This book is best used after working through one or two more generic workflow systems like David Allen's Getting Things Done and Sally McGhee's Take Back Your Life! The reason is that Linenberger's approach tends to assume mastery of those core skills and then take its reader deeper into somewhat technical aspects of Outlook's impressive capabilities.
Total Workday Control teaches the reader how to exploit a powerful piece of software. You'll need to look elsewhere for the personal work and life management skills that will make Linenberger's work helpful. He mentions these repeatedly and briefly, but not in enough depth to facilitate the kinds of change that most of need to implement in our lives.
Because of the semi-technical nature of the book, the best way to provide the prospective reader with an idea of what he or she is considering buying is a chapter-by-chapter review. Linenberger leads off by making his claims for how Total Workday Control will make you better (`Gaining Workday Control', pp. 9-22). Like Allen and McGhee, he chooses a bottom-up rather than top-down approach to gaining control of the information that bombards us. This is a worthy tactical decision, though in my judgment it needlessly discards the huge value that lies in engaging in a top-down review of one's life, values, and goals at the same time. In my own experience, employing both methods with a good coach produces the deepest change, a service that I will offer to executives under the `Cantabridge' label beginning in 2007.
Chapter two introduces the best practices that lie at the core of Linenberger's approach and provide its coherence (`The Best Practices of Task and E-Mail Management', pp. 23-39). I might as well tell you now what they are: 1, Tracking all tasks in Outlook Tasks System; 2, Using a master tasks list kept separate from your daily tasks list; 3, Using a simple prioritization system that emphasizes must-do-today tasks; 4, Writing only next actions on your daily task list; 5, Doing daily and weekly planning to keep your task lists up to date, 6, Doing daily and weekly planning to keep your task lists up to date; 7, Converting e-mail to tasks; 7, Filing e-mails using Outlook Categories; 8, delegating tasks in an effective manner.
This introductory presentation of the eight best practices is exceptionally well presented. Linenberger has given attention to how people actually absorb, retain, and act on information. In consequence, he's successfully avoided the pitfall of writing a mere software manual. In stark contrast to that dire possibility, he's given us a genuine learning tool.
Chapter three (`Configuring Outlook for Task Management', pp. 41-78) explains the minimal differences between Outlook 2002 and 2003, reassuring the reader that both will get the job done. The first word of his chapter title sets his book apart from Allen's and McGhee's. It's clear almost from the outset that you have to really want to benefit from Linenberger's approach in order to mine the gold that's available. He'll have you spend considerable time understanding and configuring Outlook, always with the promise--a reasonable one in my estimation that your time will be well invested in view of its results.
Look at it this way. David Allen's Getting Things Done is a Copernican Revolution that will shake your world. Sally McGhee traces the orbits of the planets in this new world. Linenberger wants you to understand how molecules work.
By the time you're a pair of pages into his fourth chapter (`Applying Task Management Best Practices in Outlook', pp. 79-206), Linenberger also has you well into the meat of his system. He's helping you build an infrastructure that will keep you handling email and managing tasks in a systematic way in order to free up your mind for its more important work. Linenberger is less concerned than some with keeping things simple, which is simply to underscore that he's writing for people who really want what he's got on offer. You'll find yourself working hard at installing the wiring of the author's system into your life, cheered on by occasional glimpses of how good things are going to get if you persevere.
Linenberger's chapter titles are neither accidental nor haphazard. In chapter five (Planning and Working Your Tasks in Outlook', pp. 107-126), he lays out the essential interplay between planning and working your tasks. David Allen's emphasis upon a weighty session of weekly planning is here slightly modified by complementing of it with a daily planning time that in Linenberger's system must come before you actually roll up sleeves and begin working your task list and its contents.
Chapter six (`Converting E-Mail to Tasks and Using Workflows', pp. 127-146) tackles what the author considers his most important best practice, with adequate justification for leaving it until now. He is a little more intense about leak-proofing the flow of tasks than Peter Allen, whose work has become a necessary reference for any current writing on time and workflow management.
Chapter seven (`Filing Your E-Mail Using Outlook Categories', pp. 147-188) presents a breakthrough method that by itself justifies the purchase of this book. Although Linenberger considers email filing to be fairly low on his list of best practices, his system delves into an area of weakness in most information management systems. Linenberger is candid about the up-front work that needs to occur in order effectively to file emails in the way he suggests. Not everyone will want to invest that time. However, project managers and executives who find themselves to be constant decision makers based on fluid information, Linenberger offers what I consider to be a long-awaited solution to effective and accessible storage of information, some of which is likely to prove valuable upon retrieval but with little predictability about which bits are destined for the ash heap and which will leverage a guy out of a precarious pickle.
Chapter eight (`Outlook-Based Delegation', pp. 189-198) moves into group dynamics and would do well as shared reading for work groups, leadership teams, and the like. Linenberger plies a careful course between the imposition of an information-management approach upon all members of a team--here he is more reticent than I am--and the relatively more passive `waiting for' approach popularized by David Allen.
Don't let chapter nine (`Advanced Topics', pp. 199-232) scare you away with its title. It's not all that complex and provides valuable follow-up to the basic skills Linenberger teaches prior to this final chapter. Like much of this book but perhaps more than the previous eight chapters, you'll want to return to this one for its reference-and-reminder character. A trio of appendices provides more of the same.
Though I think there are better options for novice time-managers than Linenberger's fine book, it is a logical next step for individuals--and even work groups--who have mastered the basics and want to squeeze Outlook for all its potential as their workflow tool of choice.