Some four years later, by then in my second cure, a small parish across town from St Luke's, I stepped up to the Franklin Planner, a marvelously integrated personal management system contained in one very solemn-looking ("Monarch" size) black leather seven-ring binder. Carrying that thing around (and feeling like I would need to open a vein should I ever lose it), I impressed even myself.
That held me for about the next eight years, but I eventually went paperless, all of a sudden, in 2001, with the purchase of my first laptop, which, when asked nicely, talked to my Palm Pilot PDA. And I have never looked back. As much as I loved my Franklin Planner, moving beyond it was a good decision for me.
So that's how I became addicted to Microsoft Outlook. It came automatically loaded on my Dell Inspiron laptop (running Windows 2000). For a while I used Franklin's (by that time Franklin Covey) proprietary software, but soon acquired F-C's Plan Plus for Outlook, an add-on that brings a more robust functionality to the process of task planning. (It does other things as well, but that's pretty much what I wanted it for.) This arrangement served me quite well for a number of years, and despite occasional techno-glitches with a succession of devices that succeeded the Palm Pilot, I was relatively techno-happy.
Then, two years ago, I moved to my present venue, where they had (and indeed still have) a fancy arrangement known as a Microsoft Exchange Server. Danger, Will Robinson: Unless you're part of a large organization that has an in-house IT staff, don't ever get a Microsoft Exchange Server. It's like the Borg: It will assimilate you. Resistance is futile. Outlook suddenly stopped playing nice with PlanPlus, even though I purchased and installed a series of upgrades, thinking, "Maybe they've finally worked out the bugs." Data would evaporate from my hard drive, only to turn up later somewhere on the server--or not, sometimes. Syncing became a nightmare of caprice, never working the same way twice. I almost bought a Mac--that's how bad it got!
Now, I am pleased to say, I am a recovering Outlook addict, with nearly two months of Outlook sobriety behind me. It's getting easier every day. Naturally, you are intensely curious as to how I actually have a life without Microsoft Outlook (and, for that matter, Microsoft Exchange). Well, here's how:
I've gone to Google Calendar for my calendar needs. In fact, the whole office has. Nobody uses Outlook. It's easy, it's free, and it does the job. Plus, I can access it on any computer in the world with an internet connection.
I made friends with Gmail's user interface. I've had a Gmail account for quite some time, but always found their interface a little off-putting, preferring to download my messages into client software ... like Outlook. (I had a brief flirtation with Thunderbird, but the Borg sucked me back in.) But a little tenacity has paid off, and Gmail's highly functional (and always improving) interface has won me over. I now prefer it to any client software that I've seen.
I exported my Outlook contacts into Gmail's contacts. Very easily done, and all my contact information is a click away from my inbox.
For task management, I signed up for a Nozbe account. It costs me $14/month, but I could chop that by 75% with a two-year commitment, and I expect I will do so very soon. Nozbe is based on the Getting Things Done method of task management. I should probably actually read the book, but a series of very helpful training videos takes the pressure off needing to do so. Nozbe has an iGoogle version that I have conveniently embedded on my iGoogle home page (which I use on the desktop computer at home).
I signed up for an account (free) with Evernote, and downloaded their desktop software. Evernote replaces the Notes function in Outlook, but is a great deal more robust in its features. I have only yet begun to explore its capabilities, and expect to be using it much more than I even am at present.
I bought an iPhone. Best technological decision I have ever made. It has been a quantum leap in the experience of personal management. I used to dread the thought of receiving email on my phone, since I have a difficult time managing one inbox, let alone two. But the syncing is seamless and in real time. When I "manage" my inbox in one place, it's taken care of in the other. The same goes, of course, for contacts and calendar. Nozbe and Evernote both have iPhone apps, so I'm able to capture ideas and tasks right when they come to me, literally anyplace except the shower (which is still a problem, since a lot of ideas come to me in the shower!).
So what do I miss about Outlook? Three things, really:
1) Outlook is pretty. The Office 2007 version, running on Vista, is really quite visually attractive. Google, for all its imaginative functionality, still hasn't come up with anything quite so aestheticallyt appealing.
2) Outlook's calendar features are almost infinitely flexible and adaptable. I miss being able to schedule a repeating task or event in virtually any way I can imagine, and being able to color-code different categories of events. I hope both Google and Nozbe begin to catch up in these areas.
3) Outlook is integrated. I admit, that appeals to me perhaps more in concept than in actual execution, but it's something I miss.
So ... if I were a software engineer, I would be going after the Holy Grail of personal management: An integrated one-stop application that is stunningly beautiful, feature-rich and customizable, with seamless syncing between its resident app, its web-based mirror, and its iPhone app--the best of all possible worlds. OK, all you wonks, get to work!