4 | Why Outlook’s To-Do List Rocks

Do you like the idea of having all of your tasks and assignments listed in one place? Does the ability to add things to your list without having to necessarily navigate to a tool or find a specific notebook sound intriguing? When I first tried to use Outlook’s To-Do List, I just couldn’t make it work for me. A second attempt, with a better understanding of available functionality and a little customization, made me an ambassador of this tool.

Everything in One Place

I can’t imagine going back to my old practice of taking notes here and there and highlighting things to note follow-up tasks, putting tasks on post-its, scribbling reminders in notebooks and on my hands, etc.  I have no idea how more tasks didn’t slip through the cracks – I can only presume it’s because when I was using those methods of task management I had fewer things on my plate. I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping all your tasks in one place. You’ll never have to worry that you’re missing something because you forgot to look at a particular list, set of notes, etc. You’ll never have to search for a task to remember the details! Keep one to-do list and maintain it regularly, even if it’s not conveniently embedded within Outlook.
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Always With You

If you track all tasks and assignments in Outlook, chances are that you can access it anywhere. You can obviously access it if you have your laptop or are at your computer, you can sync it with your smartphone through any number of applications, and you can access it via Outlook Web Access from another computer, provided your company makes that service available to you. There’s no need to carry around a separate notebook, nor will you be caught in a meeting without the ability to quickly add a task to your list. And you literally can’t lose it.

Create Tasks From Other Apps!

I regularly voice my (negative) opinion of Microsoft products, but I love how they have built in integration between the Mail and To-Do List in Outlook (details here). Simply flag an email from your inbox to add it to your task list – how great is that? A right-click on the flag icon allows you to select whatever due date you’d like to assign it and, from the To-Do List, you can even update the title of the task without altering the subject of the email.  Altering the title of the task also comes in handy if you have something that you’ll be working on regularly  – and therefore want to see in your list – but is not technically due until a future date. For these types of tasks, I’ll simply name the task something like “Big Task for Project X  [3/15]” to note the formal due date of March 15.

Even better than this integration is the fact that you can easily create tasks directly from OneNote (details here). My work life was magically transformed to an unknown level of organization and productivity when I was introduced to OneNote, but we’ll get to that in the next post. While taking notes in OneNote, simply put the cursor on the line you’d like to use as the title of your task and use the Outlook Tasks menu to create a task without leaving OneNote! The created task will include a link to the OneNote page so there’s no need to worry about updating the content of the task. Truly a promotion-deserving stroke of genius.

Deeper Prioritization

Outlook’s standard Priority column consists of High, Normal, and Low offerings, which I find to be insufficient with regards to my ever-expanding task list. To address this need, I created a custom column called ‘Level’ (details here). This column is simply a numeric column I use to further assign more specific priorities to my tasks. For example, I might have 15 ‘Normal’ tasks due today, but I can prioritize them 1-15 using this column. Similarly, I’ve created a custom yes/no column called ‘Offline’, which tells me at a glance which tasks I can still work on when I do not have a reliable internet connection.

Grouping and Sorting

Similar to my recommendation related to your Inbox, I recommend displaying the Category column in your To-Do List. Outlook allows for quite a bit of customization related to grouping and sorting (details here). What I’ve found to work well for me is to group by Due Date (ascending), then Priority (descending), sorting by Due Date (ascending), then by Level (ascending). This setup allows me to collapse anything that isn’t due today, puts the most important tasks at the top, and makes it easy to focus on one project by easily seeing which tasks are associated with that project.

Repeating Tasks

Everybody has tasks they need to do every other Monday, on the 3rd Friday of every month, every April 15, etc. Outlook’s To-Do List makes this very easy to do by assigning a Recurrence to your tasks (steps 5-7 here). Simply complete the task and the next one is created automatically.

Calendar Holds

Many people use their calendar to set aside time to work on their tasks and plan their day. I do that, too, but I am careful to not rely on that tool as my to-do list (too often in the past I’ve forgotten to reschedule a task-related timeslot after not being able to get to it). I do recommend blocking time on your calendar for tasks you need to focus on for longer periods of time (60+ minutes).

I’ll Do It Tomorrow

One of the best aspects of Outlook’s To-Do List is that it is crazy easy to reassign a task for tomorrow if you don’t get to it today – simply highlight everything you want to reassign and click the ‘Tomorrow’ button in the Home tab. Boom – procrastination complete!

I briefly touted Microsoft’s OneNote application above – the next post gets into more detail regarding its awesomeness and how it will help you Organize Your Life

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