How to manage Tasks in Outlook

Preparing that report your manager asked you for, reviewing the slides, following up on that approval … so many things going on at the same time, and so difficult to remember the deadline.

If you are not able to disconnect after work, think about what you have pending for the next few days…
Outlook Tasks can be your go-to option to track what is on your to-do list.

I show you here how to effectively use the tasks in Outlook.

How to manage Tasks in Outlook

Can you imagine having in one click:

  • all your actions in your To-do list are sorted by date
  • all the information connected to those actions
  • and all this free of charge?

No need to imagine it anymore, I have the answer for you.
Thanks to the Tasks functionality (included in your Outlook), it is possible to have all this info in one click.

But first, what are the Tasks in Outlook?

Same as when you go shopping to the supermarket,
you may have a list of things to buy,
and you cross the items on the list while adding them to the cart, the tasks in Outlook are a modern version of the shopping list, including all the tasks that you need to complete at work.

You will be able to manage all your work-related tasks in one place.

The Task functionality is included in the standard Outlook package (free of charge)
and you can access the Tasks in Outlook by clicking the shortcut combination Ctrl+4 in your keyboard

You can use Outlook tasks for several different things such as:
Track your To-do list, track topics you need to follow up, notes from one-on-one discussions with your manager, reference emails that you may need to refer to in the future…anything that comes to your mind!

Benefits and why to use tasks in Outlook

You may wonder okay,
but why shall I use the tasks in Outlook?
My top three reasons, why you should use Tasks as your To-Do List:

Clarity
In one click you will be able to see all the actions that are pending for you, organized by due dates and categories.
On top of this,
you can categorize each of the tasks and set up deadlines for completion.

Priority
Due to having the task and the due date all visible in one place,
you will be able to quickly call priorities,
understanding what requires immediate attention and what can be completed in a few days/weeks.
No more thinking about what is in your to-do list,
tasks in Outlook are solving this one for you.

All-in
Thanks to the possibility of including your own comments, actions plan and even emails,
you will be able to find all the needed information for the action in the same place.
Forget about wasting time trying to remember what the action is about and what to it is expected from you. Thanks to the Outlook tasks all info will be available in the same place.

The theory is one thing,
let’s see the benefit of using Tasks with few real-life examples at work.

Real-life examples of Tasks in Outlook

There are many situations when you may want to consider using the Tasks in Outlook.
To name a few:  
when you need to follow up on a request when you need to prepare a PowerPoint yourself, or simply when you want to “store” an email that you may want to refer to later.

Follow up on a request

Imagine you ask one colleague on Monday to prepare a key report to leadership by Thursday COB,
This is a key report that can be missed,
relying on your good memory can be too big of a risk.
Instead of remembering in your head that report,
I show you how Tasks in Outlook can help you to keep track of the task.

Step by step:

  1. Send an email to your colleague asking for the report and include yourself in the bcc line

If you don’t know what bcc is and how it will help you with Outlook tasks, discover it here.

  • Create a task including the email you have just received sent using the quick steps

I show you below in this post, different options to create Tasks in Outlook upon your needs.

  • Categorize the task as “Follow up” and task and set up the due date for the task
  • Monitor the status of the tasks twice daily (5min) , once before closing the day and once at the beginning of the next day

Task to be done

In this case it is not you who is asking for an action,  
but let’s imagine is your manager asking you to prepare something.
Your manager contacts you via email asking you to prepare an urgent report to present to the general manager and the VPs.
This is first time you are asked to prepare such report and you get stressed thinking that you may forget to do it due to clashing with other priorities.

No need to panic, see below how to manage it step by step using Outlook tasks.
Forget about retaining this and many other tasks in your head, Outlook will show you what it is pending to be completed for the day/week/month.

  1. Open email from your manager
  2. Create a task using as base the email you have just received
  3. Categorize the task as “Action” and define the due date for the task
  4. Estimate how much time you would need and book time in your calendar
  5. Create a task using as base the email you have just received
  6. Monitor the status of the tasks twice daily (5min), once before closing the day and once at the beginning of the next day

As you can see, most of the tasks you will creating using as base an email that you send, you receive. How can I go from an email into a Task?

How to convert and email into a task in Outlook

There are plenty of options how to create a Task in Outlook,
I will show you the two most common ones.

Option #1 – Drop and drag into the Task button
You can create a task from an email in your inbox,
by dragging the email into the Tasks button in the navigation bar

This is not my favorite option for two reasons:

  1. Drop and dragging is very time consuming and if you don’t have a mouse can be tough doing it with the pad in the laptop.
  2. You will not have the access to the email itself, the task will look like this:

Option #2 – Quick Steps shortcut

My favorite option is using the Quick Step functionality.

And you wonder, what the h#ll is that? – no worries!

See step by step,
how to create a Task with attachment in Outlook:

In your Inbox – go to Quick Steps and click on the down arrow button

Click on New Quick steps

If you wonder what this DO NOT it about and how to reduce distractions in Outlook.

Click on Custom

Choose the action and the shortcut you would like to use for such an action

In this case,
we will choose to Create a Task with an attachment and the shortcut: CTRL+SHIFT+7

Once all is set – click on Finish.

How does it work?
You get an email from your manager asking you to prepare a presentation, and you want to create a task out of it.
On your keyboard,
enter the keyword combination CTRL+SHIFT+7

After this keyword combination, a task will be created.

