4 new updates to Microsoft Planner – Making Due Dates more useful

Microsoft Planner has a few new updates that make it much more useful for daily task tracking and planning.

1. Group by Date

Before this update, assigning a due date in planner wasn’t very useful. There was no way to see which tasks were due unless you looked at each card individually. Now you can group your tasks by date, allowing you to see what is past due, due today, due this week, due in the future, or has no date assigned.

This allows us to plan out our projects more efficiently if we like to use dates as a driver for when things need to be done.

You can also group by date from your My Tasks page so you can organize your own tasks across all of your projects in Planner.

2. Receive an email when a task is late, due or upcoming

Now that Due Dates are more useful while in Planner, we now have another bonus. If you are assigned a task that is late, due today, or upcoming, you will receive an email in your inbox stating what is due. This can serve as helpful reminders that we have tasks scheduled.

3. Group by Label

In addition to grouping by date, we can also group by Label. You can make your labels anything you want in Planner. This gives you another great way to organize the tasks for your project.

4. Filter Tasks

Do you need to quickly find a specific task in Planner? Now you can filter your tasks in the project by keyword, due date, or assignment. You can even select multiple values.

What’s next?

I assume the mobile Planner app will soon be updated to allow some of these features. I also believe a calendar feed is coming soon. I’m hopeful that more integration with other servers is on the near-term roadmap.

The best tools to use for detailed time tracking

Since I work on multiple projects across various clients simultaneously, I need to keep track of my hours very closely so that I can bill my clients accurately and to quickly recall what I was working on a particular day and time. In my search for the most efficient way to handle this, I found many great tools along the way.

Toggl

https://toggl.com

Toggl is a very popular time tracking tool that is a great solution for tracking your time quickly and for free! Toggl has a great web app for tracking your time, but also an open source desktop client that can be used as well.

  • Toggl is free, although you can upgrade for additional features.
  • You must be okay with starting and stopping a timer when you work. You can also go back and fill in manual entries but you need to remember to do so and remember what you were working on at the time. The Toggl desktop app has some activity tracking so you can see what application you were using at a particular time, but it doesn’t seem very robust.
  • You need cross-platform support. Toggl provides apps for Android, IOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, and Web.
  • You can create external integrations with Toggl using IFTTT or Zapier.
  • You get some detailed reports of your time.
  • Toggl is web-based, which means your data is stored online.

 

Timely

https://timelyapp.com/

Timely is another timer tracking application that lets you track your time towards specific projects.

  • Timely has a free trial, but to continue it will cost you starting at $7 per month per user.
  • Like Toggl, with Timely you must also start and start the timer when you log your work. However, Timely also has a nifty feature called “memory” that you can connect to your calendar, Todoist, Wunderlist, and your desktop. This feature shows you what you were working on during specific periods of time. Then you can simply select an item to add it to your tracked time.
  • Timely has a web version as well as Android, IOS, Mac, and Windows clients.
  • Timely is web-based which means your data is stored online.

ManicTime

https://www.manictime.com/ 

ManicTime is my personal favorite time tracking tool and the one I’ve stuck with for the past 8 months or so. ManicTime is a desktop client that tracks your activities including what applications your using and what websites your visiting. The data is all kept local to your machine. The biggest reason I’ve stuck with ManicTime is because it shows when I was at my computer and exactly what I was working which makes going back and tagging blocks of time for my time sheet is a piece of cake. It also doesn’t hurt that the timesheet report gives me exactly the right format for me to submit my time, while the other apps I’ve tried I always have to tinker with it to get it right.

  • ManicTime costs $67 with a year of free upgrades.
  • It doesn’t seem to use up much memory.
  • You can pull in data from external sources like your calendar so you can easily tag blocks of time you were in meetings.
  • You can setup auto tags that automatically track time you spend in certain applications or with specific documents towards a specific project.
  • You can create all kinds of interesting reports. For example, I have a couple of tags that I use so that I can see how much time I spend each week in internal meetings, client meetings, doing administrative work, development, and miscellaneous work.

Additional time tracking apps

  • Time Doctor
  • RescueTime – Track what your doing on your machine and/or Android phone. Doesn’t do great at actual time logging.
  • WorkingHours – If you use Windows 10 and Android, this app does a good job at providing simple time logging.

How I organize Evernote for GTD – Getting things done with Evernote tags.

As a solutions architect I constantly have a huge list of tasks that need to be completed. For the longest time I have used Microsoft Outlook to manage my tasks which worked okay at first, but over time it turned into huge list of red (overdue) tasks. I discovered that “date” driven tasks don’t work well for me. I was constantly rescheduling tasks and always feeling behind.

