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It's all in the Details
Although your users may be familiar with Outlook's Tasks folder, they may not be taking full advantage of this feature. While the default information is usually sufficient for a task, users can also enter helpful information on the task form’s Details tab.
Introduce your users to the Details tab, and they can become even more productive. Here's some of the information they can keep track of:
- Date Completed—This box's default is None. But when the task is completed, open the drop-down calendar and select the completion date. When you do so, Outlook automatically sets the Status box on the Task tab to Completed and the % Complete box to 100 percent.
- Total Work—Use this box to estimate the total amount of time required to complete the task.
- Actual Work—Keep track of the time actually spent on the task. Over time, you can use the Total Work and the Actual Work boxes as a resource for comparison.
- Mileage—This box keeps track of the number of miles traveled in connection with the task. This can be very helpful for those who are reimbursed for travel costs.
- Billing Information—Use this box for any information related to billing, such as the hourly rate to be charged.
- Companies—Enter the names of organizations associated with the task, such as the name of the client for whom the task is being performed.
Send a task request to a group
Here's another tip about Outlook's task feature to pass on to your users. If they want to send a task request to a group of people, they could create identical requests for each person. But that's not very efficient. A better way is to create a task and save the task as an Outlook template.
To do so, simply create the task request and save it. In the Save As dialog box, choose Outlook Template (*.oft) from the Save As Type drop-down list.
Having created the template, your users can now easily create identical tasks to send to several people. Or, they can create a distribution list and send the task to the list. Keep in mind that if a task is sent to more than one person, Outlook cannot update you with each person's progress.
What are COM add-ins?
If you travel in more advanced Outlook circles—or even if you've simply explored the Tools | Options | Advanced Options dialog box—you may be wondering what COM add-ins are. Put simply, Component Object Model add-ins are programs written by third-party developers, administrators, and even some sophisticated end users to extend the functionality of Outlook. You might think of them as heavy-duty macros.
You can write a COM add-in for tasks such as creating new toolbars or performing mass search-and-replace operations on Contacts items. With COM add-ins, you can add a wide variety of features to Outlook that it doesn't have natively. COM add-ins are also versatile: All the Office 2000 applications support them, and many COM add-ins can be run in multiple applications or across applications. COM add-ins can be created in almost any development tool environment, such as Visual Basic, Visual C++, Visual J++, and others. They're registered as executable files (.exe) or dynamic link library files (.dll), and they're added onto the Office 2000 applications you wish to use them in.
There are some advantages to using COM add-ins instead of regular macros. They're easier to deploy to multiple users. You can also install as many COM add-ins as you like—but only one VBA module. But be careful: COM add-ins can be fast, but improperly written ones also run the risk of crashing the host application (i.e., Outlook).
Send your Tasks list to a colleague
A reader recently asked how to send a picture of a Tasks list to a colleague who isn't running Outlook. The reader was able to create a sorted, filtered list that was just how she wanted it—but then couldn't figure out a way to send it.
Fortunately, Windows offers a handy trick. Here's what to do: Open the Tasks list, and sort and filter it the way you want it. Maximize the window and then press the [Print Scrn] button on the keyboard. This copies an image of the current screen to the clipboard, and you can paste it from there into a Word document or even an HTML message.
But before you take advantage of this tip, here's something to keep in mind. There are two reasons why you'll want to make sure you maximize the Tasks folder before pressing the [Print Scrn] button.
- If the list is long, the recipient won't be able to scroll to any items that didn't fit on the screen at the time you took the picture. Maximizing it includes as many items as possible in the picture.
- [Print Scrn] will grab the entire screen. If you have some embarrassing personal information in another window at the same time, it will also appear in the image—unless you maximize the Tasks folder.
Find what you’re looking for
In Outlook 97, there was just one Find tool. It was powerful and flexible, but users complained that it was too complicated. Outlook 98 and 2000, however, offer users a basic Find tool, which is backed up by an Advanced Find tool for times when the basic tool isn't sufficient for your needs.
Let's take a moment to review some of the basics of how the Advanced Find tool searches for words.
- If you type TechRepublic as your search term, Outlook will find all items that contain the phrase "TechRepublic."
- If you type Tech, Republic as your search term, Outlook will find all items that contain "Tech" or "Republic."
- You only need to use quotation marks if you're searching for a phrase that includes punctuation, such as "Murder, she wrote."
- Outlook will automatically find most plural versions of the words you enter—but it's not always able to find irregular forms. For example, if you enter tooth, it won't find messages that include the word "teeth."
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.