I need help integrating Omnifocus with Outlook at work

Hi, I’m a long time lurker here and have been using OmniFocus for about a year. I’m looking for some suggestions from people who may be in a similar position as I am.

I work for a gigantic dinosaur of an organization. We run locked down Windows 7 PCs with Microsoft Office 2013. No software can be installed and most of the public internet is blocked. Unfortunately, a huge portion of my work comes in as emails through Outlook 2013. As a mid-level manager, I receive email requests that require action from many other people by a certain deadline. I forward these emails and impose a slightly shorter deadlines. Responses come in from people at different times and things become extremely complicated as I try to locate and compile all the different responses. For the last year, I’ve utilized Outlook 2013’s task management system to handle these requests, while putting all of my other actions (requiring work from just me) into OmniFocus for Mac (I bring my own Macbook to the office). I have to say OmniFocus has already been of tremendous value to me in this limited capacity.

Over the past several months, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the way Outlook handles tasks. In addition to tasks disappearing from Outlook (being triggered as “done” without any input by me), I can’t organize this work as effectively as I can in Omnifocus. I find Outlook unintuitive and archaic. I recently started manually creating Omnifocus tasks for all of these email assignments. While this has been very effective in helping me stay on top of my work, I have yet to develop a good workflow to accomplish this. I spend way too long sifting through Outlook, searching for the emails identified in my Omnifocus tasks. To give you some perspective, I receive almost 100 emails a day and must archive all of them.

I apologize if this question is too specific to Outlook but I was hoping that someone may be able to think of a better workflow than what I’ve cone up with. After many years of struggling with Outlook, I can’t continue to rely on it as a task manager. I want to use Omnifocus but there is still a lot of friction in my current workflow. My organization prohibits the forwarding of emails to the outside internet and so I can’t even take advantage of Mail Drop. Any ideas? Thank you in advance!

Can you implement a task tracking system for your organisation? So when you get a request via email, instead of sending out more email (and receiving it), you can create as many tasks as required in the system, with your deadline, assigned straight to the relevant people and your communication with them, regarding the task, is done via comments on said task. We use OpenProject like this and it works very well - and has significantly cut down on the amount of email too.
Then you just need to track which email has become which task(s) - which is probably doable in Outlook’s task system with a note on the email (as a task) containing the link(s), and the original due date of the task.

Bonus: it’s easy to see how many tasks are assigned to which people which makes things like sick leave much less “scrabble around to figure it all out”, and you can avoid assigning too many tasks to the same person.

Same situation here.

I‘ve got access to my business eMails, Appointments and Tasks on my Mac/iPad/iPhone, though. If that‘s your case as well, here‘s my solution:

Business PC Outlook keeps all the details and records. I created a rule that copies every mail (in&out) into a backup- .pst that is indexed to the max. So Inbox Zero is a daily task that‘s often achievable.

A Project that needs my attenntion gets a subfolder in Outlook. To brutally easily manage moving eMails into these many subsubfolders I use Techhit‘s SimplyFile (for a one-time fee that is really well spent). While you‘re at it, get QuickJump as well, to archive milestone emails and attachments in the Windows file system.
BUT I needed to get into the habit of renaming the header of the eMail where suitable so I‘ll recognize it again (that‘s an option in Outlook, then you can simply click&edit the header).
That project also gets a project in OF (either manually now or together with the first associated action).

When I am on the business PC, an action is created in Outlook (from an eMail: Ctrl Shift T), syncs to the Tasks folder of my business account on Apple and OF grabs it from there into the OF Inbox (compare the manual of OF - choose exactly one Apple device only to do the grabbing, this device then syncs OF to the others).
Add contexts etc and move it to the Project.

When I‘m on the go, an action is created by eMailing my OF sync account. That will put the eMail (with an absolutely horrible formatting) into my OF Inbox as well. Add contexts etc and move it to the Project.

Archive away closed stuff during the weekly review, at the latest.

A very very stringent triage between things I really want to START working on THIS week - and chaff /ideas etc. The latter get the context „noAction“ (or inherit it from the ideas-projects I have in my various area-of-live-folders in OF). Explanation is too lenghty… but don‘t plan using an empty context for that.

To better my overview I use a few tricks:

  1. In OF iOS I can‘t see WHEN an action has been created. I append „\date“ to the email / task. On iOS there‘s TextExpander for that.
  2. I don‘t have contexts for EVERYBODY in my org. I use generic contexts „\larger group or topic“ in OF and append „\name“ to the action
  3. I favor defer dates and leave due dates for top prio important stuff. A less-than-world-shaking due-date I put, you guessed it, „\due: date“ into the action name. People get used to my running thru the list whenever I meet them - and to getting tons of reminder mails whenever I do my weekly review) and tend to be more punctual (GTD best practice at work)
  4. I keep a running record of the project‘s status in the note of the project. Not evry project, but as soon as it starts to drag on or to involve different groups. First up, the stakeholders, so I know wh‘os been involved. Next, a list of dates (TextExpander to the rescue) with a really brief description. Recent dates always are inserted at the beginning of the block, so I get the gist even when the project is involved and occupies months.

Result is: I (only) have open actions in OF plus the complete Overview.
Don‘t use OF for your filing system (explanation is too lenghty). I‘ve got other (integrated) solutions for that, Goodreader, syncplicity and Synology‘s DSCloud and DSNote, if you need to know.

And that applies to personal actions and projects as well. So my whole life is in OF, as it should be for continued peace of mind thru GTD.

Addendum: in case you can‘t forward a mail when on the go, try iOS Dispatch. That mail client can create tasks in OF that contain a link directly to the email from which it was created from. Cave: I discontinued using it some months ago because it became unstable after som iOS-upgrade.
Test at your own risk.

Still another addendum:
In very specific cases, when on the go, I move a mail into a subfolder „Process@Business“ (or at Home) within the business outlook account, effectively creating a second inbox. OK for slow moving stuff, subscription news to file away and the like. Not ideal AT ALL for fast pacing and needs to be diligently emptied ona daily basis.
In your shoes, I‘d at least manually add a placeholder action (TextExpander again) into the associated project in OF.

OK, a last addendem, I promise.

The original GTD by David Allen is on a website you can google (GTD connect or suchlike). Subscription paywall for the details. But while I had been a subscriber for a year, I saw an absolutely magnificent manual for doing GTD on Outlook alone. Can‘t share it because of copyright and it‘s certainly outdated, but find and check the site.
You‘d have to give up integrating your business life into OF, which I was‘t willing to do. But you alteady seem to be ok with that, so… good luck and now L‘ll have to run