How-to: Track Tasks with Queries, Not Email

Applies to:

Tasktop Dev Pro, Tasktop Dev Enterprise, and Mylyn

Level:

Introductory

Summary:

Learn how to track tasks with Tasktop Dev's Queries, eliminating task update emails

Tracking Changes with Tasktop Dev

When working in a team tasks change quickly. The team lead raises the priority of your task, a co-worker indicates your task is blocking his work, or a domain expert responds to your task-related question. Keeping up with these changes, while still making progress on your tasks, can be overwhelming. Fortunately, Tasktop Dev can help reduce this burden by automatically tracking relevant tasks with Queries. A Query specifies the tasks that are relevant to you, such as tasks you are in charge of completing. Creating a Query downloads and periodically updates tasks directly in your Task List, eliminating the need for checking email updates or refreshing web interfaces. These advantages and others make Queries an important part of Tasktop Dev users' workflow.

Is your email inbox cluttered with task updates?

Screenshot 1: Is your email inbox cluttered
by task updates?

In this article we'll walk you through the mechanics of setting up a single Query as well as introduce best practices on creating a set of Queries that monitors all relevant tasks.

Why Eliminate Task Email?
Simply put, email is the wrong technology for tracking task updates; the large number of task updates per day clutter your inbox, the emails are disconnected from your ToDo List, and the importance of any particular task update is unclear. Tasktop Dev eliminates the need for these emails, showing updates directly in the Task List, where task priority and task state (e.g., new task, incoming change, outgoing change) is readily visible. Tasktop Dev can return sanity to your inbox.

Mechanics: Creating a Query

Creating a Query in Tasktop Dev is simple assuming one prerequisite. You must first configure a Task Repository (see previous post), which, fortunately, is a straightforward task. Assuming you've configured a repository, follow these steps to create a query:

  1. Right click on the Task List and select "New Query" (see Screenshot 2)

  2. In the resulting dialog select the appropriate Task Repository

  3. Fill out the Query creation form and press "Finish" (see Screenshot 3 for Bugzilla's form)

Creating a New Query

Screenshot 2: Creating a new Query

While this form includes many options to empower the advanced user, simple queries are easy to create and beginners can leave most fields blank. See the "Best Practices" section below for example form values that create common Queries.

Bugzilla Query Form

Screenshot 3: Bugzilla's Query creation form is
shown. Other repositories, such as JIRA, have
a similar query form.

Task Synchronization
Once created, Queries automatically download relevant tasks and periodically synchronize with the task repository, ensuring that your Task List is always up-to-date. You can adjust the automatic synchronization interval by navigating to Window -> Preferences -> Tasks. You can also manually synchronize by right-clicking on a task or query and clicking "Synchronize". When updating, a Query or Task will be displayed in italics in the Task List (see Screenshot 4).

A Task During Synchronization

Screenshot 4: Task 3778 (in italics) is being
synchronized and Task 3817 has already finished.

Once a Task or Query is updated Tasktop Dev will create visual indicators in the Task List (see Screenshot 5). In the example below Tasks 2 and 11 have changed since they were last viewed and Task 15 is a new task has not yet been viewed. A single scan allows you to know which tasks are updated, which are new, all within the context of your Task List, which is sorted by priority and scheduled date. When using the Task List to stay updated you can eliminate task update emails. As a final step to eliminate these emails we recommend turning off email notifications on your Task Repository (see "Turning Email Updates Off" below).

Task List with Notifications

Screenshot 5: A Task List with notifications: arrows indicate
updates and arrows with ?s indicate new tasks.

Turning Email Updates Off

We recommend that you either turn off email notifications for your Task Repository or create a filter to move these messages out of your Inbox. Since Tasktop Dev keeps you updated on the status of your Tasks you no longer need these emails cluttering your Inbox.

To turn off email notifications in Bugzilla visit the "Preferences" page and select the "Email Preferences" tab. On this page, unchecking all boxes and clicking submit will disable email notifications.

To create a filter (called a Rule) in Outlook 2007, select "Tools" - "Rules and Alerts" and create a new Rule. When completing the new Rule wizard select "Move messages from someone to a folder" as your Rule template and enter the Task Repository's outgoing email address (e.g., bugzilla-daemon@eclipse.org) as the email. Enter a folder named after your Task Repository as the target where filtered messages should be stored.

Best Practices: Crafting a Smart Set of Queries
Tasktop Dev allows significant configurability when deciding which queries to put in your Task List. To achieve the full benefit, we recommend you try the following guidelines when setting up your Task List. Do this for every task repository of interest.

  1. Set up a single query for all tasks assigned to you.

  2. Set up another query for all tasks that you've reported, commented on, or been CC'd on.

If you follow these guidelines you will end up with a Task List that is similar to this one:

Task List showing best practice queries

This query set focuses you on the tasks you own ("All Mine") while keeping you in the loop on the tasks where your input is needed ("All Related"). To setup these queries, use the following parameters in the Bugzilla query form.

Intent

Query parameters

All the tasks assigned to me

Query Title: All Mine,
Email: my_email@my_company.com,
Owner: Checked

All the tasks assigned to others where my input is relevant

Query Title: All Related,
Email: my_email@my_company.com,
Reporter: Checked,
CC: Checked,
Commentor: Checked,
Email2: my_email@my_company.com,
Owner: Checked,
Matching: notregexp

In some cases, it's also desirable to create queries to easily track the tasks of people you collaborate with closely. We will address this more advanced case in an upcoming how-to.

Now that your Task List is populated you are better prepared to deal with a busy workweek. New tasks may be assigned to you and priorities may change but your Queries will keep you up-to-date. You'll be able to focus on the task at hand, knowing that you've offloaded significant responsibility to Tasktop Dev.