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10. Scheduling Tasks
Use tasks to boost your productivity and learn how to assign tasks to other people for increased transparency.
Learn how to use Tasks to boost productivity.
The tasks interface
Tasks simply represent an action you want to track until it’s completed. They use an interface that borrows the same layout of other Outlook views such as emails, contacts and calendars. To access this view, click the clipboard icon in the navigation bar.
In the folder pane we can see a layout more familiar to the contacts view. This is because tasks don’t organize folders according to data files. Task folders from any account can be in any task folder group. This pane also includes a folder called the To-Do list. This contains all our tasks as well as any emails flagged with a follow-up.
In the main pane we have our list of tasks. Like the email view or the list view of contacts, the task information is laid out in columns. We can sort and group our tasks by clicking a column.
And to the right we have the reading pane. For the most part this won’t contain much more information than the task preview in the main pane. However, some tasks can be accompanied by notes which are too long for the task preview. This is when the reading pane becomes useful.
Creating a new task
To start, click the New Task command. In the new task window, enter a title for your task along with the date you’ll start it and the date you want to finish it. To set a reminder, check the reminder box and set a time and date that the reminder will pop up.
We can also set a priority. This simply gives us three options of low, normal and high.
Under status, we can choose from a few options. If you’re creating this task before starting, keep the default of not started. We can adjust this later. For example, once we’ve done some work towards the task, we can set it to in progress. The task will automatically be set to this if we set a progress percentage of greater than 0.
When completed, we can set it to completed. If the task is paused while it’s dependent on someone else’s work we can set it to waiting on someone else, and if the task is no longer relevant or could not be completed, we can choose deferred. Alternatively we could just delete the task.
Assigning a task
Tasks aren’t exclusive to our own workflow. We can assign tasks to other people too. This is beneficial for two reasons. First, it’s a more structured and clearer way of asking someone to complete a task than emailing them.
Second, if you choose to, you can track the progress of the task and get an email once it’s complete. This is especially useful for urgent tasks.
To do this, we first need to open an existing task or create a new one. From here, click the Assign Task command. This will add a box where we can add the assignee.
In the first check box below we can opt to keep a copy of the task in our tasks view. When this is enabled, we’ll be able to see progress on this task in real time. If we don’t check this box, we won’t be able to see the task we’ve just assigned. The only copy will be in the recipient’s task view.
When we check the second box, we’ll only see a single update in the form of an email once the task is complete.
In the past few lessons, we learned about using Outlook Calendars. In this lesson we'll learn how to use Tasks to boost productivity.
The function of Tasks is quite simple. They represent an action you want to track until it's completed. Just like Emails, Contacts, and Calendars, Tasks have their own distinct interface.
We can switch to this view by clicking the Clipboard icon in the navigation bar.
As we saw previously, the ribbon changes to a layout best suited for the current view.
Similar to the Email and Contact views, the Task view has a main pane surrounded by the folder pane and the reading pane.
In the folder pane, we can see our groups, each containing specific folders.
We'll typically see separate Task folders for separate accounts as well as a folder called To-Do List.
This folder contains all tasks from all accounts as well as any other Outlook items marked with the followup flag.
In the main Tasks pane, we see a layout similar to the Email and Contacts panes.
We have a list of our tasks and followups organized into rows and columns and grouped according to the sorting column. By default, this column is Due Date.
On the left we see some icons that tell us about each item.
Emails don't have an icon. Tasks use the Clipboard icon. And Contacts use the person icon.
Calendar items such as meetings can't be tagged with followup flags so we won't see the Calendar icon in this folder.
To the right, we have the reading pane. This won't contain much additional info for most tasks, but it can be useful for tasks that include comprehensive notes.
At present I have a new task that I'd like to log in Outlook.
I've completed training to become the company's fire warden and I need to create a fire safety plan and share it with everyone in the office by the end of the week.
Adding this as a new Outlook task is very simple. To start, I'll select the New Task command to open a New Task window.
I'll call this task Draft Fire Safety Plan.
I'll enter today as the start date. I want to distribute this document by the end of next week so I'll enter next Friday as the end date.
The Reminder will be handy so I'll enable this and have it remind me next Friday afternoon.
That should give me enough time to finish it off before the end of the day.
Safety is paramount so I'll set the priority to High.
I actually wrote about half this plan before I created this task, so I'll set the percent complete to 50%.
Note that the up and down arrows changes by increments of 25%, but we can type a more specific number if we wish.
The only remaining field is Status.
By default, this is set to Not Started.
However when we set a percentage above zero, this automatically changes to In Progress.
The status can also be set to Deferred, Completed, or Waiting on someone else.
Finally, I'll enter a short message about the task. I'll explain that I'm doing this task after becoming the fire warden and that I've already completed half of it.
When we hit Save & Close, we'll return to the Tasks pane and see that our task has been added under the group named Next Week.
The columns provide us with a short overview of the task including information about the dates, its associated folder, and its followup status. When I select the task, I can see more details in the reading pane including the short note I wrote.
Let's jump forward in time and see what's changed.
Progress is now 75%, but the status has changed to Waiting on someone else.
My note below explains that the computer I used to write the document stopped working.
I'm currently using a spare computer but I need to wait for a member from the IT support team to fix my computer before I can continue working on the document.
I can email them about it, but I'll assign my colleague with the task instead.
That way I'll get a quicker response when they're finished.
To start, we'll open a New Task and start filling out the info. I'll enter the title, Fix Broken Computer.
I'll set today as the start date, and next Wednesday morning as the end date.
That will give me enough time to finish my fire safety plan.
I'll also set the priority to High.
Assigning urgent tasks can be very disruptive for our colleagues, so I'll add a note explaining the circumstances.
As the final step, I need to select the Assign Task command.
This adds a box to our task.
I'll click the To button to open up our Contacts and select the appropriate contact.
Below the due date sections, we also have two new check boxes.
The first keeps a copy of this task in our Task box.
This allows us to see our colleague's progress in real time.
Below that, we can also opt to get an email when the task is marked as complete.
These are both very useful so I'll check them and Save & Close.
This concludes our final lesson in this course. Through these lessons we've mastered essential skills for Contacts, Calendars, and Tasks in Outlook.
We first explored how to create and organize contacts.
We then learned how to use the Calendar View to schedule events, appointments, and meetings.
Finally we learned how to manage productivity with Tasks. Having these skills will pay dividends when using Outlook to manage your personal and business accounts.