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August 22
Outlook Tagging and Metadata

One of the biggest troubles with the amount of data people have is that it's not always easy to find it. Textual data is usually pretty easy, especially if it exists within a larger system such as Outlook, on an Exchange server, OneNote, EverNote, or that kind of thing. Full text search is fast and accurate today, not to mention that those types of systems give you metadata such as creation date, and communications are inherently tagged by the participants of the communication.

I recently wrote about using Outlook on an Exchange server as a journaling system, which has a few advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that you can use tagging, and for me, I'm in Outlook both on my personal and work systems all day long, so it is an easy place to go make a note of something. The biggest disadvantage is that no current mobile phones have implemented the journal function, nor does the webmail, so it's only really good if I've got a Surface with me or I'm at one of my more stationary computers.

The thought process that ensued, though, was how to use tagging. The idea was that if I was tagging things, in my calendar, email, and in the journal, I might more easily be able to find them. For example, if in the journal, I use the "stenoweb" tag to talk about systems at home or improvements to the server, I can quickly find those entries more easily. OneNote has a similar idea, but right now, I use OneNote a lot, but I don't use a lot of OneNote, and so I'm relying purely on full text searching to find specific things again.

One of the interesting possibilities in Outlook is that I might be able to re-align my tags (it should be understood that "tags" here really means "categories", but you could also place hashtags in the text of a journal entry or another communication, if you wanted to) to work well for the journal, email, and the calendar.

It depends on what your philosophy for categories is, however, and it seems like everybody's got a different one. Some are based on locations, some based on importance, some based on different kinds of tasks, and so on.

Right now, my categorization in Outlook at work involves the type of task I'll be doing: ticket callbacks, being unavailable for personal reasons, team/department meetings, and being unavailable as coverage for other people to take lunch. At home, my categorization is a lot less rigid, because I have different types of things on that calendar. Pretty generically, I have "work stuff", "medical", as well as adventures and a few other things.

I think the opportunity to reframe my calendar tagging is important, and it's something I'll probably end up doing. Some of the tags, like work stuff make sense. Medical should probably be split into "medications" and "appointments" and different categories can be set up for things I need to do at home, for financials, chores, among other things.

A lot of this relates to questions about how I'm using OneNote, and other things. In general, I was using OneNote for most of my day-to-day organization, but there's probably a lot of things I could be doing in Outlook to either replace or supplement the way I use OneNote. For example, I might be able to use a secondary Tasks list to store links I want to read, and other things I want to read. (This would help reduce the impact of the fact that my daily notes in OneNote are very ephemeral and I haven't maintained a single "to-read" list for a while – plus, my Macs and iPhone/iPad can access tasks lists.)

Another potentially interesting function of Outlook on an Exchange server is folder sharing, either with a delegated shared mailbox, or another person. Shared calendars, task lists, etc might work well to improve how people coordinate. I'm sure these things are commonly used (and probably even used in conjunction with SharePoint!) in big organizations, but it would be interesting to see the impact in a very small environment.

I'll probably be changing how I use Outlook in an effort to focus exactly how I use OneNote.


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