Knowledge Pack: Outlook

Outlook is great. But our outlook towards Outlook is not! That is why we waste lot of our precious time in doing the wrong things in and around Outlook. I have covered many aspects of effective Outlook usage. Here is a comprehensive list, in recommended order of reading.


Photo credit: simondavies57 / Foter / CC BY-SA

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Beyond Task List – Add a duration column

The Need

We have already seen that work is best executed using the Task folder. But just making a list of tasks with deadlines is not enough. We need more information – how much time will each task ACTUALLY REQUIRE to execute. Duration can then be used to sort / filter pending tasks and choosing the right task depending upon time available at hand.

Here is how you do it…

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Arrange meetings with yourself = Time Management

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This article is a part of a series about proactive work management. Please read the following articles before reading this article so that you understand the context clearly.

  1. The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?
  2. Tasks folder is your best friend!
  3. Never delegate work using email: Use Outlook Tasks
  4. DO NOT flag mails for follow up. There is a better way…


  • You must proactively plan and execute your own work
  • The best way to keep track of your work is to create tasks in Outlook
  • Delegation and monitoring is best performed using Assigned Tasks
  • Work sent to you by others by mail should also be converted to Tasks
  • Finally, we have a long list of tasks which is clearly demarcated


Now you clearly KNOW what is the pending work. This is a great start.

The next step is to ensure that the work is done on time. Let us see how…

The problem: lot of work but no time to do it!

Time is already blocked in meetings – most of them called for by others Steaming mad

Solution? Find time to do the work.

Exactly how?

Tasks + Calendar = Execution

Very easy…

Open Calendar – ideally weekly or work week view

Right click on Task folder and choose Open in New Window. Change the view to Active Tasks.

Make the Tasks window smaller so that you can see the tasks and the calendar together.

Drag a task and drop it on the calendar. Choose the date and time which you feel is convenient.


We know the expected duration of each task (we created a special column for it). Adjust the duration accordingly in the calendar. If you do not see the Duration column in this view, go to Field Chooser and drag-drop the column once. See this article for details.

Good news: Now everyone knows that you are busy Smile

Do this for as many tasks as you can…


This is called Time Management!

Few more things

When you drag and drop the task to calendar, there is NO linkage between them.

Just creating a meeting request does NOT mean that you have finished the task in the allocated time.

When you finish the task, you must mark it as complete MANUALLY.

This method works! Try it! Share it
Let me know your thoughts…

DO NOT flag mails for follow up. There is a better way…

This is the fourth article in a series about managing YOUR work using Outlook tasks.

Please read these three articles before you read this one for a clearer understanding of the thought process.

  1. The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work? : 2 Feb 14
  2. Tasks folder is your best friend! : 3 Feb 14
  3. Never delegate work using email: Use Outlook Tasks : 4 Feb 14


  • Till now we have seen that we must focus on our work proactively.
  • The best way to do that is to put your own work in Task folder
  • Delegation is also best performed by using Outlook Tasks
  • In short, Task folder is your work execution engine

What about work which others ask you to do?

These requests land in your inbox. Immediate reply is not expected – the sender wants you to do some work and usually there is a deadline.

What do we do in such cases? Just use the good old Flag.

If you were not using the task folder as described above, that flag is a good enough method of remembering (or rather, trying to remember) pending work.

But now that we have all our work nicely organized in the Task folder, why do you want to monitor two different places?

It would be much better to CONVERT such mails to Tasks.

How to convert mails to Tasks?

Drag the mail by pressing the RIGHT mouse button and drop it on the Task Icon (or Task bar).


Right drag drop does not do any action – it shows you possible actions.


Choose the last one Move here as Task with Attachments

If you want to keep the original mail in Inbox for whatever reason (to keep track of that discussion thread, for example), then choose the second option Copy here as task with Attachment

Now it is converted to the task.

If required, repair the subject line to describe the task more explicitly and add the deadline. Save it.

The benefits

This approach is much better than flogging the flags Winking smile. Here is why…

  1. Flag actually means Flag for Follow Up
  2. Clicking on the flag means makes it dark red color – which means DUE TODAY
  3. Tomorrow it will be shown as delayed. In reality each task may have a different deadline. But we never right click on the Flag to choose the appropriate deadline – defeating the purpose.
  4. Soon you will have so many flags that even sorting on them requires you to scroll multiple times – leading to confusion rather than faster execution
  5. When you finish the work related to the flagged mail, you are supposed to click on the flag – which marks at as done. We almost never do that (guess why!)
  6. Due to this, sorting on flags gives you a false sense of pending work
  7. Finally, flags do not have sophisticated features which tasks have – like the reminders, % complete, ability to delegate, grouping, custom fields like duration and so on

In short, use Task folder. DO NOT use flags – however “comfortable” you are with them.

