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Using Outlook effectively: part 3 – emails as tasks

Outlook isn’t just an email engine. It includes tools that help you organise, prioritise and delegate work.

Part 1 in this series on Outlook (2007) focused on the calendar function, while part 2 looked at using the tasks feature.

Flagging emails as tasks

When an email arrives, it’s tempting to deal with it straight away. Unfortunately, as fast as one is cleared, another one appears. Indeed, it may not be possible to deal with an email immediately because other information is required.

Simple flagging

To prioritise emails within your Inbox, right click on the message and select a follow-up flag. From this view you can also Add Reminder, which works in the same way as a reminder for a task.

Outlook marks the email with a flag and adds the task to the To-Do Bar on the right of your screen.

Note that it does not add the email to the normal Task folder. The task will appear in Calendar view as a task and in the To Do Bar, but will not synchronise with your smartphone.

Once the email has been flagged, it stays in the Inbox with its flag indicating its urgency. You can then re-organise your Inbox so that items are viewed by urgency rather than simply by the date they arrived.

To do this click on: View / Arrange By / Show in Groups. Then click View / Arrange By / Flag: Due Date.

Flagging and filing

Rather than clutter up the Inbox with unanswered mail, you can ‘flag’ a message to appear at a more convenient time, then file it in another folder.

Right click as before and select Custom. You will be prompted to set a start date (eg, when additional information should have arrived), a due date (eg, the deadline for completion) and a reminder date (eg, when you want to chase up related information).

In the Flag For line, specify what action you want to take. There are some default actions (eg, call, follow up, review etc) or you can overwrite with your own reminder (eg, has the client answered?) 

Then file the email in a sub-folder to declutter your inbox.

Following up emails

Are you ever afraid that you’ll send an email but forget to chase up a response? You can flag the email before you send it (select the Follow Up flag from the Options menu and complete the Flag For and dates sections as above) and a reminder will pop up on the date you’ve selected.

Do you want to remind the recipient to respond? Before sending, set a flag for the recipient. Again, click on the Follow Up flag in the Options menu, select the Flag for Recipient box and complete as appropriate.

Flag categories

If you have no need to flag items by date but want to manage your Inbox, categorise the messages. Right-click on an email, click and then select a category. Note that these can be renamed to suit your needs.

Then, using the View menu as above, you can Arrange By Categories, rather than Flag: Due Date. Once there is something in each category, new emails can be dragged into a category to allocate it.

Emails becoming tasks

If you want the email to go into the actual Tasks folder (and so to synchronise with your smartphone) simply drag the email to the tasks folder in the Folder list. This brings up the standard Task window in which you enter the necessary details.

Again, you can now file the email.

January 2014