This post, reused from another setting, is a bit more complex than I typically do. I think it might be of interest to heavy-duty users of Outlook tasks. It’s also a marker for comparison to the plethora of iPhone/OS X task/gCal/project mgt tools that are emerging.
Obviously I push Outlook tasks into the domain where I ought to be using a lightweight Project Management tool; there are reasons for my sticking with Outlook …
This mini-tutorial is really a guide to what’s possible with Outlook task management. For more details on how to do things, I’d recommend the Outlook Help file. It’s pretty good once you know what’s possible. Google will usually point you to Microsoft tutorials on these topics as well.
The first three topics are relatively basic, but the Views take some getting used to.
Tasks: Key things to know
Create a task by drag and drop email or appointment or contact on a task icon, such as an Outlook Shortcut to your task folder.
If you create a task by dragging and dropping an email, you’d normally file or delete the email. You can always find it by search.
If you use Task Views (below), you can drag and drop to change Due Date (including remove), Priorities, and add categories.
You can drag and drop tasks on a calendar to create appointments with matching dates..
Ignore the “start date” field, it’s worthless and behaves oddly. Just use the Due Date.
Before you drag and drop an email to create an appointment, task, or note, first click in the subject line and make it something useful. That way you kill two birds with one stone – you have a descriptive subject to help with search and replies and you have matching descriptive subject in the task. The fact that they match also helps if you want to do full text search to locate an email you’ve dropped in your “save” folder.
Tasks: priorities and dates
I’m not always consistent, but this is the meaning I give to Task priorities in Outlook.
High priority: must have due dates. Move forward if not dealt with. Assign to categories. Often has a calendar slot reserved for associated work.
Normal priority: may have due dates if quick or topical, otherwise do as available. Assign to categories. Some may be abandoned. Rarely has a protected calendar slot.
Low priority: never have due dates. Mostly keep as a record of “like to do”. Tend to discover on searches. May have categories.
Task format: the “mini-project”
An Outlook task doesn’t have much structure. I use the Subject, Category and Due Date attributes, but I follow a convention of my own for the Task note:
“next steps” as bullets at the top so I can quickly see what to do next
History items (past actions) with a date stamp
Notes and emails that get attached to a task
Tasks and Categories: A Project can be a Category
I take a loose approach to Categories. You need to know that Outlook 2003 stores it’s “master category list” in the registry (!), when you change machines you lose it! Happily the Categories are just strings stored in the tasks, so they don’t go away.
Because of this I just ignore the Mater Category list. Examples of my categories include:
- Product names
- Release numbers
- People names
- Project names
- Customer names
- Business partners
Creating Custom Views for Reviewing and Editing your Tasks
You can use Outlook’s canned Task Views, but they’re feeble. There’s no “due date’ view, for example (amazing!).
Once you define your Views (see below) the easiest way to select them is to configure your Outlook toolbar to show your Views in a drop down list.
For example, here I have “jf_Priority_DueDate” selected as my View. I have the headings collapsed so you can’t see the tasks, but if you opened the heading you could drag and drop a task to change priority or due date using this View.
From this drop down list of Views you can chose the “Define Views” item to create custom views.
If you choose to Define a View, I recommend copying from a default view rather than editing it. I prefix mine with jf_ to differentiate the ones I’ve created:
Here’s an example of a Custom View screen:
Tasks: View by Category (and the bug)
Outlook 2003 has a major bug with Category views. So does Outlook 1999, 2000, XP, etc. This bug was only fixed in Outlook 2007.
If you view by category, then sort on any header, your custom view loses the category setting. You have to recreate it. The hundredth time you do this you learn not to sort when in category view. It took Microsoft 8 years, from Outlook 1999 to Outlook 2007, to fix this.
I’ve just started using this view but it’s quite powerful. I can assign tasks to both priorities and dates in a single move.