More on subtasks

In this release of Outlook, we considered adding subtasks, but decided that the primary problem that our customers are facing is that they don’t use tasks at all. Some might argue that this is because tasks in Outlook lack the hierarchy and sophisticated linking that some time management philosophies call for, but what we found in our research was quite the opposite: tasks were already too complicated, they were hidden away in an infrequently visited section of the product, they didn’t interact well with the calendar, and generally, they were too hard to use. We also found that less than 2% of our customers ever used tasks. We found this statistic to be incredibly sad given how badly people need better time management tools. To help our customers, we decided to focus on making tasks more prominent (the To-Do Bar), improve task interaction with the calendar (the Daily Task List) and most importantly, make tasks easy to create (easy task entry in the To-Do Bar and new task flagging.) Simplicity won out over additional hierarchy and complexity. Perhaps next release we will consider enhancing tasks to include subtasks and better hierarchical structuring to build on the system that we have built in this release. Thank you all for your comments.

Comments (56)
  1. Fred says:

    Thanks for taking your time to post an explanation.

  2. Nas Hashmi says:

    good thing you changed the name. tasks are just way too advanced.

    The thing is that if you start something really simple, the only people to really admire how advance tasks become are the people who are using it from the beginning. everyone else will be left out.

    google sidebar in desktop search has this really cool plugin: to-do plugin. it really is simple and prominent. I like the interactivity of it. unfortunately, desktop search takes lots of resources.

    i saw tasks in outlook, tried to use it, was not much of a time management person so i never really liked it. i tried hard to use it to. but if you give people the option of not having a deadline and just having a list of to-do items, they will appreciate it more.

  3. Jeanette says:

    Interesting statistics. Was there an analysis of WHY 98% of those surveyed didn’t use Outlook tasks? Or formal HCI research watching them use tasks?

    I’m certainly one of those that has tried to use Outlook tasks in every new version of Office and abandonded them as just not meeting my needs(I went back to paper each time). I am in the 30 day trial phase of using the Netcentric Outlook GTD-add in.

    It has Projects and Subprojects, I can sort by them for views and expand/collaspe a hierarchical list in the project and subproject view.

    So far it looks very promising and I will likely buy it, though I’m going to try out Gyronix ResultsManager with MindManager and see how well it integrates with Outlook 2003, and if mind mapping works for me.

    I never found the Franklin/Covey single daily task list with priorities a very useful approach for me. The context based Next Action approach of GTD seem to be working better, and handles the constant flow of interrupts, shifting focuses, priorities etc. better. I mesh the contexts with Julie Morgenstern’s time map and only look at to-do’s that fit in the context or time slot I’ve allocated. Maybe a two level sort, daily list that I can impose a secondary context sort on would work.

    I’m also using OneNote and then have links to everything else relating to a task in the OneNote entry. It’s a kludge but it’s working.

    I don’t so much think of it as a sophisticated approach as much as doing the foundation/prep work that makes the to-do as _simple_ as possible when I get to it. That I am at the most granualar level to do a task, i.e. all the info, docs, websites etc. are right there.

    Obviously, it’s a very individual thing and different things work for different people. I would urge that how the task list is displayed can be configured by the user so that they are not limited to displaying tasks by a daily view.

    Currently, I have the task list displayed in my calendar view, though I pretty much ignore it, and rely on a separate Outlook task window with the tasks displayed by GTD action (context) or by project/subproject.

    I look forward to playing with the new calendar functionality which looks awesome.

  4. I live and breath in Outlook. Is there any chance at all of getting into the Beta? I’d love to be able to test and give some feed back on these features.

    email: patrickforum at allaboutfocus dot com.

  5. Craig Mackenzie says:

    Melissa, first, thanks to you and your co-bloggers writing about the next addition to Office. Its great to follow the write ups and then the comments. Helps start the ‘want’ for it

    Categories are a particular bug with me and Outlook at the moment. I see some progress being made, but I too would have liked to see sub-tasks. As I read your previous post talking about categories I’d like to put in 2 requests:

    1) Currently the category box is a fixed size, to really use it effectively / more, I believe that it needs to be bigger. It shows 13 categories, sorted alphabetically. This tends to make one not create to many categories to keep the list useable. Plus a user has to come up with workarounds, periods first etc to get their own order of categories so that the most frequent come to top. It would be great to be able to see more of them and be able to create my own order. (I am a Realtor and need to be able to tell clients what I have done for them. So would really like to have each client as a category, but the list would get out of hand really quickly as it now exists)

    2) A work around sub-tasks would to be able to create a sort function by hierarchy, like the sort function in Excel. You could then tag the ‘Clean the garage’ task with the catagories ‘Project’ & ‘Clean the Garage’ and the ‘Sweep Floor’ task with ‘Sub-Task’ + ‘Clean the Garage’ as categories. A sort using ‘Project’ as first level and ‘Sub-Task’ as second would sort each project and its subtasks together.