Delegating work which was delegated to you

You got mail. It was delegated work. You converted to task. But you realized that you are not the one who is ACTUALLY going to execute it. Someone else in your team will do it.

No problem.

Right drag drop to convert it to task as shown above. Specify the deadline and choose Assign Task to delegate it to the person concerned.

Of course, you are still responsible for getting it done. So you will have your copy of the task to monitor execution. But you have delegated it to the right person now.

Best of both worlds!

Color coding work delegated to you

Now you have three types of work in your task folder

  1. Tasks you have created yourself – your own work
  2. Tasks which you have delegated to others
  3. and Tasks which others have delegated to you (which we just covered)

It is important to visually identify the third type of tasks because the task icons for 1 and 3 is the same.

How to do this? Simple… use Color Categories.

Create a color category called “Delegated to me” or DTM for short if you like acronyms.


As soon as you convert a mail to task, mark it with that color. This way, you can prioritize the work you do.

Now you can clearly see three types of work.


  1. My own work
  2. Work delegated to me by others
  3. Work which I have delegated to others

If you have limited time – obviously you will give more importance to your work rather than work delegated to you by others!

When should we use the flags?

There are three scenarios where using the flags makes logical sense.

  1. While using mobile devices
    Most mobile devices do not allow mail to be converted to Tasks. Therefore, if you view such a mail on your mobile phone, Flag it temporarily. When you are back to full version of Outlook on the PC or Laptop, convert the mail to task.
  2. Ad-hoc, temporary prioritization
    There are some mails which are lying in the inbox and you want to take immediate action. However, you are not going to initiate the action at the moment you saw the mail. This is another place where you can flag it. It just indicates that the task is immediately due. Execute it and then remove the flag or delete / archive the mail.
  3. Important mails which you want to filter quickly
    Most mobile devices provide a filtered view which shows Flagged messages. For example, flight tickets, movie ticket QR codes, some important mail you want to quickly refer to during a discussion or read while traveling. These mails can be flagged. This is just an identifier and does not in anyway indicate that the mail is a task.

Try this. Teach this to your team. And let me know how it works!

Of course, there is a minor problem still pending…

What have we achieved so far? Just created a very nice list of work to be executed. Now we need to find time for it and then execute it on or before the deadline.

We will solve that problem in the next article…

Tasks folder is your best friend!

Please read the previous post. This is a continuation of the concept introduced in that post.

The core concept is: Focus on your OWN work before helping OTHERS.

Where is your pending work listed?

Well… usually it is scattered across many places which include:

  1. Your brain!
  2. scribbled on loose sheets, notepads, diaries, tissue papers, …
  3. Minutes of meetings documents (which usually arrive few days after the meeting and we usually don’t have time to open them!)
  4. OneNote, EverNote, some note taking software
  5. Text Messages
  6. Inbox – YES… some people send messages to themselves – thinking that they will remember to do the work  Surprised smile Wilted rose
  7. Post-it’s stuck on your monitor or pinned in front of you somewhere
  8. Mails sent by someone to you asking you to do some work – which we flag sometimes
  9. Palm of your hand
  10. behind the boarding pass, receipts – and many other places beyond my imagination Just kidding

Reality: Unless you see the pending work, you won’t do it

This is a no-brainer. When you get time to do your work, you will need to choose the work you want to execute at that point of time.

It is humanly impossible to keep track of work stored (often randomly) in so many different locations.

What is the obvious solution? Keep it in ONE place.

Fortunately you already have that place – Outlook Task Folder.

Core work is listed in your Job Description

This is what you signed up for. If you do it well – you grow. If you do it partially – it hinders your growth.

When do we look at the job description? Obviously at the time of signing up for the job. And after that? Usually at the time of periodic review.

At the time of review, it is frequently found that you have not done justice to all the items in the job description or dashboard or KRAs or Scorecard.

Why not? Is it because you don’t have the capability to perform that work? Probably not – in that case you would not have signed up for it in the first place.

It is because you did not have enough time to do justice to all the responsibilities. Some of them took up so much of your time that others were just pushed to the sideline – often unknowingly.

