Our last post, on the importance of naming your files, folders and email consistently was just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more to a typical work project than documents and correspondence. What about our contacts, tasks, and appointments?
Much like email subject lines and file names, you can include the project name in your meetings, so “Weekly Status Meeting” becomes “Project Exodus – Weekly Status Meeting”.
You can do the same for tasks, so that “Create new website” becomes “Project Exodus – Create new website”.
This gives you an essential bit of context for working with these items, and helps you filter out unwanted distractions from your day.
But what about contacts? The most important part of any project is the people involved, and we haven’t discussed a naming convention that would allow us to know at a glance which project (or projects) a particular individual might be involved in.
Unlike email or files, there’s no subject line or file name to change here. While we can glean some information from the name of the organization, or at the least from domain of the email address, we’d like to be as consistent with our contacts as we are with our other project information.
We could add the name of the project to the Notes field, but in most email or contact systems, that information won’t be displayed until you ask to see detailed contact information. That defeats our whole purpose, which is to quickly figure out how we know this guy and what project we’re working with him on.
The best place to add that project context is in the Categories field, an under-appreciated element of the official vCard standard for contact information. Categories are so often forgotten, that despite being a part of the official standard for more than a decade, many contact systems either call it something entirely different (in the Apple Address Book, categories are called Groups) or fail to implement it altogether (ahem, Lotus, Google, Mozilla, cough).
Categories are a great for figuring out whether a particular contact in your virtual Rolodex is a member of the softball team or that mission-critical project that’s due tomorrow. Or perhaps both — as its name implies, the Categories field can include multiple labels.
With a combination of file names, subject lines, and categories, you can attach a consistent project name to most of the common information types on your computer. It takes a tiny bit of effort to get the name right, but you’ll be rewarded every time you search for that person, appointment, or document.
Better yet, having your work clearly labeled makes it more likely that your coworkers will read and find your email later on their computers. Anything that saves us having to retype or resend mail, documents, or meeting announcements is a step in the right direction.