Get organized and stay organized: book review

Take Back Your Life: Using Microsoft Outlook 2007 to Get Organized and Stay Organized by Sally McGhee and John Wittry


Review by Grant T. Smith

My goodness, what have I gotten myself into? I was looking for a nice end-of- summer book to givTake Back Your Life - Book Review - Clearline CPAe me a few simple email tips. Instead, I got a world of hurt. But as they say, what does not kill you makes you stronger. So I am taking my medicine.

In Take Back your Life! Using Microsoft Outlook 2007 to Get Organized and Stay Organized, the authors promise: “When you start to use Microsoft Office Outlook in a more disciplined way, you’ll find remarkable freedom. You’ll create quality time at home, reduce your e-mail quantity, honour (sic) your agreements, and feel more relaxed and in control.” Sounds good to me.

The first 100 or so pages of this book deal with “collection points.” Collection points, according to McGhee, are the places where you receive work, tasks or commitments. In my case, I receive information from my answering machine at home, my answering machine on my cell phone and my answering machine at the office – and all that when I miss your phone call! If I answer the phone, the collection point for the information I receive becomes my note pad, or maybe a sticky on my desk, or possibly my head. Regardless, I have just added another series of potential collecting points. This clutter forms piles on the desk or in the head. Besides what was outlined above, another of our author’s promises is to minimize this clutter by reducing collection points. Nirvana, right! I am all in for this, as I think they just described my exact reason for buying the book.

The authors describe the typical Outlook book as one that will teach individual features and show tips and tricks that will assist in using the basic resources of the software, whereas this one goes much further. In Take Back Your Life, we get guidance on:

  • Defining collection points and assisting the user to eliminate extras that clutter the office, the desk, the car, etc. For example, I use multiple notebooks, sticky notes, computer sticky notes and perhaps the most abusive according to the authors, my head;
  •  Aligning your tasks and projects with your strategic objectives;
  • Scheduling your activities and work days to realize the limits of your abilities and therefore successfully meet your obligations;
  • Emptying your inbox, paper and email;
  • Reviewing objectives regularly and reassessing priorities and obligations.


I found it quite interesting, when I was researching a book of this nature, that this one had lots of positive feedback about its completeness. It does receive some criticism about the work involved to set it up, but generally the feedback and reviews were very positive.

What I didn’t understand, was why the book was written for Outlook 2007, when there have been many versions since then. I was relieved, and confirmed prior to buying, that the authors have published updated materials for future releases of Outlook (2010, 2013 and 2016). It does surprise me though that the book has not been released for at least one of these releases of Outlook.

This book, and the path it offers to the Promised Land, requires many hours of effort and practice. So I’ve undertaken to meet that obligation and to try and find that promised land. I picked it up on vacation, and spent a great deal of time over the last four or five days reorganizing, building lists, structuring my outlook screens, structuring my categories and subcategories and clearing my calendar.  I’m working with my staff to refine the expectations of my availability, to create uninterrupted work time in my day and to add value to the daily meetings that I have with my associates.

I’ve started to write emails with subject lines, which express the goals, dictate the required actions and provide people with deadlines. The goal is to reduce the number of questions that an email can generate and hopefully eliminate responses when no response is required thus reducing the number of emails in a day. I can tell you that today was the first morning I started writing emails with that kind of clarity and detail in the subject line. (My unofficial poll suggests that people will reply even when you tell them not to, but this is an investment and it takes time to retrain our expectations and or habits.)

This project will take at least a couple of months to complete. I will try to tweet a bit about the results and to provide an update in the next newsletter so you can follow the journey. If it truly works I would expect to roll it out amongst our staff and perhaps to offer coaching for people who are looking to break the pattern of addiction to email.


This is not yet a recommendation… Only hard work and perspiration and time will tell if this book lives up to its promise.