  6. Tim says:

    Since sub-tasks won’t be appearing in Outlook 12, how about making a add-in for it? If the add-in is popular, as I imagine it will be with all the GTD users, then you can integrate it into Outlook 13 or Outlook 12 SP1.

  7. martin says:

    hi melissa,

    firstly, i very much appreciate the opportunity to be able to be able to provide feedback on this forum.

    Following on from your note, I do most definitely agree that integrating the tasklist more closely into the calendar is fundamental to getting more people to use the task facility, and it sounds as if this aspect will be much improved in the new Outlook version.

    However, I also think that hierarchical tasks are now a necessity in this day and age, particularly if Outlook is to be perceived as the market-leading tool for organising our lives. (As you point out, ms-project can certainly handle subtasks, but i don’t necessarily concur with the view that humanity be confronted with the prospect of learning ms-project just so that they can have sub-tasks).

    In summary, the new version of outlook sounds good, i think it’ll look cool, i will probably find some of the enhancements useful, but (….) without major improvements in productivity, i find it unlikely that i would advocate upgrading to the newest version of outlook.

    This was a potential easy win for microsoft – nonetheless, i’m guessing there are a number of small software companies who’ll be celebrating your omission as they swiftly write a nice little plug-in.

    c’est la vie.



  8. Christopher White says:

    The emphasis on "the rest of us" is misplaced as the guide for improved task mangement in the next release of Outlook. I say this for several reasons:

    (1) There is a rising movement amoung really smart people to be more effective by getting and staying more organized with many adopting GTD as the guiding principle. Central to this group are a number of internet influential people generating interest and pushing the practice far beyond David Allen’s original concepts and core audience.

    It is this audience who will push Outlook to the tipping point as the task management system of choice if the offering is deserving.

    (2) The vast majority of people using Outlook are completely email-o-centric and no software feature short of completely in your face is likely to change that. Ease of use is not the real block to usage, it’s the world view of email. Task management is list making. Email is gobbing up some unstructured information and catapulting it over the fence into someone else’s yard on one side and receiving some else’s catapult, reading it and maybe filing it into folders on the other.

    (3) Outlook is really a mashup of three somewhat related functions and objects. As it stands now, email and calendar are mature as worlds, but task management is like a sixth finger to the calendar. Ok functional integration is great, but if task and project management is not world in of itself, it is useless to those who live that as their main work perspective–next action versus watching my inbox for next message.

    (4) The internet is in constant motion with new and rehashed ideas bubbling and cooking away each and every day. By contrast, you guys are a software company that updates it’s products every several years or so. Given this disparity, if you don’t get it right or near right this time, others will set the pace for years to come. If you want to see what I mean, just take a look at the revolution created by RubyOnRails and all of it’s imitators occuring largely within the beta period of ASP.NET 2.0.

    (5) You have the mass audience already, so you’re not gonna lose anyone if you make task management far richer. Take the risk of doing something significant sooner than later, please. Don’t take the path of serving the least capable and hoping they will lead. Help those who have a burning desire and direct interest…

  9. Bryan says:

    Give to-do’s a "floating" option.

    Floating to-do’s ala Palm’s datebk 5.

    If I don’t get it done today it automagically moves to the next day in the same time slot.

  10. Leopold B. says:


    Chris White is soooo right.

    E-mail centrism is Outlook’s fatal flaw.

    Well, perhaps from a Real-Politik viewpoint, email-centrism is no bug at all, but a supercool feature.

    Really, truly, we vote with our feet.

    If the goal is to drive away the Next-Action customer-base, you couldn’t be more on target.

    Sorry, just mumbling to myself.

    You’re bidness model is raking in billions.

    Better keep on keeping on the same track.

  11. Beedo says:

    Why do I not like the tasks in Outlook? The greatest problem for me is that owner of owerdued task assigned to can change due date and send a report and his boss has no ability to see a original due date (his copy of task is updated, when he opens a status mail). What about to add a new checkbox "Save a copy of assigned task" or a history of changes in a new textbox?

    Best regards

    tb at ina dot sk

  12. Bryan Block says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with most of the posters in this thread (specifically Tim, Martin, and Chris White) – I was extremely disappointed to learn of the lack of sub-tasks in Outlook 12 and it is the main reason I don’t use it now for overall task management. Project is no small-scale substitute for what should be in Outlook.

