Book Review: Take Back Your Life! Using Microsoft Outlook(R) to Get Organized and Stay Organized

Janet Barclay

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For a long time, I believed Microsoft Outlook to be a powerful yet highly underutilized time management tool, but was frustrated because the courses I took covered only the basics, and none of the books I read went sufficiently in depth to satisfy my desire to use this program to its full capacity. Then I discovered Sally McGhee's book, Take Back Your Life! which outlines steps for creating a system to help you to maximize productivity and take control of your personal and professional life.

Some of McGhee's recommendations are similar to those found in other time management books; for example:

  • Implement personal boundaries to allow scheduled, uninterrupted work time.
  • You can't create more time; you can only make the most of the time you have by setting priorities.
  • Process and organize your e-mail (and paper mail) by following the four D's for decision making (Delete/Do/Delegate/Defer)
  • For me, the most valuable part of the book explains that to effectively use the Outlook Task list, it is helpful to create planning categories to keep track of objectives and supporting projects, and action categories to keep track of the individual tasks to be completed. Instead of using Outlook's default categories such as “Client" and “Personal, " McGhee suggests placing all telephone calls in one category so you can quickly and easily make those calls when you have time between appointments. Similarly, having all errands in one category will make it easier to keep track of them and reduce the number of trips you have to make.

    Ms. McGhee understands that technology facilitates increased productivity only when users know how to use its features to full advantage, and are willing to let go of ineffective habits. Willingness to make behaviour changes is a key component of her system, as some of the strategies she describes will be quite foreign to many, particularly those who struggle with structure and details.

    One drawback is that to rely fully on Outlook for time management requires the use of a Pocket PC or similar device, and I have met many people who are not prepared to give up their paper planners. Nonetheless, although Take Back Your Life! is primarily about using Outlook, it offers many helpful time management tips that may be adopted even by non-Outlook users.

    Janet Barclay, Organized Assistant, offers a variety of professional quality services to support entrepreneurs and other individuals who are overwhelmed by the demands and technology of the 21st century. For further information or to request a subscription to her monthly ezine, The Organized Assistant Resource, please visit her website at


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