Manage Tasks in Outlook: Categorizing Tasks

When I originally looked for a way to manage tasks, I tried Microsoft Outlook's built-in feature. The problem was that there didn't appear to be a way to assign tasks to other people. Well, that turns out not to be the case. Let's take a quick look at how I currently organize tasks.


It should be mentioned that I'm not technically looking to assign tasks to people; I just want to group them for easy reference. That way I can quickly review someone's tasks prior to meeting with them, for example. It's also easy to see which tasks I'm responsible for and which ones belong to someone else.

Note: the following directions are based Microsoft Outlook 2010 for Windows 7.

Task List Quick View

Since most of my time spent in Outlook involves managing email, I utilize the feature that lists tasks in a column next to the inbox. This makes the tasks easily accessible and less likely to be forgotten because they're not buried under a separate tab. To show tasks on the same screen as your emails, you can

  1. Click View (see Figure 1)
  2. Click the "To-Do Bar" option and make sure Normal is checked (see Figure 2)
  3. Task List also needs to be checked under the "To-Do Bar" option (see Figure 3)
Outlook screenshot showing the View tab
Figure 1. View Tab
Outlook screenshot showing the Normal option being checked
Figure 2. Selecting Normal
Outlook screenshot showing the Task List option being checked
Figure 3. Selecting Task List

Creating Categories

To "assign" a task to someone, I currently use Outlook categories. To create a category,

  1. Right click the Categories column for any email message and click All Categories… (see Figure 4)
    • Note: you may only see an empty box for the Categories column (see Figure 5)
  2. In the Color Categories window, click New… (see Figure 6)
  3. Enter the category name, color, and click OK
  4. When you are done adding categories, click Cancel for the Color Categories window
Outlook screenshot showing the All Categories... option
Figure 4. Click All Categories…
Outlook screenshot showing the empty box in the Categories column
Figure 5. Empty Box for Categories Column
Outlook screenshot showing the button for creating a new category
Figure 6. Adding New Category

Sorting Categories

All these categories won't be of much use if Outlook is just going to sort the task by highest priority. To sort and group the tasks by category, click the "Arrange By" option above the "Type a new task" form field and choose Categories (see Figure 7).

Outlook screenshot showing how to sort tasks by category
Figure 7. Sorting by Category

Final Thoughts

My categories are currently named after the people I work with regularly. I also have a category for myself called "_Patrick". The underscore before my name makes sure that the tasks assigned to me appear at the top of the Task List column. The last category that I have is called "Waiting for response (staff)". This is where I put the tasks that don't belong in the other categories.

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