I then discovered GTD (Getting Things Done) by David Allen, which introduces the concept of Next Actions to manage tasks. Rather than assigning a date to the tasks, you add it to a Next Actions list and simply work off of that list. There is a lot more to it then that, but I’ll spare the details here.

evernote_logo_center_4c-lrg

Why Evernote? I’m a Microsoft guy overall and I love OneNote. I still use OneNote every day for shared project notes and other things. However, I find that using OneNote to organize content gets to be cumbersome and messy. In Evernote, I can simply tag a note and not worry about which notebook and section it is in. Evernote allows me easily cross-reference notes using tags and search, which I love. It also feels more like a database than a notebook. I suppose the developer in me likes that aspect of it. I can build my daily workflow in Evernote, while in OneNote I spend more time organizing and searching.

So let’s get on with it.

Inbox Notebook

My default notebook is called Inbox. This is the dumping ground for everything I want to process in Evernote. This includes ideas, tasks, emails I want to review, documents I want to edit, articles I want to read. Inspiration from the web. The purpose of the Inbox is to hold any content that may need further action.

Cabinet Notebook

The Cabinet notebook stores everything else in Evernote. I keep it simple by keeping all of my processed notes in this one notebook and use tags to organize the content within it.

Evernote Notebooks

Next Action Tags

My Next Action tags are very simple. Rather than using the “Context” as described by David Allen for GTD, I organize my next actions around the mode that I’m working in. I picked up this idea from Mike Vardy. The difference is that a “Context”, as described by David Allen, is more about where you are, while a “Mode” is about what you feel like doing at that moment.

By working on tasks that are in the same mode I can jump from one to the next without switching gears and losing focus. All of my Next Action tags start with an @. This makes them easy to find when typing into Evernote search and when tagging items.

Here are some examples of my Next Action tags.

  • @agenda – Items I need to discuss with others.
  • @chores – Chores I need to do when I’m at home.
  • @development – Tasks that require me to write code.
  • @documentation – Tasks that require me to write documentation or technical design.
  • @errands – Tasks that need to be done while I’m not at home or work.
  • @planning – Tasks that involve planning. I like to do these tasks together while I’m in the zone.
  • @read-review – Items I want to read or watch later.
  • @waiting for – Tasks that are being worked on by others that I need to follow-up on. (I like to keep this one full.)
  • @writing – Blog posts that I’m writing and ideas for future blog posts.

Horizons of Focus Tags

In addition to Next Action tags I also tag content based on the project or topic it belongs to. I find that organizing the tags in a hierarchical outline helps me think of other projects that I may want to work on. I also keep active projects separate from inactive projects. Here is a snippet of how my project tags are organized. Notice that the actual project tags start with a . (dot). Again, this is to make them easy to find when tagging new items or searching across Evernote.

Evernote Horizons of Focus

Other Tags

I use tags for other things as well. But I don’t spend time organizing them. I just put them in an “Other” bucket and generally use them when searching in Evernote.

Reminders and Calendar

While I generally do not to assign a due date to my tasks, I do use Evernote Reminders to remind me to review things on certain days. This could be a reminder to send a weekly status report, or just to change the air filters in my house every six months.

If I do have tasks that should be completed on or before a specific day I block off time on my calendar to work on that project. By utilizing my calendar to block off time I get a better sense of how my week looks and how busy I am with important tasks. It also lets others, who want to book meetings, see that I’m busy working on things.

Putting it all together

  • Capture – Any ideas I have, tasks I need to process, articles to read, email to review, or anything else that I need to work on will go into the inbox.
  • Process – I go through each item in the inbox and either do it (if it takes less than 2 minutes), or tag it appropriately and move it to the cabinet. I don’t actually do any of the work from the inbox (unless it takes less than a couple of minutes).
  • Organize – About once a week (usually Sunday night) I’ll review my tags and make sure everything is up to date.
  • Execute – If I have time blocked off on my calendar for a specific project or task, I’ll work on that. If not, I’ll pick a Next Action tag that makes the most sense based on where I am and the energy I have. I then start working on those tasks.
  • Complete – When a task is complete I simply remove the Next Action tag. The note is always available as reference but no longer appears in my Next Actions list. Since each task is also tagged with a project, I can quickly see everything for that project in one list of notes by selecting that project tag.

Evernote Tags

Conclusion

While my process is always changing over time, this is how I work today. I find it interesting to see how others organize the work they need to get done. I hope sharing my approach is helpful to others who are trying to get work done using Evernote.

How I organize Evernote for GTD – Getting things done with Evernote tags.

As a solutions architect I constantly have a huge list of tasks that need to be completed. For the longest time I have used Microsoft Outlook to manage my tasks which worked okay at first, but over time it turned into huge list of red (overdue) tasks. I discovered that “date” driven tasks don’t work well for me. I was constantly rescheduling tasks and always feeling behind.

Continue reading How I organize Evernote for GTD – Getting things done with Evernote tags.

Evernote adds “Reminders” to help you remember

Evernote, the service that helps you “Remember Everything”, has added Reminder functionality to its service. Currently only available in IOS and the web version of Evernote, the this functionality allows you to tag notes with a reminder. You can set a date to be reminded if you choose, and you can see your reminders grouped by notebook as well.

This new feature has been long awaited by Evernote users, but how does it stack up? The implementation seems very basic at the moment, however, it will most definitely be improved over time. Check out the video below to see how it works!