I began working at Lotus Software on the Lotus Notes product in 1990. I was already familiar with the Notes concept, having used VAX Notes while working at Digital Equipment Corp. But Lotus Notes was different, particularly because you could create and host your own Lotus Notes database on a personal computer. (VAX Notes required a server.)
Even though I had some general knowledge about Lotus Notes, I was also overwhelmed in the new job. There were so many tasks to complete, and each task seemed to have multiple parts. After a stressed out night with little sleep, I arrived at a solution: I would create a Lotus Notes database to help me track all my tasks. Each task would be categorized in various ways, and I would record its priority, when it was due, and when it was completed.
While this use of computers may seem mundane now, it was quite unusual at the time. Being able to quickly design a customized database application, with no programming, was a new capability that Lotus Notes brought.
I used the resulting Things To Do database for my personal tasks, and then expanded it when I became a manager. My team used the Lotus Notes application to track all the tasks for creating the Notes C-language API, through many releases.
When it came time for our annual performance reviews, the database was especially useful. We could just go to the view of completed tasks, sorted by date finished, and print it for our managers.
Lotus Software placed my Things To Do database on their FTP server for several years, and it was one of the most popular downloads. Recently, the database has been unavailable however.
For this tip, I revived the application and updated it for Lotus Notes 6 and Lotus Notes 7. The core ideas remain the same, but I made the application more flexible with user-definable keywords and cleaned up the appearance. (Did I really think that bright magenta was a nice background?)
You will find Things To Do helpful as a strictly personal database, and for teams of users. The database can significantly reduce time wasted in meetings, because there is little need for traditional status reports. The team manager can see, at all times, who is working on which project, and when each task is completed.
A manager can also (within reason) assign new tasks to team members without a meeting. By entering a task in the group copy of the Lotus Notes database, the task immediately appears for all team members to see.
The revised database, called Things To Do 2, is available on my Downloads page.
Here are some technical details about the application that you will find useful:
- The comments field on the task form is rich-text, so you can attach project documents, such as specifications and letters.
- There is a task response form, so team members can post information and updates about a task, without editing the main task document.
- The four lists of keywords (status, priority, project name, category) are user editable in the Settings view. Within each keyword list, you can also control the default field value.
- I did not link the Assigned To field with the Domino Directory, but left it as a plain editable text field. The reason is that this kind of name linkage is problematic. What if your team is small, but the directory contains 5,000 names? Or, what if you want to assign a task to someone who is not in the directory? In my experience, it is easier to leave some name fields as free text.
If you improve the application design, or find any bugs, please let me know and I will include your changes in the next version.
About the author: Chuck Connell is president of CHC-3 Consulting, which helps organizations with all aspects of Lotus Notes and Domino.