Outlook 2003, and it works fine. The "professional" version, discussed here, can be purchased through the ClearContext for $79.95. A free 30-day trial version of the product is available, as is a limited free version, which only offers a few of the features described above. If you are an Outlook user, ClearContext can almost certainly improve your productivity. Check it out and see for yourself.
Getting Things Done Outlook Add-in
NetCentrics apparently works closely with David Allen to produce the Getting Things Done Outlook Add-in, which sells for $69.95 on the firm's Web site. It is not yet fully compatible with Outlook 2007 (a new version that is compatible is due soon), so I installed it on a computer running Outlook 2003.
Getting Things Done (GTD) is in many ways similar to IMS Pro, but it is no quite as comprehensive. It allows you to delegate items, just as IMS Pro does, although it is a little less flexible in handling the delegation process. With GTD, e-mail is sent to the person the task is delegated to, and a task (reminder) is created for you to follow-up and make sure the task is being done. IMS offers a similar option, but it also allows you to create a linked task (one in witch the recipient can accept or decline the task, and one in which status updates are communicated to you).
The snooze function in GTD is similar to the defer function in IMS, and the defer function in GTD is similar to the schedule function in IMS. In fact, IMS includes just about every function that GTD does, plus additional ones such as topic, thread, and auto assign. In addition, IMS includes the prioritizing and color coding, making it the more feature rich and more flexible organizational tool.
If you are a strict adherent to the GTD methodology, and if you value simplicity over power, the GTD add-in may appeal to you, but for most readers, IMS is the better choice; however, either one will almost certainly lift an Outlook user's productivity, so you'll benefit no matter which one you choose.
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