How will this task look like?
By using this method contrary to the drop and drag option,
the task will include the email itself (you will be able to open it, as you would normally open an email)

As name of the task,
it will be the subject of the email and as body of the task there it will be the email you have just received and you can even add your own notes/comments even more emails.

How to see tasks in Outlook

You may wonder,
okay all these things about Tasks in Outlook seems very helpful,
but, how can I access the tasks in Outlook?
Accessing Tasks in Outlook is very simple,
here are couple of ways to see your tasks in Outlook.

Option #1
Click on the icon with the tick while being in your Outlook

Option #2
Using shortcut Ctrl+4. (my preferable option)
By using this shortcut,
no matter if you are in your inbox or your calendar, you will be able to access the tasks.

How to categorize Tasks in Outlook

Categorizing a Task in Outlook is a great way to have organized all the Tasks on your camp, you can categorize the tasks by following these steps:

Open the task

Click on Categorize and select All Categories

Select the category and click OK

Save the task (Top left corner or shortcut: Alt + s)

And that’s it, your task will be visible as per below

How to set up a due date for a Task in Outlook

Setting up a due date for a Task in Outlook is very simple, see step by step how to do it:

Open the task

Click on Due date and select the date by when you need to complete the task.

Save the task (Top left corner or shortcut: Alt + s)

And that’s it, your task will be visible as per below

How to use outlook tasks effectively

Before starting to use the Tasks in Outlook,
it is key that you get to know your current role and define what would be the different scenarios where Tasks can help you with your workload and priorities.

For some inspiration,
how tasks can help you as manager of others,
I will focus here on how I use the tasks in Outlook as a manager of a team of 20 people.

Four main categories

  • Action
  • Follow up
  • 1:1
  • Reference Email

Let’s deep dive into each of the categories.

How to use Outlook Tasks as your To Do list

In this category,
it would fall all the actions where you are the only person needed to complete the task.
A report for your manager, a PowerPoint for a monthly review, anything that it takes more than 5minutes and you it is all you need to successfully complete the task.

How to ensure you do not miss the task?
I recommend you review the Tasks in your Outlook twice per day, once before starting the day and once before closing the day.

How to use Outlook Tasks as your Follow up list

Unlike to the To-Do tasks,
in this category it would fall all the actions when another person is needed to complete the task.

You don’t need to follow up only to the lower levels.
It can be done in both directions,
upper level (your manager to approve extra budget for your department) or lower level (one of your team members to run an analysis in Excel).

Using the Tasks for follow up purpose, will help you to make sure you do not miss any single task.

How to ensure you do not miss the task?
I recommend you review the Tasks in your Outlook twice per day, once before starting the day and once before closing the day.

How to use Outlook Tasks for your one-to-one meetings

No matter if you are manager of others,
or an individual that has just started his/her professional career,
in most of the corporations you will have one to ones with your manager.
In case you don’t know what one to ones are, it would be like a 15-30minutes meeting that you would have with your manager (your people) to discuss business , organizational and personal related topics.

To make the most out of this one-to-one meeting with your manager,
it is highly recommended to be well prepared upfront capturing the topics that you would like to have and any feedback that you would like to provide.

Very simple way to capture notes from one-to-one meetings and follow up topics it is by using the Tasks functionality in Outlook.

Learn how to succesfuly manage one-to-one with your employees.

How to use Outlook Tasks for keeping track of the reference email

Do you know those emails that every now and then you need to refer to and you spend quite some time trying to find it?
I know that feeling, and it is very frustrating.
Thanks to the Tasks functionality in Outlook,
forget about wasting time trying to find emails.

That communication from HR that you think you may need? – create a task and categorize it as a Reference email
That master list with all the KPIs in your department? – create a task and categorize it as a Reference email
That email with all the contact people in the other departments? – create a task and categorize it as a Reference email

This way, you will have all the “Reference emails” in one place, and it will be very simple for you to find those emails when you need them.

FAQ how to use tasks in Outlook

Some questions that you may have related to Tasks in Outlook

How do you effectively use tasks in Outlook?

Tasks in Outlook can be a very powerful took if used properly.
Consider using Tasks in Outlook for any action that takes more than five minutes.
Create a task using the Quick Step functionality, categorize the task, define the due date, and review the Tasks max ten minutes per day, once in the morning for five minutes and second one for five minutes before closing the day

What is the difference between to-do and tasks?

Tasks in Outlook are good to remind yourself about the things you need to do or following up on things that others need to do. While the Team Tasks by Planner and To-Do are ideal when more than one person need to be involved in several actions.
You can find here more about the Tasks by Planner and To-Do in Teams.

How can I change the columns that I can view in the Tasks in Outlook?

You can amend the columns visible on the Tasks view very easily.
How to do it: View > View Settings > Columns > Select the columns
(In my case: Task Subject, Due Date and Categories)

How do I create a Task in Outlook?

You can create a Task in Outlook in several ways: 1. Shortcut in your keyboard: Ctrl+N 2. Double click on Click here to add a new Task and 3. Click on New Task

How can I close a Task in Outlook?

You can close a Task in Outlook by deleting the Task or by categorizing the task into a category called “Tasks completed”, you would need to create such category. To create a new category, go to Categorize > All Categories > New > Name/Color > OK

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