    And on another note – would it be *so* difficult to have a prioritizing/display algorithm that when sorted by due date, puts tasks without due dates at the TOP, followed by due soonest, ending in due latest? Can I be the only person in the world that has items who’s due date is not specific, but rather ASAP? I want to see these followed by ‘what’s coming next’, and YOU CAN’T DO THIS IN OUTLOOK! (sorry).

    Also, using an algorithm, it would be nice (read: invaluable) to be able to sort a task list and still be able to drag/drop to re-order the tasks and have that new order kept as the sort order for that view. Without re-digging this all up, the way it works now is as soon as you change a view or pick one that has a sort or a group-by, you CANNOT drag/drop to set the order. Hello – Microsoft employs smart programmers, and being one, there are several ways to do this behind the scenes. I want to filter tasks based on a particular category, etc. and still drag them around to customize the order and have it retained.

    I realize it’s probably way too late for this, but I sent this feedback many many months ago, and it would appear these features are very much a minority, which I find hard to believe for those that have tried to use tasks regularly.

    Anyway, here’s hoping someone is listening…

  13. I suggest you integrate features like the ones in the Getting Things Done toolbar addin from David Allen.  It would be SO much easier for others to use tasks efficiently if you had that type of functionality that enabled people to convert emails to tasks and appointments with a click and archive/preserve the original email in a special folder linked to the new item.  Why didn’t you guys think of this?  It seems only logical that people will want to do this with email they receive and it makes total sense to me…

  14. Leo Plugge says:

    Make tasks like this:

    The calendat is the central time manager.

    So, make tasks a kind of note in the Calendar. It has an end date and time (deadline). It could have an start date and time.

    By default the start time is Today() and Now().

    Each hour, or 30 min (depending on the resolution of your calendar) it moves over to the next available time space, if it is not completed.

    If I start working on it, I rightclick the item and select ‘Start’. If I pause, I select ‘pause’. When completed, I click ‘comleted’

    Thus the task will ‘float’ with time.

  15. Scott Marquardt says:


    "In this release of Outlook, we considered adding subtasks, but decided that the primary problem that our customers are facing is that they don’t use tasks at all."

    And why don’t people like me use them? Because my need for cross-granularity integration that subtasking offers as tasks scale upwards in their "subsumption capacity", is not met in any program on the planet. The problem isn’t that I don’t use Tasks in Outlook. The problem is that I don’t use anyone’s solution for "tasks" because no one has one.

    Until I can do a Gantt for my Tasks, I’ll remain a miserable sot.  πŸ˜‰

  16. jlippiner says:

    I believe the reason people dont use tasks is that they arent CONSTANTLY in front of them.  You need an option that lets me show my tasks from Outlook on the desktop or better, in a docked sidebar. This way I am constantly reminded what my tasks are.

  17. DaveT says:

    The reason I don’t use Outlook tasks is they don’t fit the way I work.

    Outlook doesn’t allow me to order tasks quickly and easily. Each morning when I come in, I organize my to-do list in Word, by ordering my tasks in the exact order in which I’ll complete them.

    Until and unless Outlook supports drag & drop to quickly set an exact order of tasks, I doubt I’ll ever use it.

  18. mmacbeth says:


    I think you will be happy to discover that you can easily drag & drop tasks into your desired order in the next version of Outlook. (And in the right view, in all previous versions of Outlook too.)


  19. joma says:

    I agree that it is sad that Tasks are not used — I too found them too complicated and not being able to freely set priorities and place them in any order I deem appropriate is the real problem.  But I expect that the proposed improvements will make it all happen. Thanks!

  20. Ira says:

    Melissa, is complexity really the reason why a subtask feature wasn’t added to Outlook 12?  Isn’t UI, not limited functionality the best way to address this complexity?

    Not to be mistrustful of what you’re saying, but wouldn’t creating sublists undercut the Project market?  Doesn’t this have a lot to do with the intentional limitations on functionality?  

    I use the task list extensively with a fair amount of sophistication but there’s something very important missing.  Subcategories would greatly enhance my ability to organize my time and track longer, project based tasks.  Microsoft Project is overkill for a personal task list.  For a sole proprietor like me neither Project nor Outlook Tasks really provides the right solution.

    I understand the need to maintain separate markets for extended functionality, but my suspicion is that a lot of end users–like me–fall in the gap in between.

