Colorful Bits of Sanity

There are lots of tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that I use to keep me organized and on track. Since this blog appears on the ReachFarther site (‘cause, ya know, that’s where I work) I suppose I should focus on the things I do and use to keep my projects inline, our clients satisfied, my boss happy, and my sanity intact. Today, I’m going to share with you the joy of Outlook’s Color Categories.

Outlook 2007 has a sweet little feature called Color Categories. They’re basically a color-coded tagging system to help you organize just about anything in Outlook. These beautiful little pieces of sanity are fully customizable. Pick a color from one of twenty-five colors (or create a colorless one) and assign it a meaningful label. Now you’re able to assign your category to emails, tasks, appointments, and even contacts. Furthermore, you can assign as many categories to a single item as you see fit.

More than just a way to make your inbox (and task list, contact list, and calendar) more colorful and cheery, they also:

  • Provide a quick way to visually see who you’re receiving email from, what project it’s regarding, whether it’s personal or business related, or any other classification you decide to use.
  • Designate Search Folders based on your categories that allow for fast indexing and gathering of items

Along with the color categories, I make use of Outlook’s Rules and have Outlook automatically assign categories to emails as they come in. Having Outlook assign the categories for me based on a set of rules really streamlines the whole process.

Everyone’s idea of a successful organization system is different, but for me, I have the following setup: I use a few global categories like !Important, !ReviewThis, @Work, and Personal. Then I have a series of categories for each of our clients. I also have a couple special categories such as ‘Coding’ and ‘SQL/DB’.

How does my system work? Well, if have an email discussion regarding programming techniques or tricks, I tag it with my ‘Coding’ category. I also have a search folder setup for the Coding category. Likewise, I might tag a database maintenance item on my calendar with ‘SQL/DB’ along with a tag for the client or project this item applies to.

Microsoft has a great video tutorial on their site for organizing your Outlook inbox. One section of the video goes over Outlook’s Color Categories in detail and I definitely recommend setting aside a few minutes and checking it out. It’s a great way to understand the full versatility of color categories and how they can help get your organized and on the road to saving time.

One last note: One of Outlook’s default rules is to clear categories upon receiving mail. Without turning this off, this means if my boss creates a new mail message and assigns a category to it, once he sends it to me and it passes through Outlook’s rules filter, specifically the clear categories rule, Outlook strips the category my boss assigned. For lots of reasons, this may be a good thing, but for my work email where the majority of it is internal communications, I prefer to keep the categories assigned by my co-workers. Therefore, I turn this rule off.

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