How To Use Tasks in Microsoft Outlook More Effectively

If you just have a long list of tasks in Microsoft Outlook, then it won’t help you focus on immediate actions.  The key is to organize your tasks in Microsoft Outlook by priorities.

The challenge is that the first thing you’ll most likely want to do is sort by a custom priority.

While it’s not very complicated, it can be incredibly frustrating if you just want a simple task list that sorts by your custom priorities, and you don’t know the precise steps to make that happen.

Let’s do it.

If you do want to use Microsoft Outlook for tasks, here’s the trick to making it more useful:

  1. Add Start Date (it’s often more important to know when to start something, than to know when it’s due – this helps you bubble up critical actions better)
  2. Add a custom priority field.  In the example below, I created a “Pri” field and used P0, P1, and P2 for the priorities.  Here’s the trick:
    1. Don’t use the “Custom Priority” field that’s readily available in “Field Chooser”.  (You won’t be able to edit the text and you’ll get frustrated.)
    2. Instead, add a custom field by clicking “New…” on the “Field Chooser” – see below.
  3. Group by your custom field.  After you add your custom field for priority, to group by it, you need to use the “Group By” option (it won’t be listed under “Arrange By”)
    1. Note -- You need to switch “Select Available Fields” from the default to “User Defined Fields in Folder”  (otherwise, you won’t see your custom priority field)

Here it is visually …

This is just a simple set of tasks in Microsoft Outlook, nothing fancy, so we keep our focus on the key thing – a list of tasks organized by priorities with a start date.



When you right-click on the fields, you can click the “Field Chooser”, and then click “New …” to create a “New Column.”


To group your tasks by your new custom priority field, you can again, right-click the fields at the top of the Tasks, but this time, click “View Settings.”  From there, click “Group By …” and then change “Select available fields from” to be set to “User-defined fields in folder.”  This will then let you set the “Group items by” option to your new custom priority field (“Pri” in my example above.)


Remember, the key to effective task management isn’t managing your tasks.  It’s actually doing the most important tasks that achieve your goals, at the right time, in an efficient and effective way.

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Comments (1)

  1. Alex Dresko says:

    That's great and all, but I left Outlook a long time ago once it became difficult/impossible to do the same thing on my mobile devices.

    Long live the more flexible organizational tool, OneNote.

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