    And Scott, regarding your hope for Gantt in Outlook Tasks, I can almost guarantee that you will never ever see this level of project tracking sophistication in Outlook.  Gantt is one of the primary functions of MS Project.  I can think of no better way for Microsoft to pull the legs out from under the Project Standard than to provide Gantt functionality to all managers who have Outlook.

  21. Ido says:

    As a team manager i work and live in my outlook.

    I plan my day and my projects on the calendar.

    1.unfortunatly Tasks are not shown in the calendar, even though they do take time(after all we start doing them at a certain point of the day,end finish them after a while just like an appointmnet)

    2. There is also no easy way of updating the Status or Length of the task, I would have loved if you could set a task to PAUSE/PLAY without manually entering its End Date.

    3.If there was also a way to show the task in a Public Calendar it would be a killer, for it will allow a higher look on the Project Calendaric Status from an integrated View.

    4. I tried to use MS-Project, but because it can’t Sync with Each team member available Time (which they each handle in their calendars) all the plannig in the world became meanningless, and couldn’t give real estimates to Projects Length.

    But if Tasks would have been More usable and more intuitive then they would have become popular.

    5. I also agree with the sugestion to allow the creation of Tasks From Emails/Appointments and Vice-Versa (why am i forced to create a Task prior to deciding when i want to do it ?! there should be no such limitation)

  22. ido says:

    1. Tasks should be allowed to Create from the Calendar by Creating them from appointments.

    2. Tasks should be able to PLAY/PAUSE, by this allowing the tasks status/End Date to be automatically updated as long as it is not Marked as finished.

    3. Tasks MUST HAVE HIERARCHY, without this ability there is no Reason for Using them (and categories just don’t cut it).

    4.Show tasks in Private/Public Calendars.

    5. Links them to Mails/Appointments/Documents/Urls/Etc.

    6.Task Must have a distinction between Planned and Real Start/End Date + Planned/Real Durations and a visual way to show this information on the Calendar

  23. T. Davis says:

    (must, 1st rel.) 1. Integrate with the Calendar

    (must, 1st rel.) 2. Let me tie a task (1 or more) to a calendar appt.

    (should, 1st rel.) 3. Split the 5-day view in Calendar so that for each day in the work week, I can also see the tasks assigned for that day.

    (must, 2nd rel.) 4. Allow me to group 1 or more tasks under a particular "goal" heading.

    (nice to have) 5. Click a button to start/stop a timer for a particular task.

    My own 2 cents.

  24. So you are saying that 98% of people don’t use tasks in Outlook because it doesn’t have the features they need, and you won’t add the new features they need because only 2% of people use tasks in Outlook?

    The reason why I don’t use Outlook is lack of features, namely subtasks and projects.  Unless you are doing a simple list of household items to do, Outlook is useless for managing tasks and projects.  Perhaps that is why only 2% of people use it.

    This is specifically WHY you need to add subtasks.  So that it is actually useful for people who have a lot to do.

  25. joe says:

    I agree with Tdavis’ suggestion, I found this site searching for a timer plugin of some type for outlook.

    The ‘journal’ feature allows this but the integration between tasks, journal and calendar is really bad.

    Basically journal should record the time spent on  each task. And calendar should automagically make entries for each task.

    I think the complexity aries from the fact that there are way too many fields in tasks.

  26. I agree that the complexity aries from the fact that there are way too many fields in tasks… partially.

    The problem is NOT the number of fields.  They are needed for many complex tasks and should be there.  There just needs to be a simple less intimidating way of entering items for people who do not need all the functionality.  And there needs to be better ways to actually display and organize the tasks (i.e. into projects, subtasks, etc.).

    Examples of good user interfaces for project/task managers are Achieve Planner ( ) and Lotus Organizer ( ).  Lotus is good for simple daily todo lists but not good for project management, while Achieve Planner is better at managing projects and their related tasks.

    I had to stop using Lotus Organizer because my task list was getting too complicated (i.e. I needed to see tasks by project and needed to be able to group like tasks together using subtasks).  Outlook was never considered an option because it didn’t handle tasks well at all.

    Hopefully the new improvements will help, but without projects and subtasks, I will have to use some other program to manage tasks. like I do now.

  27. Evan McNally says:

    I came to this blog by googling for "hierachical outlooks tasks".  Imagine my deep disapointment to see that subtasks are not going to be part of the philosophy in 2007.

    I have tried tasks in 2000, XP, 2003, tried them with various Pocket PCs and Palms with Outlook.  The BIG problem is no subtasks.  It is not complexity.

    Maybe that makes me one of your 2% users, but I really do not think my needs are extreme.

