How to use Outlook Tasks

Last reviewed on July 21, 2013   —  49 comments

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.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlookforums.

49 responses to “How to use Outlook Tasks”

  1. Julia

    Trying to find out if it's possible to create a macro or button that simultaneously copies and then marks the copied task as complete

  2. Thomas Stevenson

    In 2003 & 2007 completed tasks were lined out but not removed until the next day. Can this be done in 2010?

  3. Chris Mc

    When assigning a task there is no accept/decline button - it just goes as an email. Can you please advise how to fix this

  4. Ed Erris

    In the "arrange by" column on the right side of my tasks window all of my tasks are listed twice. Do I have a setting error? How can I change this?

  5. Alexis M. La Salle

    I am part of an office team and we have several incoming email accounts and they all go into outlook programs on 4 different computers to that all email can be checked through outlook on several different machines. Sometimes when we task each other, the tasks seems to get corrupted and can not be opened or deleted and the only thing I can do is drag them to the "Junk" folder and they are starting to accumulate. When I try to delete them, I get an error message that says "Array index out of bounds." Is there a setting that needs to be changed in order for this to work? Any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated.

  6. Johan Degraeve

    Iwant to print out the tasklist with the detail note below each row as I see it on the screen. How can I do that.
    I have now groups of tasks, the start and due date, a small description, and in the notes we type down the follow-up. On the screen the notes appear below each task. I seem not to be able to have this result on a print preview or printed list.

  7. Sue Daniels

    I drag emails from my boss into my Task List. I just noticed that every time I edit my task for my own reference, it is sent as an email (task update) to my boss. How can I make it stop doing this? Thanks!

  8. Sue Daniels

    Thanks for your response. I am not sure what you mean by "having his mailbox open in my profile." I don't have access to his email, if that's what you mean, but I do have access to his Task List and Calendar.

  9. muffitt

    how do I change the owner of the task. eg. in the accounts department, statements due reminders have been set up and the owner is account but I want the director to own the task and assign it to the accounts so that the director can keep track of all statements

  10. Sue Daniels

    Diane, I need more help with this. Is there a setting I need to change on his Outlook so that my boss won't get updates every time I edit a task on my computer? What would that setting be, and where would I find it?

  11. Francis

    Hi Diane,
    (in Outlook 2010) I want to add a Contacts column so I can remember who the task concerns, and possibly send emails (without assigning tasks to anyone - just for my own organization). I added the Contacts column, it has what looks like an editable field but I can't enter anything, whatever I type on the keyboard. Possibly a bug? I found a checkbox in File > Options > Contacts > Show Contacts linked to current item, but that did not solve the problem.

  12. Colleen Mullin

    I assign many tasks to staff and the majority of them are recurring tasks. When an instance of the task is completed I receive notification and a new task is created on the recipient's list but the task is not updated on my own list. Despite the recurring nature of these tasks, I still need to know that they have been completed and would like it if they were updated on my own list (I believe several editions of Outlook ago this was the case?). Is there any way I can work around this aspect of the program? what would happen if, when I received the completion notice, I marked the task complete on my list? would it regenerate and new one that again I could mark complete? It seems a bit more work than wished for but I need to track these recurring tasks. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide. Colleen M.

    1. Colleen Mullin

      I still need help with this aspect of Outlook 2010. The 'task complete' messages I receive from the task owner come as emails instead of task updates... is there a way to work around this? An earlier message mentioned the TNEF data settings impacting the format of an outgoing task, could this be the problem that I am experiencing? Please help.

  13. Dean

    I'm using outlook 2010 what I want to do is add (tasks or appointments) to my calendar, some will be a day long some will be weeks long, their will be several tasks going at the same time, no work on the weekends daily hours 7:30 to 3:30 it will look like a MS Project schedule except I'll be able to see it on my iphone in real time, and share it with other managers. I finished a really nice one but the tasks were over lapping and you could not see them all in calendar view.

  14. Ben Melton

    I assigned a recurring task to an employee, due every Monday. When he completes it, I get the email saying so, and the date regenerates on his list. Problem is: the task still shows past due when I view the tasks assigned to all my employees. Any help here? My IT department is baffled.

  15. muffitt

    when I receive an email which is a reply to my email, how do i quickly know or see if I had flagged my email as follow up and/or a task was linked to it, so i can quickly mark the task as complete for example.

  16. Dave Woods

    I would LOVE to be able to assign a task to a team member, and receive a notification back to me when the task goes overdue. Is this possible? THANKS!

  17. Christine

    Trying to figure out how to enter data into the Notes column while entering a Task....Please help....

  18. Therese Cerny

    Hi Diane. I need your help again. I am the owner of a generic Outlook account for a small team here at work. When I am logged in as the owner, the automatic journaling of task requests/responses works. When I am logged in as a user (author), it doesn't work. The Journal options are set correctly. I'm not sure what else to check. Please advise...

  19. Therese Cerny

    Outlook 2010

  20. Jenny Brady

    How do I get the Due Date in a Task to maintain the original date I set? It keeps changing when I change the start date.

  21. john elms

    when i go to a contact i need to make a task for this contact to remind to call or do some thing with then
    i could do this with the older outlook

  22. john elms

    Your comment is awaiting moderation. what does this mean???

  23. g

    Great article. Question; Outlook 2010, Calendar, View Week, click to add Task bottom of any day prior to current, Start & End Date prior to current, Mark Complete, Save & Close; In the Calendar, View Week; Why does the task move from the date you entered (created it on) to the current? Is there a way to make it stay on the previous date? Thank-you!

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