You might not think to use Outlook to track hours and mileage-but it can. It takes just a bit of discipline, but it's time well spent, and much better than trying to keep all those details in your head or keep up with a stack of sticky notes. (Instructions for Outlook 2003 will be similar, but not always exactly the same as those for 2007.)
To track hours or mileage, you can use task details, as follows:
- Open the task you're tracking.
- Click the Task tab and then click Details in the Show group. In Outlook 2003, click the Details tab.
- Enter the hours worked, actual hours, and mileage.
- Enter the company if necessary.
- Click Save & Close.
Use the billing field to enter other details, such as a discount, rate increase, or whether you're charging for travel time. Consistency and discipline are the key. You must remember to document all your tasks this way to bill for them properly. When you're ready to invoice clients, you can use a custom view, as follows:
- In the Tasks folder, click the Change View in the Current View group on the Home tab. Then, choose Manage Views. In Outlook 2007, choose Arrange By from the View menu and then choose Define Views.
- Highlight the Completed view (Completed Tasks in Outlook 2007) and click Copy.
- Enter Billing for the name of your new view and click OK. In Outlook 2007, highlight Billing in the list of views (it's probably at the very bottom of the list. Then, Click Modify.
- Click Columns. In Outlook 2007, click Fields.
- In the resulting dialog, choose All Tasks Fields from the Select Available Columns (Fields) From dropdown.
- Next, add the fields you want to see and remove those you don't. In this case, you want to see the actual hours, billing, and mileage fields. Remember, this view has a specific purpose, so you don't need extraneous data. The simpler the view, the better.
- Click OK twice, and then Close.
To see the billing view, choose Billing from the Change View list (in the Current View group on the Home tab). In Outlook 2007, choose Current View from the View menu. Then, choose Billing from the list.
Because the billing view is based on the predefined completed task view, it will display details for only completed tasks. This behavior takes a bit of planning. If you want to bill for work done regularly, before you've completed the actual project (task), this particular view won't work for you.
The default view groups by the completion date, not the client, but you can easily regroup it, as follows:
- Click Change View in the Current View group and choose Manage Groups. In Outlook 2007, choose Current View from the View menu. Then, select Define Views.
- Find Billing in the list of views, click Modify, and then click Group By.
- Choose Company from the Group Items By dropdown. Continue to refine the view as necessary using the additional Then By dropdowns.
- Click OK twice and then Close.
Now the view will group completed tasks by company, making it easier to add multiple projects for the same client during the current billing period.
If you don't delete the completed tasks, this custom view will continue to display them, even after you've billed them. Perhaps the easiest workaround for this behavior is to move completed tasks to another folder once you bill the company - you can add a new folder to the Tasks window for this purpose. (The predefined completed view, on which your billing view is based, displays only completed tasks in the Tasks folder.) That way, you can keep these tasks for record keeping or historical purposes, without wading through them in the billing view.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.