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How you can turn Microsoft Outlook into a one-stop Task Tracker

In my day to day activities, I am assigned work that could relate to any number of activities; some tasks relating to our internal business operations, others which relate directly to our delivery work for clients, plus any number of other ad-hoc tasks that just need doing.

Depending on who has assigned the task to me, and the type of task, this results in my work tasks being tracked across a multitude of disparate systems – Visual Studio, Trello, JIRA, Planner, Project Online, Outlook… the list goes on.

Having my tasks spread far and wide then makes it difficult to get a snapshot of my current to-do’s and in turn it becomes challenging to prioritise my workload. Not to mention that it becomes time consuming and laborious to remember where each task was being tracked in order to mark it as complete once it can be ticked off the list (leaving me as the thing that is ticked off).

Each of the task tools that I deal with are great products in their own right and have their own strengths and weaknesses – so I totally get why different organisations and different business units have their own ‘weapons of choice’. But as someone who is on the receiving end of being allocated work from various locations it can become frustrating to try and keep track of them all.

Over the years I have employed a few different strategies to track my tasks and try to keep on top of things (with varying degrees of success). Here is the approach that I have found most useful:

Most task management systems will either send you an email when you are assigned a task, or you will have the option to subscribe to an email alert when new tasks are created for you. I take advantage of this feature and set up all of the email alerts that I can. Because I don’t want these emails clogging up my inbox, I set up rules which automatically move those emails to a separate ‘Tasks’ folder.

Speaking of rules, this is where I automate the process of pulling all of my important tasks into one place. For every task related email notification that arrives in my inbox (regardless of which tool it came from), I set up an Outlook rule which does the following:

  • Identifies the email was sent to me from a task management tool
  • Flags the message for follow up
  • Moves the message to a Tasks folder (to avoid clogging up my inbox)

At the start of my day, I can review my To Do tasks in Outlook and I will see a quick fire list of all of the tasks that I’ve been assigned from various systems (in addition to any tasks I have manually added to Outlook myself). From there I can prioritise my day in terms of what I’m going to work on. Once I complete a task, I can go back to Outlook and select the checkbox to remove it from my Outlook tasks list. In doing so, if it was generated from a task notification email, I can immediately see which system sent me the email so that I know where to go to mark that task as complete.

This system is far from perfect and involves some double handling (in terms of marking the task as complete in Outlook as well as the source system), but at least it restores some of my sanity in terms of tracking all my tasks in one place.

Note: In cases where email alerts from your task management system are not directly possible, see if you can create a Microsoft Flow to notify you with an email – or cut straight to chase and create an Outlook task directly from Flow. The list of connectors to Flow is now quite extensive.

The good news is that something even better is cooking in the Sensei kitchen, so stay tuned!

By David Crouch, Technical Consultant at Sensei

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