Goodbye, Outlook Tasks!

When I first met Peter Bregman, he was on his book tour speaking at Microsoft Research. In 2012. He tried to convince me to give up Outlook Tasks for managing all the stuff that I wasn’t doing. His logic was sound. He repeatedly pointed out that “It’s a myth. You can’t do it all!”

I wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge that my [many] task lists were really just a pile of things that I wish I had time to do. But don’t.

I bought the book, 18 Minutes, anyway and had Peter sign it for me. He was very gracious.

My wife and kids have read it (and done better than I have at following Peter’s advice).

Sure, I adopted some of his recommended practices:

  • I made a simple, six-box set of priorities. (I even look at them once in a while!) They’re in OneNote and pinned to the start screen on my phone so that I can’t ignore them (all the time).
  • I schedule time on my calendar for the important things, instead of putting them on a list.
  • I don’t put anything on my calendar that doesn’t fall into one of the six boxes.
  • I make myself accountable for the items on my calendar every day, even if they don’t get done during the time slot I originally allocated to them.
  • I celebrate the things I do get done, which is a lot more than I did two years ago.

imageEven the partial adoption of the 18 Minutes philosophy has made me more productive and successful in the past two years. I highly recommend the book. Peter’s fun to read.

Fast forward 2 years, 2 months, and a fortnight.

I still have hundreds of task list items in 6 different mailboxes (two of them Office 365 mailboxes). Many of them over a year old. Most of them long overdue.

I’ve known that I have a task problem for a long time, but it was never a priority to do anything about it, and I always promise myself that I’ll review the task list someday and do those things.

So why am I saying goodbye to my task lists now?

wp_ss_20140723_0002Windows Phone 8.1 made me do it.

I’ve had the same Windows Phone 8 device since Launch Day™. I stood in line for 8 hours on Microsoft’s main campus with a couple thousand of my closest cow-orkers to get my “free” phone. I’ve never been without it since, not a single day. Until this past Monday. My reliable, beloved HTC 8X has finally gone to the great phone Valhalla in the sky. RIP, little guy. I’ll miss you.

I have a great new device, a Nokia Lumia 635 with Windows Phone 8.1 on it. I love it. It’s so yellow that you can see it from space. I’m not prone to losing devices, but just in case, you know?

Now, I’ve always had the comfort of being able to easily swipe over to my task list on my phone and look at them. Occasionally even complete (or delete) one! But over the years with Windows Phone, as it grows and matures, it is becoming clear that Tasks are an afterthought for the team that maintains the Calendar app.

I can’t swipe over to my task list anymore. I have to perform some alternative action to discover my tasks. As a creature of habit (part of my autism is being pretty change averse), this is painful. It just seems like nobody thinks tasks are important enough to treat like first class citizens the same way that email, contacts, and appointments are. I don’t know if Tasks are going the way of Outlook Notes. (I don’t think ActiveSync has supported Outlook Notes since Windows Phone 7, but I could misremember; maybe it never did. I gave up on Outlook Notes long ago.)

  • I can’t pin Tasks to the start menu or create Tasks from the start menu.
  • I can’t do a lot of the categorization, coloring, etc, on the phone that I can do with tasks in Outlook. I’m not sure the two teams are communicating with one another regularly.
  • I can’t effectively search or do more than a basic sort of tasks on my phone.
  • OneNote is where the task functionality seems to be headed. Which sort of makes sense, although they don’t really have reminders, sortability, etc, either.
  • For now, tasks do still sync with my various clouds, but… I can’t find a Windows Phone app that does what I want AND supports more than one mailbox at a time.
  • The Windows Phone API only allows read-only access to other apps for appointments and contacts, not for tasks, which means I’m really, really too lazy to reinvent the wheel and code to the Office 365 API and manage my own task store on the phone. Ick.
  • Do I really need them after all?

No. I don’t really need them after all.

Fine. I can admit when I’m wrong. I’m sorry, Peter. You were right.

With my grieving done, I’ve made one final task list in OneNote.


Goodbye, Outlook Tasks.

Comments (6)

  1. Julian Kay says:

    Great post! I stopped using Outlook tasks a while back, and while I do use OneNote, it's mostly for things like shopping lists.…/the-death-of-outlook-exchange-for-task-management

  2. As a guy who absolutely loves, and needs, his daily dose of to do lists I am not sure if I could change much. Since you praised it this much, I guess I will try and find a copy of the book and just try it for myself. Will let you know how it went!

  3. Christiaan, I feel your pain. Do let me know what you think of Peter's book. There are a couple others in the productivity space that have helped me in the past two years, but that's the one that got me started in the right direction. =)

  4. George B says:

    Happy for you!  But I absolutely, positively want my Outlook tasks on my Windows 8 phone!!

    I hope someone, somewhere hears me?

  5. GBogle says:

    I spent nearly 3 hours tonight looking for a way for my new HTC One Windows 8 Phone to sync and display my Outlook tasks.  Everything seemed to say, it couldn't be done.  I even downloaded 2 third-party task apps to resolve the problem…they didn't do the job.

    I have a personal account as my phone's main account and a corporate Office365 account as my second email account, which has the tasks I wanted to sync.  I read a post or two that said to slide the calendar to the left to see the tasks but all that did for me was go to a new week.

    Starring at my phone, then IE explorer results, then my phone.  I was looking at the phone calendar and noticed the 3 dots … that opens the calendar menu…there I saw the word "tasks"…clicked it….AMAZING…there were all my tasks!  Perfect!  Exactly what I was hoping for.

    Bottomline…if you use Office 2013 with exchange services like Office365, you will have your tasks synced on your Windows 8.1 phone.

  6. Mp says:

    I do project management and have multiple calendars and ToDo/Tasks are absolutely essential.  I don't have the option to just do a few things, or incorporate things into a calendar. I really don't know how in the world a desktop version of software can be totally ignored when making other platforms for interactivity.  I am truly amazed that older versions of phones/software have/had more seamless interactivity that was literally plug and play.  Now I have to setup multiple accounts, blah blah blah blah…. It's shameful that a palm pilot works better with outlook than a Microsoft product.  Alas, I digress..

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