I really like David`s principles. However, they seem to be mostly concerned with producing a result. As a project manager, sometimes the method and path is as important as the outcome (especially when the outcome is not desireable). To that end, I have been developing a way to use Outlook to track pretty much everything I do while.
Everything MUST receive a category. Mails, contacts, tasks, journals, appointements, and invitations are assigned a category based on the project to which they are associated. I keep track of large projects through the category nomenclature "PRJ: XXXXXX." This allows me to identify my project categories quickly by grouping them together in the categories list.
Everything in Outlook CAN be assigned a category. Right click on a received mail message and you`ll see either a "categories" and/or, depending on the version of Outlook you are using, you`ll see an "Options" item. If you do not see categories, click options and you`ll be able to assign a category through that window. Same idea with Notes.
Contacts get assigned multiple categories because they are usually associated with more than one project.
If you wanted to go all out, you could even attach the documents you work with (Word, Excel, etc.) in a Journal item and assign the project category name to the journal entry.
Okay, so now that you have all of these categories assigned, how do you pull all of this data together? I`ve read about the "make a contact your project" solution but didn`t like it because it lacked one thing - synchronize-ability. I use a Pocket PC and everthing I grouped in Outlook would not group in my PPC. Likewise, I would not be able to manage data (add, modify, delete tasks, appointments, etc.) on my PPC and have it show up in any meaningful form in Outlook. My solution is simple - Advanced Find. The search criteria? Categories contains "PRJ: XXXXXX", search All Outlook Items. Viola. You have access to every (electronic) piece of data that you ever came across.
But the data is all jumbled together and difficult to read. Simple soultion - group the view by Folder. Now all journal entries, mails, notes, contacts, etc. appear in their neat groups.
How do we make this even easier?
Once the advanced find has all of your items listed you can save the search. File - Save As. You now have one link access to every piece of project data that exists.
I`m not sure about Palm, but you can search, view, sort by Category on PPCs. The only item that you canno assign categories to on the PPCs are Notes. There is even a third-party journal solution called CLC Journal.
So now you have access to all electronic data and the structure and info is completely manageable in both Outlook and a PDA.
If a project is short (a few weeks by my measure) I simply assign the category "Project" and put the project name as the subject heading. I do this because there are category items that are not projects so leaving the category blank for small projects would mix the data will non-project data.
If I want to view Next Actions, I simply view my Task list with no grouping. If I want to see it for a particular project, I group by Category.
Receive a task request via email? In the tree/folder view, simply drag that email to the Tasks icon. A task will be created with the email as the body of the task. All you need to do is add a title and a project category and click Save.
With Outlook 2003, things get even more convenient. Outlook 2003 has a "Shortcuts" view. Pretty much any file can be added as a shortcut. Since I organize projects in a Windows Folder, I have created for each project a shortcut for the folder and for the saved Advanced Search file listed above.
When a project is finished, I simply perform my advanced search for the project and then copy all of the items to a Windows Folder and Zip it to save space. I can then delete the category name and, if I wish, delete the outlook items associated with the category.
I now have in one zip file, all project documents but also, most importantly, those documents have context because they are grouped with every email, task, etc. that went into that project.
Using the methods above seem to allow me ultimate portability and flexibility in viewing my data.