Manage Tasks in Outlook: Create Customizable Tasks

Sometimes I just need more control over the tasks created in Microsoft Outlook. Being able to flag emails that I may need to follow up with is great, but the options for customizing the resulting tasks can be too limiting. For the times where you need more control, Outlook provides additional ways to create tasks.


In the previous post (Manage Tasks in Outlook: Flagging Emails as Tasks), we flagged an email so it appears in the task list. We also saw how to change the resulting task's title to better fit your needs.

The problem is that there isn't much else that you can edit about the task. If an email has several sub-tasks, it might be useful to modify how they are listed so none get missed. Or you may want to incorporate additional detail to the task. Someone, for example, may stop by after sending the message with a few extra bits that were not mentioned in the email.

For these more complicated situations, you can use one of Outlook's alternative ways to add tasks.

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

Create New Task

The most obvious way to create a customizable task is to use the text area in the Task List column (see Figure 1).

Microsoft Outlook screenshot showing the new task field
Figure 1. New Task Field

You just type the task title and press enter on the keyboard. You can then double click the newly added task to fill in the task description, select the category, etc. (see Figure 2).

Microsoft Outlook screenshot showing where to assign a category and add a description in the task description window
Figure 2. Customize the Task Details

Drag Email

Another, potentially quicker, way to create a task is drag an email and drop it on the Tasks tab (see Figure 3).

Microsoft Outlook screenshot showing how to drag an email to the Tasks tab
Figure 3. Drag Email to Tasks Tab

The drag and drop method automatically names the task based on the email's subject. It also takes the message from the email and inserts it into the body of the task (see Figure 4).

Microsoft Outlook screenshot showing how the email message is automatically included in the task description
Figure 4. Email Message Automatically Included

Final Thoughts

In addition to both of these methods allowing you to customize the tasks as needed, it's also beneficial if you use multiple Outlook Data Files. For example, I have several Outlook Data Files; one for each website I maintain. That way I can organize my email based on the website it is for.

When an email arrives in my inbox, I might flag it using a method from the previous post (Manage Tasks in Outlook: Flagging Emails as Tasks). Everything works fine until I move the flagged email from the inbox to a folder in a separate Outlook Data File. Moving the email ends up removing the corresponding task.

The methods described in this post don't have that problem since the task isn't tied directly to an email.

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