Ways that I would improve Outlook

Within MS Outlook, it seems that the electronic age has limited our abilities compared to what we had in the pre-computer era. Before the days of email, memos could be filed in folders of different colors, and we could add post-it notes or little notes in the margin to help with filing and adding context to the email. Further, our carbon copies were color coded to add some information about the purpose of the CC.

Here are my top three ways that we could improve productivity and make email communication more efficient, and effective by taking a step backwards in time.
1) Allow people to choose the color of or image representing each folder in the folder tree on the left. (colored file folders have been around for decades)

Doing this will give people the ability to associate people/places/things with the contents of the emails contained within. For example, if one were organizing a whitewater rafting trip with one’s friends, one might use a picture of a raft instead of a manila folder. Or, what about using color coding to indicate urgency of the emails within? For example, you could have a red folder for important/urgent emails that need action and a yellow folder for less important/urgent things.

2) Allow hash tagging (put a sticky note on a memo before you file it)

Speed up searching and categorizing of emails by allowing the sender AND the receiver to apply a hash tag to each of the emails. Hash tags added to the body of the email should travel with the email. Hash tags added elsewhere (by individual users) should only be associated with that particular email and should not travel with the email. Also, allow us to set up rules based on those hash tags.

3) Add custom address fields (color code the carbon copies)

To: and CC: are the only options we have? Really? Carbon Copy is the extend of our capabilities? We can’t even add color coding to the carbon copies – like Pink copy goes to shipping, or yellow goes to billing dept? Imagine how much easier it would be to manage the incredible volume of email that a typical manager gets if there were more than just To and CC. Imagine how much more productive we could be if we weren’t spending hours and hours every week reading emails that were intended for someone else, but we were copied on because… well… who knows why. Here are just some suggestions for optional addressing fields:

  • To:
  • CC:
  • FYI:
  • Action Required (AR):
  • Response Required (RR):
  • Input Appreciated (IA):
  • Feedback needed (FN):
  • CYA:
  • Looping You In (LYI):
  • Then, your email to the project manager could look like this…

    To: Cindy ProjectManager
    CC: Tom ProjectManagerAssistant
    FYI: Bill MyBoss; EmailGroupFromMeetingInvite
    IA: Dave FinanceDirector
    AR: Cindy ProjectManager
    FN: Alan ComputerProgrammer; Steve WebDeveloper
    Subject: ProjectName – Let’s talk about something

    I think we should have a separate conference call to discuss the topics that came up in today’s weekly meeting. I think Alan and Steve might have some good ideas on how we might overcome any obstacles. Specifically, they can speak directly to the web site’s current capabilities and any security issues. We’ll have to keep the budget in mind though! This one is getting close to the target cost already. I know Dave was keeping an eye on this one.

    Please provide a detailed list of enhancements that you’d like to see and schedule a meeting.

    Sincerely Yours,
    Pete ReallyGreatManager

    #ProjectName #BillingNo00123456 #WeeklyMeeting #NewIdeas #SecurityIssues #WebDevelopment #InterfaceDesign #UserExperience #FutureDevelopments

    Then, everyone can have rules set up to give the email the appropriate amount of attention. Since Bill was only in the FYI Line, he probably won’t need to read it and he can just file it away. Ditto that for everyone else on the original meeting invite group. Later, if he needs to get up to speed, the email is available to him but it hasn’t taken up any of his time before then.
    Dave can review the project’s remaining budget and comment if he thinks he should.
    Alan and Steve know that they need to reply with some meaningful feedback.
    Tom knows that he probably needs this information at the same level as Cindy, but isn’t officially accountable for it (unless Cindy says so of course).
    Cindy knows that her action is required on this.

    Everyone can file this away in the folder color/style of their choosing.
    Each can add their own private has tag to it and save it away with those tags.

    E-Books – We’re not quite there (yet)

    Do E-Books impair memory?

    I’ve found this to be the case. I certainly prefer paper books when doing any studying. There are a lot of things lacking in E-Books today. Eventually, I suspect we’ll get there. We’re just not there, today. I think that we need some kind of contextual sign posts along the way. E-Books need something more than just chapters and sections.

    As I have done quite a bit of business reading since graduation in December, I’ve noticed that many of these books follow a predictable pattern in their layout. They make a point. They explain the point. They relate a story or two to drive home the point. It occurred to me that if we could have each of those sections color coded and have the ability to rearrange them within a section/chapter we could accommodate many more learning styles. (Forgive me if I don’t use the correct terminology here, but I use the words I know.) Some people need to have the linear/analytic point of view first. Others would prefer to have the personal story portion first so that they can feel the emotion and want the solution before it’s provided. Some people don’t need the explanation; they just want the idea and the story. Others could do without the story entirely. Sometimes, one personal story driving home the point is enough and you could skip the second one offered by the author; other times, you need more than one.

    If a book could be rearranged or color coded allowing the reader to get at that which he/she needs most in the order that it’s needed to accommodate the reader’s learning style, E-Books could be so much more effective.

    Additionally, visual queues could be added behind the words so that we could “map” the book better in our mind. If we know that all of the points in a book related to a particular topic are watermarked with a circle, or a triangle or some other meaningful shape (related to the topic) and we could make those shapes searchable, we could improve the usability and effectiveness of E-Books for all users.

    Cognitive Surplus revisited

    This is exactly the kind of thing that could have been inspired by Cognitive Surplus. These kinds of projects are simple, easy to implement, have a gamification element to them, become viral and, most important, THEY WORK. I wish that book weren’t so painful to read and written backwards. It could have had a major impact on us.

    Any way, check out the TED talk after the link. Let me know what you think. Could it work where you live? What can you do to get it rolling? Do you have the technological background to initiate the creation of an app? Do you think you could rally the troops and gather the resources to get a project started in your community? Think about what needs to be done in your neighborhood. What could you do about it with a little bit of technology?

    Jennifer Pahlka: Coding a better government

    Here are some ideas – some with similar/example aps:
    Getting government the information they need, because some things shouldbe left to govt.

    • Alert your town to existing pot-holes: Example
    • Alert your town to just about ANY needed city service: My Council Services
    • Alert your police department of non-emergency things like abandoned cars.

    Getting your neighbors involved:
    An app…

    • …for block watch organizations to log suspicious activity.
    • …that allows you to earn points for picking up litter in your neighborhood.
    • …that encourages people to adopt a vacant building’s yard maintenance.

    Odometer YTD

    February Activities

    February Activities

    In February, I got some real miles under my belt.  I finished the month with a YTD total of 153.54 miles on the bike.  I’m really training hard for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell in May.


    The “Snowboarding” you see on that list is actually snow-kiteboarding.  My only session of the year and the first time I’ve had a kite in the air since October.