By September 18, 2012 4 Comments Read More →

Task Management Using Microsoft Outlook

imageMicrosoft Outlook has Task feature. Don’t use it. Use simple mail items to manage your tasks. This approach reduces places you need to look, it reduces number of clicks you need to make. It will save you a lot of time which you could use more productively. Consider this, it takes fraction of a second to switch between screens or click on an item on one hand. On the other, you are doing hundreds if not thousands of clicks that may easily add up to hundreds of minutes a day. Take also into the consideration the time spent between the context switches – cool-downs and warm-ups – it’s both wasted time and wasted focus. Concentration and loss of it matters a lot to your productivity. It takes so much effort to collect relevant info in contextual and meaningful way to stay productive and any distraction such as context switch between screens and extra click would easily derail you back to disorder and loss of concentration.

Task Management As We Know It

Consider this workflow when managing tasks using Outlook’s Task feature:

  1. You receive an email with an ask to accomplish a task.
  2. You switch to Tasks screen.
  3. You click to create new item, the Task.
  4. You feel in the body of the tasks either by switching between the email and the task and copy/paste from one to another or by manually typing.
  5. You set end date and save the task.
  6. During the day the tasks list shown on your screen taking precious real estate and distract you.
  7. Task reminder pops or the task gets red colored during most impropriate times distracting you.
  8. You switch to Tasks screen, you open the task and modify it. You switch back. Or you start processing it and finish the task.
  9. You mark the task completed.
  10. You want to forward the task to another person. It’s being attached to an email.
  11. The person you send the task needs to double click it to open and then save in his tasks which probably organized differently. This introduce another level of friction. Consider if another person sends you an email with attached task, it surely introduce friction into your workflow.

I am sure you have notice how much friction involved when managing your tasks using Outlook’s Task feature. Imagine the scenario where you want to quickly skim through your tasks for specific project. For that you would need to create new views introducing more screens to look at, more friction, more clicks, more time wasted on unproductive work.

Friction Free Task Management

Alternative approach would be not using Outlook’s Task feature at all. Use email items to manage tasks. First, make sure Outlook configure as outlined in Configure Microsoft Office Outlook For Effective Time Management–The Happy Way. It makes sure key categories and folder structure created. It’s quick one time effort that makes the foundation which you would do anyway no matter what task management approach you use. Consider the following flow:

  1. You receive an email with an ask to accomplish a task.
  2. You tag it with proper category. If it falls out of the key categories list, you just delete it.
  3. You drag the email to the Hot Plate folder, this is where all your tasks automatically lined up per project. No reminders, no pop-ups, no distraction. Clean Inbox too.
  4. You click on the Hot Plate folder, expand relevant project (category).
  5. You pick the task and accomplish it.
  6. You file the task, which is effectively an email item, upon the completion. You naturally respond to the original requestor of the task since it’s a regular email. No attachments, no extra clicks or extra switches. Add yourself to CC if the task needs further work.

Notice how the flow is much simpler, friction free and more natural. It saves time, keeps you in focus helping to accomplish things faster and go home early.

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Posted in: Time Management

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4 Comments on "Task Management Using Microsoft Outlook"

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  1. J.D. Meier says:

    Tasks have never been my friend. They were always death by a 1,000 paper cuts.

    What I found though is that having a single task as a container for a bunch of mini-tasks, does work well. I’m a fan of batching and consolidating.

  2. alik levin says:

    JD,
    Batch, consolidate and pruning is the path that worked for me as well

  3. Although may users struggle with Task Management in Microsoft Outlook, if used appropriately (and sparringly), they can be very useful. For example, I set-up recurring Tasks in Microsoft Outlook for “periodic/repetitive” items such as performing my month-end Expense reports, performing a weekly timesheet for contractors. I also use them for “one and done” items with specific “deadlines”, such as completing a performance review by a specific time. By using Tasks with “due dates”, I just review the “tasks” each morning and know if there are any items that I need to get done within the next few days. I then can block-off time on my calendar if necessary to complete them.

    Yes, it is another place that you need to look and manage, but I have been very succesful in using them, and it reduces the load in my inbox, which I try to use for communications, whereas tasks are my “to dos”.

    Just an alternative view for consideration…

    Regards,
    Michael

  4. alik levin says:

    Michael,
    If it works for you and if you accept the risk/burden of time spent on looking and managing another system, this is great and fine. After mastering it you probably don’t even pay attention to it and it is a second nature. As a counterargument though I could say there are many people who successfully implemented MS Project to manage tasks and deliverable. The key point here is “are you spending more time and energy on tools vs. how much time/energy the tool frees for you?” – it’s a simple test and if it passes then arguing over the tools is useless.
    How much does it take to set it up?, how much time do you spend on finding, delivering, filing the next task/deliverable? What does it take to re prioritize? – this is one of the biggest time/energy killers.

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