That sounds like a helpless situation. We want to be in a commanding position. So let us start resolving this problem.

Homework: Make a list of tasks based upon your job description

Follow these guidelines.

  1. Open the Task folder
  2. Click on Tasks (not the To Do list)
  3. Add tasks for items which you are already in the process of executing
  4. Open your job description or KRAs or scorecard
  5. Look at each item and break it down into smaller, executable units
  6. For each task specify the subject (the short description) and the due date
  7. Monitor this list every day – first thing in the morning – multiple times during the day and just before closing for the day
  8. Now see the difference it makes in your work execution

Specifying the duration of the task

When you see the Task folder, it shows the task, status and due date. There is no way to specify the estimated duration for the task in the default task.

However, the duration is important. When you want to prioritize the tasks for execution, one of the practical things you want to know is how long will it take to finish.

If you have only one hour in hand, there is no point in starting a task which requires half a day.

So here is how you add a new column to the task list – called Duration.

  1. Right click on the heading (Subject or Due date)
  2. Click Field Chooserimage
  3. A long list of fields will appear. Unfortunately, Duration is not available there. We will create it.
  4. Click the New… buttonimage
  5. Type Task Duration as the name
  6. Choose Duration as the typeimage
  7. Click OK
  8. Now the field will appear in the list
  9. Drag it and drop it after the Due Dateimage
  10. Now onwards, as soon as you add a task remember to type in the Duration

Duration is a very smart column. It understands hours, days, minutes. Here are valid durations: 30 min, 120 min, 2h, .5 day, 2 d, 6h, 16 h

It may convert it to some equivalent time unit. Don’t worry.

Sorting on it works perfectly. Now you can use this to find a task which fits into the time available to you.


Try this and let me know your feedback…

Add more tasks

Apart from the core tasks you have added in the earlier step, more ad-hoc tasks will keep coming. No problem. Just add them to the task list.

Anything which is going to take up more than TEN minutes of your precious life is worth adding to the task folder.
Of course, based upon your work profile, you can change this benchmark to suit your style.

More about task management coming up in the next article.

Take an appointment with yourself!

Please read the previous article before you read this one.

Remember. Your work is higher priority than work with others want you to do.

Where is your pending work listed?

Usually scattered across multiple locations : Mind, Notepads, Tissue papers, Mobile notes, mails, minutes of meetings, etc.

That is not a good idea because you can’t see all the pending work in one place. If you don’t see something you don’t end up doing it.

Step 1: Create Tasks

Go back to your core job description or KRAs or organizational commitments sheet – whatever you have signed up for. Take each item from there and break it down into smaller pieces of work and add them to tasks. Using color categories mark them as Core work.


Think of all the other pending tasks and add the to task folder as well.

Anything in this color is additional information and optional reading. You can move to the black area ahead without losing context.

Common mistake: Adding work to Calendar

Calendar and Task are two different things. If you are blocking specific time for whatever reason, put it in the calendar.

Work is different. We decide What to do and When it should be completed (the deadline). However, we don’t specify when exactly it will be done. That is called a TASK.

Calendar is for meetings, events, leave , seminars, off-sites, fieldwork, training programs, etc. Here we block time to say EXACTLY WHEN something is going to happen. If it does not happen, it may be rescheduled but that is not very important.

Step 2: block YOUR time to do YOUR work

This is a genuine problem. We simply don’t have time to handle all the mails, attend all meetings and handle all tasks. But now that we know that tasks are the priority, we must focus on them.

If others see that your calendar is free, they are bound to send meeting requests. So before that happens, make sure that you block your time for your work.

  1. Open the calendar. Better to be in the Work Week View
  2. Right click on Tasks folder and choose Open in New Window
  3. Make the tasks window smaller so that you can float it above the calendar window and see both
  4. Look a the tasks. Choose which ones are important
  5. Decide which date and time you want to do that work
  6. Drag the task and drop it on that date
  7. Adjust the time based upon your estimate of how long the task will require

Now think what you just did.

Remember, dragging the task to calendar is just a convenience. It DOES NOT mark the task as complete. When you finish the task, you must go and mark it as complete in the task folder.

“I took an appointment with myself to do my own work” = Time Management

Sounds funny. But this is the simplest form of time management.


Start creating the task list and drag the tasks to calendar to block time. Start it immediately.

Creating tasks is your first task Smile

Next article

In the next article we will understand how you can refine your work in Outlook using custom fields.