Organize Outlook

ClearContext Professional is an add-on for Outlook that aims to help users manage and organize an overwhelming onslaught of e-mail. It works, but not without caveats.

E-mail organization is of personal interest to us--and we know we're not alone when it comes to having a structured inbox. Certainly, ClearContext was counting on that when it developed ClearContext Professional, a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook.

The goal of ClearContext Professional is to help you stay in control of your inbox by providing organizational tools and rules for e-mails, tasks, appointments, and projects. Adding it to Outlook tweaks the interface to accommodate the variety of features designed to streamline your processes and save time. Noticeable changes include the addition of a taskbar at the top of the screen as well as an optional dashboard module on the right side. The app also automatically analyzes your e-mail to determine VIP contacts and then highlights those in red; messages from other known contacts are denoted with a green box.

The taskbar is where you can find all of the features that ClearContext Professional offers. Choose to automatically file unimportant messages (from unknown contacts); instantly file messages or strings of messages with one click; quickly turn e-mails into tasks or appointments; unsubscribe from unwanted conversations (such as those you've been cc'ed on); defer e-mails with one click; and view all past conversations with a contact within a single message window. The dashboard provides a terminal for viewing the scope of your workday, and serves to organize projects.

Certainly, several of these additions are useful. We're quite fond of the ability to view a truncated list of all past e-mails between a contact and ourselves in the bottom of any open message window with that contact (quicker and easier than Outlook's own "see related" feature). However, most finicky Outlook users who already have a pretty decent filtering system in place will be more thrown off by the add on than assisted. There's so much new going on that rather than making things feel streamlined, the app just seems like more clutter.

That said, for those who are just starting out with Outlook in a work setting, ClearContext could come in handy for initial setup and organization--especially for those who want to get all adjustments out of the way in the beginning. Plus, there's not much of a learning curve, so it should be easy as pie for newbies to catch on. However, the $90 purchase price is more than a bit steep. The good news is that you can check it out for 30 days before committing.

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