Outlook Tasks is my crack (and organizes it well, too…)

Being April 1st, I had a joke all set up for today. Had it all planned–was going to turn the Cafe into a squirrel’s paradise. All squirrels, all the time. I had pictures of squirrels doing all sorts of tricks, water-skiing, wearing little crochet hats. I was going to replace Daniel’s Word of the Month with Squirrel of the Month. All sorts of goofy stuff. It was going to be funny, trust me.

However, instead of working on the blog yesterday, I spent it on reinstalling Outlook 2000. Yeeeuck.

Sometime last year, Microsoft released their beta of Office 2007, which meant that anyone could test it for several months. We already had Office 2000, but my hubby downloaded it because hey, free software. I was more ambivalent about it. I had no problems with Outlook–getting an upgrade for several months was fine and good, but I didn’t really see the point. It’s not like we can afford to get 2007. Why play around with features we’ll probably never use again?

Actually, I have more of a bone to pick with Outlook 2007. Sure, the categories are all color coded in Outlook, you get an expandable to-do list bar, you can hide the toolbars, keeping only what you really use. But it really screwed with my email layouts. It wouldn’t download embedded pictures, so if you’re sent me a email card, it breaks it apart into pieces that I have to view bit by bit. All done in the name of security, but a royal pain for viewing most of my email. What was worse was that it viewed any attachment with high suspicion–even attachments that came from its very own program. I once attached a journal shortcut to a task, and not only did Outlook disabled the shortcut–removing it from the task completely, but every time I closed the task, an annoying window popped up stating that I had attached an unsafe shortcut and that I must delete it. Dude, first of all, it’s an shortcut to to a Journal item–your own program. Second, since you removed it anyway, I can’t delete it! How stupid is that?

Because of this, I wasn’t really broken up as the end date for the beta testing approached. I didn’t mind going back to Outlook 2000. In fact, I looked forward to it. Until my hubby said, “I don’t want to reinstall Office 2000. It’s too buggy and it doesn’t have a decent spam blocker.”


Now, I know all you Microsoft haters will come rallying to his cause. Microsoft is evil, blah, blah, blah. Use Thunderbird. It’s free sourceware and much, much better. And you are right. Thunderbird works very well as an email client. If all I used Outlook for was emails, then I would have switched to Thunderbird a long time ago. But here’s the reason why I open Outlook every day and keep it open:

Its Task function make for an awesome, kick-ass manuscript tracker.

Back when I was a working woman at the Reformed Church in America, I stumbled upon the ability to customize forms in Outlook. It’s actually pretty neat. You can find the feature under “Forms” “Design a Form” toolbar. Basically, you can add custom fields to any Contact, Task, Journal or Calendar form in Outlook. I did a lot of playing around with it when I needed to keep a database of churches and their givings to missionaries. Instead of duplicating all the contact information in a standalone database, I decided to redo the Contact form to reflect more of the type of information I needed instead of the generic info Outlook already displayed. For instance, I put in mission chairperson names, church information like pastor info, mission giving history, etc. I even pimped it out a bit by adding some pictures of anime characters, changing the background, etc. It wasn’t simple–I spent a lot of time on it, particularly since I never really had any training on say Visual Basic or anything. I simply did a lot of creating and dragging of custom fields. But dang it, I was proud of what I ended up with.

When I started writing full-time at home, I soon realized that with all the stories I wrote, I needed a way to keep track of them all. I had downloaded manuscript tracking software and tried them out, freeware and shareware, but none of them really had what I wanted. There was one that did meet my needs pretty well, but it was shareware, it had several modules that could only be open one at a time (for instance, its publisher contact module was separate from the others).

What I wanted was a way to keep things in one place. I wanted to keep track of my writing, to show If it was an essay, short story, or a Willow chapter. I wanted to see its status, whether it was in editing mode, ready to send out, or if I should shelve it. I wanted to list at a glance all the stories I had out circulating among markets, or to show uncompleted projects. If a email comes from a market I wanted to keep, I wanted to make a note of it, maybe a shortcut. What I needed was a way to manage all my projects from conception to print, and keep contacts of all the publishers I sent it to. Hmmm…what could keep contacts and projects at the same time?

Redoing the form was easy, though I’ve forgotten how to change the backgrounds. But when I finished, I had something like this (click on it to see a larger image):

My Task Form

Once I finished created it, all that was left was to set up the Task pane views. Using filters and automatic formatting, I could set a view in the task list so that it only showed all my writing projects, which ones I was waiting to hear from, which ones I was currently working, etc. I could even show what stories needed following up (again, click on the image to get a larger view):

Writing view

With Outlook tasks, I could link projects to Contacts or keep a log of time I spent on each project using Journal. I didn’t need any extra programs to keep track of my writing. Outlook was all I needed. And besides, I also used Outlook tasks for my daily tasks as well. I practically live in Outlook tasks. It’s my crack, so to speak. I can’t work well without it. How else can I keep my life, such as it is, organized?

So I asked my hubby to let me keep Outlook, though instead of using the intelligent argument outlined above, I resorted to foot-stomping and whining. “You can’t just take it away just like that! I need Outlook! Ohpleaseohpleaseohpleeeeeeeease let me keep it!”

Finally, my hubby relented. He’s going to look into getting a license for Outlook 2003, which is a step up from 2000 and a little better on security issues. In the meantime, I took off 2007 and reinstalled 2000, which meant that I had to recreate my task views, but in light of keeping my sanity, I felt it was necessary. When I want to go back to writing on Monday I don’t want to deal with spending several hours refamiliarizing myself with 2000 again.

So, in a nutshell, that’s why I didn’t do any April Fool’s Jokes. And now that I look at the time, it’s no longer April 1. Oh well. Happy April Fool’s Day anyway!



2 Responses

  1. […] which served more as a backup for me since I also keep track of my submissions through Outlook, which I have written about in an earlier post (I have since upgraded to Outlook 2007 and added a few more custom fields, like keeping track of […]

  2. […] I went full-time, I used to keep track of all my short story submissions in Outlook. It had been super useful. But then my job became more intense and my short story output sank so […]

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