    Like most people, I have a variety of long and short term to-dos, for a variety of customers, friends, etc.  Some are part of bigger projects and thus "next action" items, some are what to buy at the store tonight.  Like a lot of busy people I like to sketch out the project when I am feeling clear headed and all the bits are in front of me so that I can keep up later.

    They problem with Outlook is that it has no way to distiguish a project with 10 subcomponents from buying milk on my way home.  The project may be my "top priority" but its going to last 3 weeks.  The milk is a "low priority" in my mental landscape, but I HAVE to do it today.  Outlook’s flat and simple piroritization and category system results in Tasks getting cluttered with junk and ongoing stuff all mixed together.

    My ideal Outlook tasks would be Microsoft Project without the complexity, the charts, or timelines.  Basically, just a list with indent and outdent, and the ability to drag items around in the list.  Keep the categories if you want.  That’s it!

    Please do consider this for Office 13.

  28. Christine says:

    Just a "me too" on I have tried to use tasks in Outlook with every version and abandoned it because of my need to subcategorize.  

    The problem with simpler versions that omit such detail, is that todo lists become gargantuan with no effective way to select one of the items with a medium priority and a due date of this month!

    I love MS Office for how intuitive and customizable it is!  Accolades and then some!  But Oulook needs to step up to the plate.  No one is out there looking for a better word processor.  But just look at the activity surrounding finding a way to manage to-do’s.  Come on Microsoft — do that wonderful thing you do!  Make it simple, customizable, exhaustive, innovative — make the industry standard!

  29. Phil says:

    I fully agree. Task, subtask and basic projet management with integration in calendar needs to be implemented into Outlook ASAP. Also, as pointed out earlier, due date needs to be reworked.

    Currently I use Franklin Covey’s PlanPlus v3 for Outlook to achieve this. However, I do not use the rocks and other life planning tools.

    With Planplus, I can create basic projects (task hierarchy), plug them in my calendar, keep notes…

    I also use Keysuite on my palm to keep everything with me out of the office.

    It would be wonderfull if all these features (which are used daily by effective managers/workers… and that’s your core target group I believe) could all be integrated in outlook as they are the biggest drawback of the program.

    Bottom line: make a program that is very rich in feature but highly customizable so that it can meet the needs of everyone from beginners to extreme power users.

  30. John Coppola says:

    I too have tried to use outlook tasks and it is simply not functional enough.  I can’t order my tasks other than 3 priority levels.  I’ve ALWAYS thought from the beginning that outlook has needed subtasks.  Badly.  You even went so far as to make some collaboration on the tasking by allowing people to assign tasks to each other, but you left out subtasking.  

  31. Oliver Rosenberg says:

    It is really sad to read, that Microsoft ignores the requirements of the majority of their customers in respect to tasks, only (so it seems) because they are afraid to cannibalize one of their other products (Project).

    The answer can only be: someone else must come up with a competetive product that fulfills all these needs. I guess competition is something that MS still responds to (as opposed to customer requirements).

    Ideally it would be an Opensource project, so that many people can get involved and provide ideas and resources.

  32. Alex W. says:

    I’m kinda late to the party, but anyway:

    +1 for subtasks.

    And also +1 for simple project management. It’s ridiculous to see that a dozen or so crude web apps does this better than the program that killed most other PIM programs in the marketplace. It’s even more important for people who have to use localized versions because stuff like the GTD plugin will only work with English versions, so you’re stuck with the stock features.

    But what always drove me crazy is that OL can’t sort tasks right by due date. Other than Bryan Block I have the reverse problem: I can’t sort right with undated events at the *bottom*. (Actually, I don’t understand his post at all, sorting by date, in ascending order gives exactly what he describes: undated – due sooner – due later.)

    Regarding undated tasks and due dates, you can only sort in two ways, and both are wrong:


    – dated, but not yet due

    – shortly overdue

    – long overdue

    – undated



    – undated

    – long overdue

    – shortly overdue

    – dated, but not due yet.

    Dated, but not due tasks by themselves are sorted correctly.

    While the latter order is useful if "undated" really means "ASAP", I need the following sort order, where "undated" really means "Someday/Maybe":

    (ascending, but with undated items at the bottom)

    – long overdue

    – shortly overdue

    – dated, but not due yet

    – undated.

    You should add a sort criteria "time overdue"

    or an option "undated on top/bottom" when sorting by date.

    And no, a broken product won’t get better by dumbing it down. A "todo bar" is no solution.

  33. Alex W. says:

    Even though the last post was rather long, here’s yet another thought:

    Why can’t finally someone consider not only the date, but also the *time* (hour/minute) for due "dates"?

