Saturday, September 06, 2008

Using VIC: Getting Things Done

On a typical day I'll get dozens of emails ranging from newsletters and ads to requests for service (of various priorities). How do we turn these into actions? And how does VIC expedite the process? Does it work with GTD (Getting Things Done)?

If you're familiar with VIC CRM you already know that it automatically organizes your mail as it's imported into the VIC Journal. This means it's easily viewable by company, contact, or by any category tags you've assigned to your contacts. If you've full-text indexed your Journal you've got even more flexibility. Because of the flexibility of categories, VIC doesn't need folders.

I use the "My Mail by Date" view as my primary mail view, and import mail from my Notes Inbox (here's how that works). As with all Notes databases, the unread documents are marked with red stars. In VIC a new feature is that emails diretly addressed to me are also marked with yellow stars. This allows me to easily differentiate them from emails on which I'm copied or blind-copied. I pay attention to the yellow-starred items first.

For those of you familiar with GTD, the general rule of thumb here is that as you go through your correspondence, do immediately those actionable things that can be done in under 2 minutes, delegate what needs delegating, and defer the rest. Non-actionable items should be thrown away, filed for reference, or "incubated" for possible action later. (David Allen recommends going through all items top to bottom, but we all know that there are some items that are truly urgent, and VIC's ability to auto-organize your correspondence helps you to identify those at a glance.)

I read through the mail twice a day.Since all of my newsletters are categorized as such, I don't have to take any action to defer them... I just wait to read them during the time I schedule for that. The same for "Imported - To be filed": these come from people who aren't in my Index, and were imported because the subject matched my list of key phrases. (BTW, "VIC CRM" is one of those key phrases, so if we haven't corresponded before, put that in the email subject.) All actions without yellow stars are FYI... I'm not the primary recipient. I schedule time to read those later (it's the same as my newsletter time), so I don't have to do it now. It's deferring, but I don't have to take any action at all to do that. So here's what might happen to the mail I actually read:
  1. If I can take action, I do... this might be a Reply to the email, or forwarding (delegating); but it might be a Phone Call, or a Service Call, etc. In these cases I select Tools, then Convert to JournalEntry to add the action to my Journal Calendar. The new JournalEntry contains the body of the email so I have a complete record of the action I've just taken and its impetus. VIC's Dialer will dial the number for me, and the JournalEntry will accurately record the length of the call. If this is in reference to an open or pending Project, then on the Associations tab I select the Project Task to which it's associated. This allows me to report on time spent on a project with 100% accuracy.
  2. If I need to defer an item until later, I do exactly the same thing, except that I will schedule the call for later and check the "Set a Reminder" checkbox.
  3. If it's something that I need to defer, but I can't set a particular time, I'll still convert it to a JournalEntry; then I'll change its type to "To-Do".
  4. I might want to refer to something later. I can just leave it alone and find it later with the full-text search, or if I want to give it prominence I'll link or copy it into the VIC Library.
  5. An inbound email (such as a user's request for features), or a conversation, or a news story, or some frustration I've encountered during the day might inspire ideas for future work. I use my VIC Notebook to record vague ideas that I might work on "someday". I'll make a pending VIC Project of those ideas that are more solid.
  6. I don't see spam at all. Here's why. Once a week or so I scan the SpamTrap, but it's pretty quick since I'm just assuming these things are crap and I'm looking for something of interest to me.
To-Dos follow you from day-to-day, but aren't associated with a time-of-day. The danger with a To-Do is that the older it is, the more likely it is to become a permanent fixture on your list. Your brain will just stop seeing it: If you've ever worked with Microsoft Outlook you know exactly what I mean. So I never actually work on To-Do's as To-Dos... I convert them to the actual type of action I'm taking ("Task", "Phone Call", "Service Call", etc.). Generally, keep To-Do's to a minimum, and get rid of them as soon as possible. VIC displays To-Dos directly in your Calendar to encourage you to keep the list small... you should never have more than a handful. Your first action on any To-Do should be to nail it down in your schedule as another kind of JournalEntry. If you know you won't get to it until next Tuesday afternoon, then schedule it for then.

Except for To-Dos, JournalEntries record or schedule specific times of day. Like all appointments... they're either done or missed. VIC provides a "Missed Appointments" view to help you determine which were scheduled in the past but not marked complete. But you shouldn't need to use that view very often. When you're working on a task you're going to be interrupted sometimes... that's a given. So you handle it like this: Do as much work as you can. When you have to give up for the day, or you're interrupted, mark the JournalEntry complete! And schedule a follow-up! The follow-up will be the continuation of work. Scheduling a follow-up is done from the original JournalEntry; it links the original entry to the follow-up so you can refer back to your earlier notes with one click.

"But I didn't complete the task!" you may say. That's fine... you've done work. You've scheduled the continuation of that work. You need to be able to charge the work to a Project or Sale: these are two ways of tying complicated tasks together. I'll cover Projects in my next post and Sales afterward.

By the way, you may notice I haven't mentioned reports at all. There's no such thing in VIC because Views are superior. A report is static; a View is dynamic. You can actually click on any View entry to open the data item and examine or manipulate it. If you're desperate for a report, you can export a View to a spreadsheet or can copy it as a table and insert it into your favorite word processor, or you can print it directly.

Whew. All of that seems kind of intimidating as I write it down, but I use it every day and it's not intimidating at all. I record all phone calls and all actions the very same way... by documenting it in my VIC Journal Calendar. Emails become actions. In VIC, documenting and managing tasks are the same thing. Organizing is mostly automatic. Reporting is completely automatic. And when you see how Projects and Sales work to tie separate tasks together into manageable (and billable!) units I think you're going to like them a lot.

As you can see, VIC CRM is an awesome tool for managing your work, and it's an excellent expediter of GTD methods. More later.


Blogger John B. Kendrick said...

Sounds like VIC works great for GTD. I worked with a printable system for decades (Covey and Daytimer), before reading David Allen's book and finding an electronic application earlier this year that allows me to view my entire GTD at work on my Win machine, at home on my Macs and even on my cell phone. And another app lets me call in tasks to my GTD without any writing or typing, great for those thoughts that hit me while driving. I've written about my experiences with GTD in a blog post at John

September 7, 2008 at 4:53 AM  
Blogger Dave Leigh said...

Actually, I'm informed that there are a couple of issues that prevent VIC CRM from being fully GTD-compliant.

1. It doesn't provide for dateless To-Dos. Part of GTD is to collect data and process it later. VIC puts today's date on any To-Do by default.
2. It's not convenient to display only those entries for a single category (by "context"). You can do it with Search by Field, but that's not really optimal for GTD.

I'm fixing those two issues immediately with the goal of having VIC fully GTD compliant for the next release. Here are the changes:
1. The Create pane will include "To-Do". This will create a JournalEntry of type "To-Do", with no date. This allows you to collect as per GTD in one step.
2. The Pipeline views will categorize dateless To-Dos as "4 - Unprocessed To-Dos"
3. Every View will have a "Filter by Context" action button that will allow you to pick a category and display only entries matching that category.

I'm testing these as of today. The target release date is Halloween.

September 8, 2008 at 8:25 AM  

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