The Lotus Connections Activities feature provides an area where people can collaborate around a given task or objective in a way that allows them to work freely, reflecting the work they are doing rather than the tools they are using. Often, tools and structures are provided to help guide how people work, but those tools and structures can quickly become out-of-date, or they might not truly reflect the work that group is trying to accomplish. For example, imagine that you are working with a few colleagues to create a customer service program. There might be formal guidelines on such programs, but they might not cover all the areas you need to consider. As you work with your team to identify the issues you need to address, you uncover new aspects of the program you will need to accommodate. This type of collaborative work often gets accomplished using many emails with several versions of attachments and CC lists that might not include all the right people. Rather than trying to organize tasks like these in email, activities integrate with your email and other everyday tools to provide an area that truly reflects what you are trying to accomplish.
One of the main benefits of using activities to get your work done is that when you have completed a task, you can use it over and over again and share it with others to reuse. You can even create reusable starting points. These are referred to as templates, and you can start a new activity from a template and modify it as you see fit as you go along in your work. For example, let's say in your role you frequently plan client meetings. Perhaps there is a set of tasks that you do for every meeting: invite the customer, request meeting space, build a presentation, and more. You can track these different actions in a template and create a new activity for every customer meeting, bringing into that activity the presentation outline you suggested, the database for meeting space, and a sample invitation for a customer.
Your Current Activities, To-Dos, and Templates
You can see an overview of your current activities, recent posts within them, and to-dos across all your activities from the Activity Dashboard (see Figure 6.17) The dashboard provides a list of your most recently updated activities, who updated them, and when they were updated. For each activity, when you click on the text More, you can view the activity's description and prioritize it as high, medium, normal, or tuned out, which removes it from your main dashboard page. You can also sort this list based on recently updated activities or by the date the activity is due.
Figure 6.17 The Activity Dashboard
On the left of the dashboard are the Start an Activity button and the main filters you can use to view activities. Completed Activities shows activities you have worked on in the past that were marked complete. Tuned Out Activities are those you might have been added to that you no longer want to see in your main list. Trash contains activities that you have marked for deletion. Below that section is the prioritized activities section, which allows you to show only your high- or medium-priority activities. If there are public activities, those will appear here along with another filter option. Public activities are activities in which the membership list is not limited to a specific group but rather is open for anyone to participate in. Other filtering options include tags and people. Since every activity can be tagged, you can use the tags to filter your activity view. You can also pick a person in the people list and view the activities you have in common.
On the right-hand column of the dashboard, you will see a running list of recent posts to your activities, links to access them, and the names of people who updated them with the date and time the update was made.
There is a To Do List tab at the top of the dashboard that shows you a list of the to-dos that have been assigned to you or created by you across all your activities. They will also show you the dates the to-do is due, and if it is overdue, the date will appear in red. This snapshot of to-dos can also be added to your Lotus Notes 8.5 calendar using the Activities calendar overlay so that you can view when your to-dos are due.
The last tab available is the Templates tab, which lists all the templates available in your organization. You can create a new template from this view, mark a template as a favorite, and filter the template list based on favorites, tags, and people.
Inside an Activity
Inside an activity, you can add information to share with members of the activity. You can either create a list of information or organize the information into sections. In Figure 6.18, you see the main content sections of the activity. You can expand or contract each section and add or remove new sections, if you are an owner of the activity, by clicking the Add Section button. Within the sections are lists of content that is being shared. Content can be as simple as a title and description of information or it can be highly complex. You can also add in emails and instant messages to activities, files, links, or to-dos.
Figure 6.18 Inside an activity
On the left-hand side of an activity, you can see the different views of an activity, including recent updates, the to-do list, trash, and sections. You can view members and add new members into the owner, author, or reader view, as shown in Figure 6.19. You can also change the activity from private to public access. Finally, you can filter the activity based on tags used to describe content in the activity.
Figure 6.19 Adding new members to an activity
Adding New Custom Entry Types
By default, when you add a new entry to an activity, you are asked to provide a title, a description, and tags, and assign a section for the entry. You can add more than the default fields ask for and even change the names of the fields. You can add a date field, which will allow you to select a date from a calendar. You can add a person field, which will allow you to select people from the company directory and show their profile business card when their names are hovered over. You can also add a plain text field and allow the value to be anything, shown in Figure 6.20 as email. Additionally, you add in files of any type and bookmarks. If you would like to change the name of a field, you can simply click on the field and change the name. After you have added a set of fields that represent the item you are adding to the activity, you can add a rich text description, add tags to describe the entry, and choose a section for the entry to reside in. The last options allow you to make the entry private for you only, useful when you are drafting entries, and notify other people of the entry by email, selecting members of the activity you want to notify. When you click Save, this will add the new entry type to the activity. At any time, you can edit your entry by clicking the plus sign next to the entry in the activity view and clicking Edit.
Figure 6.20 Create a custom entry
For every entry, you can add comments, to-dos, and more. For entries whose format you want to reuse, you can save the entry as an entry template, giving the entry type a name and an icon to associate to it. When you do that, the new entry type is added to the Add Entry button drop-down list.
Adding Emails, Instant Messages, To-Dos, and Files
You can also add emails, instant messages, and to-dos to an activity. Emails can be added from Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook using plug-ins to the email clients. The Notes plug-in allows you to drag and drop email into the Activities sidebar, which also gives you full access to your activities and actions associated to your activities. You can read more about this plug-in from the last section of this chapter, "Using Lotus Connections from Your Everyday Tools." In Microsoft Outlook, you can simply select an email and add that to an activity, selecting the activity you want to add it to.
Lotus Sametime chats can be added to activities as well. With the plug-in for Lotus Sametime, when you open a chat with someone, you will have additional options to add a chat to an activity, create a new activity to add the chat to, or find activities you and the person chatting have in common. Broadcast chats using Lotus Sametime Advanced can also be added to an activity.
You can add to-dos to an activity by clicking the Add To Do Item button next to the Add Entry button. You can also add to-dos as children of entries by clicking on an entry and adding the to-do item.
Although you can add files to your activities, through integration with Lotus Quickr, you can choose to store your files in a Quickr library instead of within Activities. This integration allows you to develop your content within an activity and then easily publish the results to a Quickr Library.
Copying, Prioritizing, and Completing Activities
You can prioritize an activity from the dashboard (as shown earlier) or inside the activity. Inside an activity, you will see two buttons in the upper-right corner of the activity depending on your access rights. One button allows you to mark an activity complete. This button appears only if you are the owner of the activity. The other button, titled More Actions, allows you to set the priority on the activity, tune it out, copy the entire activity to a new activity where you are the owner and can add members, copy the activity as a new template to be shared within the organization, and edit entry templates. If you are the owner of the activity, you also can add related activities so that they are quickly accessible from the activity. This will not synchronize membership, so members of one activity might not have access to another activity.
Working with Activity Templates
As mentioned earlier, you can access your organization's list of activity templates from your activity dashboard. Each template can include everything an activity can contain—custom entries, files, URLs, people, messages, chats, emails, to-dos. When saved as a template, this information becomes available to whoever wants to borrow from the template. Figure 6.21 is an example of an activity template.
Figure 6.21 An activity template
In Figure 6.21, we see a template for planning a customer briefing. Clicking the button below the title will start a new activity with this template as the framework. As the owner, you can add and remove sections and entries in the activity as needed. You can create templates from scratch or you can create them from an existing activity.