    There’s a lot of stuff that has to be done at the same day in a predetermined order.

    If, say, I want to rob the bank on Friday, I have a lot of tasks to take into account:

    (This is a joke, okay? Don’t try this at home.)

    Due Thursday, in no special order:

    – Buy gun.

    – Buy map of city.

    – Get forged license plates.

    Due Friday:

    – Steal car.

    – Mount license plates.

    – Get gasoline.

    – Drive to bank.

    – Park in front of bank.

    – Get into bank.

    – Threaten everyone inside bank and demand lots of money.

    – Pick up money (if somehow not feasible, omit this task).

    – Get out of bank.

    – Get into car.

    – Drive away.

    – Try to reach border ASAP.

    While it’s probably better to use a tablet PC on Friday, you can easily see that the order of time is critical.

    And no, I can’t use MS Project for that. Not before I’ve been to the bank.

    Yes, this post was too long as well. But you’ll get the point.

  34. Arthur says:

    I found this site by searching for "hierarchical tasks outlook" too, just like many other people.  The demand is certainly there, and I’m pretty sure subtasks/task hierarchy are one of the most, if not the most wanted feature in outlook.  If your research has shown that only 2% of outlook users use tasks, the best way to boost that percentage is to add a subtask feature. Just look at this thread for a sample estimate of the demand; it’s what most people here are asking for.

  35. 10 year outlook user says:

    who the heck did you do research amongst? like everyone else, i got to this page looking to make  improvements to Outlook tasks. i’ve been on this campaign for 10 years.

    all i want is a way to manage my associated tasks without

    I use netcentrics GTD. Right idea/concept, terrible execution of software design.

    the ONLY reason i still use Outlook tasks (inspite of constant searches elsewhere) is that it’s free and most of my task items come in as email in the Outlook client I use at work.

    subtasks would help tremendously, however, i’ve  moved a bit past that. i think what you really need to do is integrate dependencies (and what ever the opposite is) to enable dynamic task scheduling  (yes that means Calendar integration too – see the Taskline add-on for that). that’s the only way you’ll be "disruptive" and innovating. and, heck, you already do a fairly good job of with MS Project. now, having mentioned that vaunted application and being that I work at a large, public, technology company, i know the reason this will never happen. it’s a bit irrelevant anyway. by the time you’d have even started to execute on it there will be a superior open source solution (i’m watching Thunderbird and Chandler all the time just itching to say see ya Outlook). there are also quite a few online/web2.0 options which are growing more intriguing.

    so going back to your comment.. you want to get more use of Outlook Tasks? do research amongst sophisticated switchers, NOT non-users.

  36. Jenny says:

    Yes, I’m another user super disappointed to learn sub-tasks will not be added to Outlook. It does preclude Outlook from being used as a project managing tool and therefore I agree with a previous poster that it may be that it’s done for marketing reasons.  

  37. Humphrey says:

    Just want to make sure you haven’t forgotten about sub tasks.  I was also searching on "hierarchical tasks outlook" Ihave been looking and came across this page – sad that its not there in relase 12

  38. Hey you! I am looking for some good scenarios around lightweight project management (hierarchical task

  39. NT says:

    Hello all,

    Thanks for all the enlightening discussion on subtasks.  I googled "outlook subtasks" and ended up here.  Just wanted to add my voice that I belong to those 2% of people who need subtasks.



  40. Andrew Fogg says:

    I’d like to support Alex W regarding the undated to-do items appearing at the top of the to-do list rather than at the bottom.  I too want to sort my to-do items by ascending date but with undated items at the bottom rather than at the top.  Undated items are for me a possibility rather than an urgency.  A toggle option (undated items at top/bottom) is a good suggestion.  

    I found this site while looking for a hack that will help me get this to happen in Outlook.  I’m going to have to keep looking for the moment.  

  41. mmacbeth says:


    Thanks for the feedback. Here is a hacky trick to get "undated" tasks to go to the bottom of list: Move them to the far future.

    1. Take an undated task and set the due date/start date to 100 years in the future. This will create a new group called "Later"

    2. Drag all of your other "undated" tasks to that group.


  42. Jamie says:

    Subtasks are a requirement.  Until this is added to Outlook, I have to buy/use yet another program.  

    Thank you Microsoft for making my computer require more memory.

  43. Arvind Ramanujam says:


    breaking tasks into sub-tasks is a fundamental way that people are accustomed to do. But people may not be aware of it themselves. If Outlook gives the hierarchical task facility and also gives it a more prominent area, it will definitely be a great success for both the customers and microsoft.

