Beginner: How to Create and Manage Tasks in Outlook 2013

If you’re one of those people who has a whiteboard or notepad with an ever-evolving to-do list, or your desk and monitors are adorned with Post-its® reminding you of important events, then this the article for you.

Outlook will let you make to-do lists consisting of tasks, which you can do all sorts of things, such as setting due dates, reminders, categories, and more. The whole point is to create a more active kind of task list that you can interact with and will keep you honest.

Working in the Tasks View

We’ve been discussing the various intricacies of Outlook 2013 recently, so if you’re new to it, we recommend you read our introduction.

Otherwise, open Outlook up to the Tasks view and have a look around. At first glance, you’ll notice it’s pretty empty and barren. That’s because we’ve yet to fill it up with the multitude of stuff we need to do and errands to run.

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Let’s go through and show you how to use Tasks like a pro and further organize your life with Outlook. With a little time and work, you will have a comprehensive set of tasks, which you can set up to remind you when they’re due, or you can even assign them to another person!

Adding Tasks

To start, you’re going to want to add tasks. You’ll notice that there’s the familiar folder pane along the left-hand side. You can add new folders to this view, effectively then organizing your tasks into categories. You can even create a new folder group so you can again separate your tasks between your professional and personal life, if necessary.

To start, you’ll notice that there’s one task folder group call My Tasks and two sub task folders: To-Do List and Tasks. If we right-click on the top-most folder, we can create a “New Folder Group” that we’ll name Work Tasks.

You can add a quick task by clicking on “Click here to add a new Task” or you can click “New Task” on the Home ribbon. Check out the following untitled task, to which you can apply a number of options, show the Task, its Details, as well as manage it.

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Let’s fill out our task a little bit with some basic details and then click “Save & Close.” You can choose your start date, end date (if applicable), the status, priority, and completion percentage. You can also check the “Reminder” box and have Outlook let you know when your task is coming due.

Viewing, Modifying, and Updating Tasks

After creating a few tasks, we can see them listed in our Tasks view. You can do some basic tinkering here such as changing the due date or assigning a category, but if you really want to view and edit, you need to double-click to open it.

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Here’s our task once again. We can make changes to it such as the status or priority, or we can click on the “Details” button.

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If there are other details associated with the task, you can fill them in here. While this may not be pertinent to most people, if you deal with independent contractors or consultants, then this is a great place to keep track of how much they’re approximately costing you.

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There are a few other things we can mention before moving on to recurrences. While you’re nosing about in the task interface, take a moment to note that you can delete or forward the task if you decide it’s not worth pursuing, or you need input from someone else on it, respectively.

You can also manage the task, such as marking it complete, assigning it, and sending a status report. We’ll talk more about that shortly. For now, let’s briefly check out how to set up recurring tasks.

Working with Recurring Tasks

Creating a recurring task is the same as creating a recurring appointment or recurring meeting. The dialog you see when you click on the “Recurrence” button will likely look pretty familiar.

So here’s our “talk about work stuff” task, recurring every week on Wednesday, with no end in sight. Note also, that even if you do not complete the task by the time the task recurs, another one will still be generated.

You can override this by selecting the “regenerate new task” option, which instead of automatically recurring on x day, won’t regenerate the task until the current one is marked complete.

Assigning a Task to Someone Else

We have our “talk about work stuff!” task all set up, now we just need to pawn it off on someone else! Click the “Assign Task” button in the Manage Task section of the Ribbon.

This will open the task as an e-mail, which you can then address to others. In this case we’re just going to assign the task to talk about work stuff to someone else, so we’ll e-mail it to them.

If you want to type the address into the “To” field you can, or you can pluck the lucky name from your address book. Don’t have an address book set up? Read about how to create and manage contacts, including how to import your contacts from Gmail right into Outlook.

That recipient will get an e-mail then with the option to “Accept” or “Decline.” We don’t want to make the boss upset, so we’ll just go ahead and accept the task. Besides, talking about work stuff is never a bad idea!

Finally, if the powers-that-be want to know the progress (or lack thereof) on your currently assigned task. You can send them a status report.

Overall, the average home Outlook user is more likely to use tasks as a means of getting errands done or ticking chores off at home, but it’s useful to know the full range of your task-making abilities. Let’s move on now to the rest of the Home ribbon and talk about what you can do to manage task from there.

Managing Tasks and Sorting by View

During the course of your week, some tasks will get done, and some won’t. The ones that you complete, you can mark as complete and forget about. But the ones that you don’t get to will need to be managed somehow or you’ll just have an ever-growing list of blown tasks.

There’s a few ways to manage them. Let’s look at that area of the Ribbon and then show you how to make the most of these tools.

Clicking the “Remove from List” button will mark it as complete and remove it from the list. If Outlook encounters a problem, such as if the task is recurring, or it is incomplete, it will ask you what you want to do about it.

You can also work directly with the tasks you see in your task list. Check out the following screenshot for more details. You see that you can simply click the flag icon to mark it as complete, or you can right-click to see your follow-up options.

You see here in the next screenshot, that our task “sit around watching football with our feet up” is due tomorrow, but we’ve also marked it for follow-up next week as well. Creating a follow-up task basically duplicates it for the time that best suits you to possibly complete it. In this case, we could mark tomorrow’s task as complete or remove it, but that duplicate task would still be due next week.

Note, you can follow-up tasks from one of five preset intervals, or you can create a custom follow-up.

Finally, changing your view can help slice through a large body of tasks. If it isn’t shown on the Ribbon, you can click the “Change View” button and you will see these options.

Here’s what a simple list might look like. The view doesn’t discriminate between states of completion or categories, or anything else. It just presents all your past, present, and future tasks in one simple view.

On the other hand, if we sort our view by active tasks, we see things are narrowed down a great deal for us.

Always remember to change your task view so you quickly sort through or hide them for maximum productivity potential!

Tasks Options

Lastly, let’s acquaint or reacquaint ourselves with task options. The task options will let you change settings and alter their behavior and appearance. You can reach them from the File menu, by clicking “Options -> Tasks.”

You can set options for reminders on tasks with due dates, overdue and completed task colors, work hours, and other simple tweaks. So now, if you want overdue tasks to be bright blue or you want default reminders at the end of the day instead of beginning, you can make the changes here.

As you can tell, Outlook is revealing itself to be a very well-rounded application, and we haven’t even talked yet about calendaring and notes yet! We hope you’re able to use Tasks to rev up your organization skills a couple notches. They’re really easy to set and assign, and it’s nice to have those reminders and to watch all the things on your list slowly get checked off.

In the meantime, we’re interested in hearing from you. Have a question or comment you’d like to leave with us? Drop in on our discussion forum and fire away.

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and dyed-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.