Such Happiness In Thought Happens

February 23, 2008

The value of Notes

Filed under: MS Office — Tags: , — Duane @ 9:44 am

It constantly amazes me that people who say they “know” how to use a program, know so little about it. And one of the big “holes” in their knowledge is the use of notes. Most people constantly keep things like information, detail, tasks and the like in their head, without writing it down. Or if they do write it down, it is stored chronologically, making it difficult to find the information that has been written down. Basically what was the point of the exercise? So today I would like to take a bit of time to look at a little used feature of Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Project – notes.

First up while Notes is a folder in Outlook, that is not what I am referring to at the moment. In the Calendar (Appointments, Meeting Requests, Events), Contacts and Tasks (Tasks and Task Requests) items there is this nice large area of white that can be used for anything – writing notes, attaching files, attaching Outlook items, even hyperlinks if desired. Rarely do I find that people make use of this area, which is a shame, especially for Contacts as you can keep a log of information about the contact or meetings with the contact in this area. As far as I am aware, this is virtually no limit to the amount of information that can be stored in this notes area (there is a limit, but it is a large one so doesn’t really apply).

Why would I use this area? To store any data you want to refer back to.  The value of this is that it is stored in the item. You could use the Notes area as a data dump of whatever is on your mind about that item, in Contacts it could be a record of meetings, conversations, and the like all stored in the one area for you to refer back to.
In Outlook there is the Insert menu when you open an Outlook item that allows you to add either an attachment (Insert>File) or another Outlook item (Insert>Item). If you would instead like to add a hyperlink to a file, instead of a copy of the file, when you use Insert>File, select the file you wish to hyperlink to and then click on the drop-down arrow beside the Insert button and choose Insert as Hyperlink. The value of a hyperlink is that it does not take up as much file space as the inserted attachment, and it is the latest uptodate file, instead of a copy of the file at the time of the insertion.

The Notes folder of Outlook can be used for anything you want to be reminded about, eg. alarm codes, procedures, and things you need to use once in a blue moon. And this is even better if you sync your Outlook with a mobile, PDA or SmartPhone. A Note in Outlook is a textbox; there are no menus, toolbar icons, etc. There is a menu – it is the Note icon in the top right hand corner.

Microsoft Project has the same functionality for its tasks and resources. If you ever double click on a task you bring up a Dialog Box called Task Information, and the same happens with resources and Resource Information. One of the last tabs in this new Dialog Box is called Notes and it allows you to write anything about that task or resource that is applicable. Thus if there is a problem on a task, if the person were to type in the problem details in the Notes area of Task Information, it could then be retrieved at a later date easily when required. Plus in the Gantt Chart if the Indicator column is visible, a yellow Post it Note icon appears and when you hover over the icon it shows the Note information. If a review is conducted after a project has completed, all the notes are available in each task for review purposes if required. When printing the Gantt Chart you can make Notes visible, when viewing/printing a report depending upon the report you can also make Notes available.

If you do start using Notes in either Outlook or Project, sit down for a moment and think about the process you would like to use. What I mean is have structured Notes to make it easier to understand the entries. For example, start all Notes with the date you are writing the note; always have the most recent Note on top; if more than one person is adding Notes, include the initials so everyone knows who wrote the note, etc. Having some sort of structure makes it extremely easy to read the history of the notes.

So notes in Outlook or Project can be useful if you can think of an application for them. If you do not have a CRM, you can use Outlook Contacts to record relevant client information; you can be more proactive with Tasks and Appointments/Meetings; and in Project you can have an easy to find history of what happened in your project if you use one aspect of the program.

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