  44. Sean Hoyt says:

    I vote for subtasks.  Perhaps the reason only 2% use it is because MS does not understand what it is that we want.  I am a heavy computer user and constantly frustrated at the unused potential of our powerful tools; integration between tools to smooth our daily work is where we need to go.  Outlook is just about the most integrated tool I use- email,calendar,tasks,directions,delegation,!BCM! [please keep refining BCM and integrate it COMPLETELY with my WM phone, I want caller ID to show up when my business contact calls].  

    It would be great to have a master task and, within it, list the subtasks.  The outer task list in Outlook would only have to manage the master tasks and possibly show the next step within the master task near it.  The user can estimate the time required for each subtask which would give me a real estimate of the completion of the master task as I progress.

    Clean the garage?


      SUBTASK:sub1, est time X1/Y*100

      SUBTASK:sub2, est time X2/Y*100

    Y = X1+X2

    This leads to the feature found in Daylite.  Say I have 30 minutes before a meeting.  I can priortize my list to show me tasks that require less than 30 minutes.  

    There also has to be an easy way (drag-drop) to reprioritize my subtasks.  Please allow for subtasks that can be done out of order like "wash car", "vacuum car" within the master task of "clean car" but that can be prioritzed below "get car back from impound".

    Now that Outlook has mapping (please move the map to a central location so that it can be used to localize my contacts as well as directions to appointments), it would be great to add task location information.  If I have to get stamps, pick up books, return merchandise and can attribute locations to those items, Outlook could easily optimize my routes.  This would work great between tasks.  For example, I have two master projects that both require me to drop off items at the Universiy Village.  As I leave my office, I can get a task route report that would have both items from both tasks.  Now, that’s getting things done!

    I dream of the day I can use tasks in outlook.  I always put tons of energy into it and then totally abandon it for a sheet of 8.5×11. I’m not asking for MS Project, just sit down and map out what people do. I’m a small business owner going crazy.

  45. Sean Hoyt says:

    In addition if anyone from MS is listening…

    To further simulate in Outlook what I (and others) do with pen and paper, I constantly have to manually add task reminders to followup on contact entry such as "get home address" or "update email address".  Having this automated feature within outlook (call it sticknote automation) would be great.  Doubleclick the field in any dialog and bring up a sticky that adds itself to the to-do list and categorizes itself based on where the note was spawned.  So, for my example, double-clicking in the address field of my business contact would bring up a sticky that would autofill the category as "contact info update" and ask for the reminder period.  

  46. Ben says:

    Here’s a method of creating projects, linked to tasks/emails/whatever based on modifying the contacts template:

    Personally I’m using tasks by dragging emails to create the task.  I’ve got tasks arranged by category, and I’ve added another field in tasks for numbering each task (I changed the task view to be editable without opening each task).  Unfortunately the numbers don’t update, so I have to renumber when reviewing my list.  I’ve also added another field with "next step."  It’s working for now, but it’s not ideal.  Subtasks/hierarchy in Outlook would be better, or possibly that method in the URL above for now.

  47. Steve says:

    I just made another attempt at trying to use Outlook/Onenote for tasks and projects, and gave up once again.

    The problem is lack of integration and lack of flexibility. Outlook 2007 adds some flexibility but not nearly enough to make tasks truly useful. Tasks need hierarchy, fields for sorting, and easily accessible custom views.

    I have pages of notes on this, and they are all attempts to work around limitations in outlook/onenote.

    I still use Ecco for many things, which has been abandoned since 1997. While it has some serious limitations, the basic premise is much more powerful than what we have available today in Outlook.

  48. kchad says:

    Your statistics might be right, but the basis is probably wrong.  As they stand, tasks are basically useless for all but simplest of projects.  It would be so much easier for people to use the tool if they could use it to plan out a small project.  

    The culture of most companies does not yet allow people to email tasks to one another and expect them to get done.  Making the tool less powerful seems to only hurt the cause.

  49. Maria says:


    Apologies this is long. I’m new to this list, but I have been looking into managing my life for some time now, and am very frustrated by the options presented to me, not only as a manager at work, but as a parent and human being with a busy life outside of work. Right now, my system aside from calender apointments consists of a self-made task/project list in Excel, and a hipster PDA. But I am tired of DIY. Please create something lovely for people like me. Something easy like Mac’s omnifocus woven into Outlook would be so very nice, and I would be in organization nirvana if it would sync without a million glitches to a pda.

