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Change your Outlook on Task Lists

June 25, 2012

Starting your day can be a tough exercise especially if you have too much to do and don’t know where to start.  We are busier than ever these days and often experience information overload with the constant stream of email and the need to be available via our smartphone. The ability to stay organized and keep up with our task list is key because as well all know, we are all ruled by our “to do” lists because it gets us from point A to point B.

We all have many different ways of staying organized and organizing our “to do” lists. Some of us use sticky notes to decorate our flat screen monitor and others may use an elaborate list in Excel with sorting and filtering.  I’m a self-proclaimed listologist and I love my tasks lists so I like to keep all my information in one central place for quick and easy access. I take full advantage of Outlook 2010 to help me stay on top of my game. Even if you are not a big list maker, I think you will really like what Outlook Tasks can do for you.

Outlook is the first place I visit every morning before I start my day.  I catch up on all email messages and add those emails to my task list.  Instead of transposing all the information from the email into a New Task, I simply drag and drop the email on to Tasks which is located in the Navigation Pane. The New Task dialog box displays with the email message in the body of the new task so I don’t have to remember the details of the task or why I generated the task.

The default view in the Tasks window really didn’t suit my needs so I added a few extra fields to accommodate my requirement to sort by company name or who the task is assigned to.

You can add additional fields by right-clicking on the header row and selecting Field Chooser.

When the Field Chooser dialog box displays, click once on the field and drag and drop it on the header row.  Now I can click on the field and at a quick glance I can keep track of tasks according to company name or who the task is assigned to rather than scrolling through all the tasks on the list.

In order to further narrow down the most important tasks to complete for the day, I also use Categories.  For me, categories provide a great visual mark of importance to my tasks.  Sure I can prioritize my tasks by marking them high, medium or low but categories give me a great visual by allowing me to name my categories.

First, start by renaming your categories so that you can apply the categories later or as you assign a task.  Click on the drop down arrow on the categories button and select All Categories.

The Color Categories dialog box displays.

Click once on the category you would like to rename and click on Rename.  Enter the new name of the category and press <Enter>.

To apply a category, click once on the task and click on the Categorize button and apply the category.

When you have a very large task list, it will be very simple to visually pick out certain tasks in your task list when they are categorized.

Now some of you are probably saying out loud, “but I like to write down my tasks because I like that tactile experience and the great satisfaction I get from crossing that task off my list when it is done.” (Research has shown that some people actually write down tasks they have already completed because if gives them the opportunity to cross something off the list – I like to call them cheaters).

Research has also shown that 96% say that their lives are better with task lists; 89% say they enjoy making lists and 28% are identified as obsessive list makers (that would be me).  Then there are those who are the closet list makers and will never admit to making any type of list.  Those are the people that have sticky notes everywhere – so that makes them unconventional list makers.

Whatever your process is, I would recommend slowly putting your lists in some sort of electronic medium. Start small and put your personal lists in Outlook and then see how it works.  You can slowly adapt and get used to the electronic world of lists and develop a flow.  When you feel comfortable then move on to putting your work lists or project lists into Outlook.

..and then when you get comfortable with your task lists in Outlook then start to make other lists that are just as important as those every day work/life tasks.  Below are a few examples.  Enjoy!

  • Smile at Others and notice how their face lights up
  • Commit an act of kindness at least once a day (if not more)
  • Don’t forget to laugh even if you are in a foul mood.  It really does make a difference!
  • Always remember to say thank you

Thank you for your time today!

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