How to use Outlook Tasks

Last reviewed on July 21, 2013

Applies to: Microsoft Outlook 2010, Outlook 2007, Outlook 2003, and all previous versions.

We get a lot of questions (and complaints) about Tasks and I'm going to try and answer the most common ones.

Is there an easy way to move a task to a new due date?

Sure. If you use a Group by Due date view, you can easily drag a task to a new date. Or, you could use a view that shows all task due 'on or before' today (or tomorrow, 3 days, etc) and hide the completed tasks. And don't forget, when you use the task pad view on the calendar, overdue tasks will be on "today" so you don't have to move them.

How can I edit a task assigned to someone else?

You can't edit assigned tasks because once you assign it to someone, you no longer own the task. If you need a copy of the task for your records, you can copy and paste the task. (Ctrl+C,V) This makes an unassigned copy but keeps the original intact. If you go to the Details page and Create an Unassigned Copy to edit, you won't get updates for the assigned copy.

Create an unassigned copy of an assigned task

Tip: If you need to assign the task to multiple people and want updates from all, create copies of the task and assign each copy to a different person. If you use Create Unassigned copy, you can assign the copy to someone.

When a user marks an assigned task as complete, there is no opportunity for them to comment in the update that is sent.

Users have two options: they can click the Send Status Report button and add notes to the status report or open the task and mark it completed using the Status field or % Completed fields in the task header, not by clicking the Complete command in the toolbar or ribbon. They'll be able to enter notes in the notes field before saving the update. Keep in mind that the users need to choose Completed (or use 100%) on the task form. If they use the Completed button in the ribbon, the update is sent immediately.

Use the Status field or % Complete field to mark a task completed and respond with a reply

I create a lot of tasks by dragging emails to the tasks folder. When I drag an email that has an attachment, I need to open the email to access the attachment. Is there an easy to insert the attachment?

When you create a task and the message is embedded in the task, any attachments remain embedded in the message. If you want the attachment easily accessible, after attaching the email, drag the attachment to the task body, from either the reading pane or open message. I'm lazy and don't need to preserve the message formatting, so I drag the message to tasks, inserting  the message body as the task body then I drag any attachments to the task body, right from the reading pane. You can also select a block of text in the message body and drag it to the tasks folder to create a task with the selected text as the task body. If you aren't sure how to do this, we have  tutorial at How to Drag Messages to Tasks

In the same line of thought, it's not easy to add new mail to the original task. Is there a better method than pasting the message envelope into the task?

Unfortunately, there is no easily solution for that – either drag the message to the open task or continue to use copy and paste.

Why do recurring tasks seem to get lost so easily?

Recurring tasks are a problem for many people. They are not like recurring appointments that fill the dates; they are single items that generate the next task when the first one is marked complete. If you don't mark a task occurrence complete or skip it, it won't generate the next date's task. If you dismiss task reminders, the reminders are removed from the task but the next task isn't generated. You need to get into the habit of right clicking on Tasks in the reminders window and choosing Mark Complete.

Mark recurring tasks complete to generate the next task in the series

It would be nice if we could group tasks into related task groups.

Like oh, subtasks? A lot of users want to create subtasks – there really isn't a good solution for this, other than using categories or use the same subject prefix for all tasks that need to be grouped.

It would also be nice to have the date inserted at the beginning of new notes.

While not automatic, Outlook 2010 has an insert date command or you can use the macro at How to Insert the Date and Time into an Outlook Item. The demo uses contacts but you can use it in any Outlook form.

I have tasks in several folders. How can I view them on the To-Do bar?

Your tasks and flagged messages will be on the To-Do if they are in a data file email is delivered to. Otherwise, you need to right click on the top level folder, choose Properties then enable tasks and reminders. Tasks in the iCloud data file will not be on the To-Do list.

Tasks on Blackberry or iPad are not very good and I can't create tasks from email on the devices.

This isn't Outlook's fault. You'll need to use flag for follow up with the email then create tasks from the flagged messages when you are back in Outlook.

More Information

While I can't help with task tools for other devices, there are a number of utilities that are designed to improve the task function or increase your general productivity in Outlook. We have a list at Outlook Task Tools

Written by

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

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