    I am one of the users who does NOT use tasks in outlook, and the reason is because I find that the UI and task structuring is too limiting.  I find the same thing with tasks in iCal on my Mac at work. I have a LOT of things to do! The gargantuan task list in Outlook became too cumbersome & ridiculous so I started looking at GTD and project management, wherein I think the solution lies.

    I have numerous hurdles. I have appointments and tasks at work as a centre manager for a busy high tech industry/academic setting, and, as a single mother of three kids, a huge hunking amount of things to keep track of at home, for not just me but the kids as well.

    I attempted to bring it all together geek-fashion with a PDA (HP ipac).  However, I’ve had considerable issues syncing apointments and tasks from my PC to my PDA.  For instance, when I change the categories in Outlook from the preset ones, the new apointments or tasks I make don’t even show up on my PDA. Only the reminders pop up 15 minutes ahead of time!  I can’t even properly sync my tasks/apointments with my home PC, forget about syncing to my Powerbook Mac at work…

    I’ve been looking for a couple of months at Mac applications as well as PC applications and web based applications to keep track of projects-tasks as well as appointments etc.  I’ll be happy if I can find a laptop–pda combo that will work on either PC or Mac platform, as long as it works and does what I need. I already use the Outlook calender, and MS Project is too much for me.

    What it seems to me is that Outlook/Entourage is poised to be the most powerful, not just for a work manager, but a stay at home mom, or busy person who needs to keep his/her head on straight.  It can fill a niche that MS Project doesn’t cover by helping non-pro-managers manage their lives if you do it right.

    My advice would be to make it simple, make it pretty, offer the simple GTD system to classify things and make the tasks and apointments sync better with GTD style contexts. That’s why I suggested something like Omnifocus. And Gantt like charts would be a wonder–because they are VISUAL. Many visual people like myself would get a better idea of what to do if you had some better visual representation of what to do than a long scary list.

    For now, I will try and use one of the recommended plug ins into Office that manages tasks in GTD fashion, or maybe go over to Omnifocus or something similar and disjointed from Outlook or iCal.  I just wish someone would get it all together, and I thought that was the whole point of Outlook.

    My point is, that aside from professional project management, I think that there IS a market for better task management as well as syncing to a hand held device with a nice interface for users like me, and my own opinion is that the GTD framework is great b/c you can Categorize your projects such as 1) Home (x project (a,b,c), y project (a,b,c tasks) etc and 2) Work (x project (a,b,c), y project (a,b,c tasks) things to do, sync it so that you can look at it on the go and be able to see the breakdown into the big picture in a user friendly way, which is what things like Gantt charts help with.

    Thanks and sorry for the long read.

  50. mmacbeth says:


    Thank you for your comments. Your comments reflect the feeling of many people on this blog. As I have done with all of the comments that I have received on this post, I have forwarded it on to the wider product team.

    Thank you,


  51. Maria says:

    Thanks Melissa,

    I know it can be a long road and you have to balance the input from a lot of people. That’s just my two (and a big half) bits!

    Things I DO like are things like how I can sync both iCal and my Outlook Calender via Google Calender etc. This kind of thing is flexible and in the right direction for people like me.



  52. Melissa (and et. al.) —

    I too, for many, many years, have shared the frustrations expressed by Maria and others – so much so I decided to fix them!

    I’m pleased to say we finally have Version 1 out of Foresight, our add-in for Outlook that gives it the hierarchical tasks abilities it needs, and more.  Version 1 is at – a version that has been in the works for about as long as this blog entry!  πŸ˜‰  Seriously, though, I think we have a winner here and I wanted to convey my thanks to Melissa for this blog as it has been a motivator and validation for us (and me).  Also, a big thanks for Outlook 2007 – it is a nice breath of fresh air and continues a great synergy between people looking for personal productivity solutions, Microsoft, and developers like us!

    Happy New Year’s, everyone!

    — Jeffrey W. Cox

  53. Colin W. says:


    I agree with everyone above. Outlook needs subtasks to be a viable solution. Please keep pushing for this everyone, show your support for this feature, be heard, and eventually it will happen! (hopefully)



  54. Bard says:

    Yep. I searched "hierachical task list" and "outlook subtasks"

    Hey Microsoft, you should ask google how many people are searching for these things…

    Oh wait, Google are probably about to dominate this market with their new task prog coming soon.

    Ha haaaa

  55. mmacbeth says:

    Thank you all for your comments. At this time, this blog post is being closed for comments and I am no longer posting updates for the moment. To see what is going now in Outlook, see:

    Thank you all and we really do appreciate the feedback, even the negative feedback.


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