Some Outlook Relief Perhaps

Date Published: 02 July 2007

Some Outlook Relief Perhaps

I get a lot of email, like many people in our industry. A lot of it is SPAM, but it's rare that any of that makes it to my inbox between SpamBayes and server-side anti-spam stuff running at ORCSWeb (the best hosting company around, IMHO). Nonetheless, I tend to get inundated even with real email that requires my attention, and in order to get much software development work done, I have to turn off Outlook entirely sometimes. This is sage advice (multi-tasking reduces total productivity – it's in several books like Getting Things Done), but unfortunately for me it only means that when I do open Outlook it's gone and added that many more mails for me to deal with.

Recently, however, I installed a tool called ClearContext that I'm falling in love with. I heard about it from Scott Cate, who came to visit recently. We did a fair bit of knowledge sharing (he hadn't seen Terminals yet, which of course rocks for managing remote pc connections), and he was recently in love with this tool. After seeing a couple of its features, I had to try it.

I haven't yet gotten into the product enough to try all of its features, but the one that appealed to me most I'm starting to love. I use a ton of Outlook rules and folders to keep my email volume somewhere approaching manageable, but it often happens that I won't file something from my inbox because **it is simply too painful to dig through the treeview to find the folder it goes in.**Dragging messages from the center list view to the left Mail Folders tree view is only viable if the folder I'm looking for is already there – if it's somewhere above or below, then it's a total waste of time to try and drag a message. The scroll rate is like 2 folders per second, which isn't nearly fast enough. The real problem is that I have too many folders and no way to filter them besides the hierarchy provided by the treeview.

The solution provided by ClearContext is to break out of the hierarchical filter mode and provide text filtering. I'm a very fast typist, so using the keyboard to speed up my filing instead of dragging things around with the mouse is just fine with me. And in practice it works great. Let's say I have a folder somewhere called Friends. I get an email from a friend of mine I haven't talked to in a while. I don't have a rule set up, so it goes to my inbox. Using ClearContext, I can file the message either when I reply or just while it's in my inbox, but either way, after clicking File I can just type "fr" and I immediately see a very short list of folders that include the string "fr" in them. In my case, Friends is at the top of the list and highlighted, so I just hit Enter and it's filed. Compared to my previous option of creating a rule (not as fast) or searching for the Friends folder manually and then manually dragging the message into it with the mouse (totally not fast), this is saving me a couple of seconds per message. Multiplied by hundreds of messages.

Anyway, you can read more about the features on their web site. There's a free personal edition. So far it's working very well for me.

Steve Smith

About Ardalis

Software Architect

Steve is an experienced software architect and trainer, focusing on code quality and Domain-Driven Design with .NET.