Microsoft

Quick Tip: Add a follow up reminder to an email message

Never work harder than you have to. Adding a reminder (a special type of flag) to a message in Outlook is easy if you take the right route.

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Recently, I watched a user create new tasks from email messages in her Sent folder. When asked, she responded that the messages were time-sensitive and that the reminder would help her remember when to contact the recipients again, if they didn't respond. After sending these messages, she opened her Sent folder and dragged each, individually, to the Tasks shortcut, where she added a reminder date and then saved the new task. She had several emails worth and confided that she did it often and the process was tedious. I'll bet it is, and fortunately, that tedious process isn't necessary. You can add a reminder to new and sent emails. Doing so will add an item to the To-Do Bar and is a basic task in Outlook, so I was surprised to see someone working so hard to do something that's so easy.

New message

When you create a new email that requires a time-sensitive response, add a reminder when you create the message:

  • Open a blank email message and create the email as you normally would.
  • With the message still open, click Follow Up in the Tags group. If you're using Outlook 2003, choose Follow up from the Actions menu. Then, choose Add Reminder.
  • From the resulting menu, choose Add Reminder.
  • In the resulting dialog, choose a reminder date and time. In this example, I chose Tuesday, October 15 at 9:00 AM. On this day and time, Outlook will display a reminder. Use the dropdown arrows to access the settings. To choose None for the Start Date and Due Date, click the dropdown arrow and click None. You don't have to change the default dates, but they're not necessary in this instance.
  • Click OK to return to the message window, which now displays the reminder information in the header.
  • Click Send to close the message window.

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Once you actually send the message (whether automatically or manually), Outlook will add the item to your To-Do Bar. Outlook displays a reminder icon so you can visually see what the item is.

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These settings get the job done, but the item doesn't sort properly with the other To-Do Bar items. If that detail is important to you, use the Due Date setting. Just repeat the reminder date in Due Date, and Outlook will sort your reminder by this date.

Note: You can accidentally remove a reminder from the To-Do Bar by right-clicking the item and choose Remove From List. Doing so doesn't just remove it from the To-Do Bar, but it deletes the reminder!

After the fact

It's easy to forget to set a reminder when you're creating a message, but adding a reminder after the fact is easy:

  • Open the Send folder and find the message.
  • Right-click the Follow Up flag for that message. If you're using Outlook 2003, right-click the message and choose Follow Up.
  • Select Add Reminder and create the reminder as you normally would.

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If you happen to have the message window open, you can use the Follow Up Option in the Tags group.

If you don't see the Flag Status column, you might need to reset your folder view:

  • Right-click the header cells in the folder (From, Subject, Received, and so on).
  • Choose View Settings at the bottom.
  • Click Columns.
  • In the Available Columns list, highlight Flag Status.
  • Click Add. Click Move Up to position the field, if necessary.
  • Click OK twice.

The Field Chooser option won't work with the Flag Status field.

Not on my system

If you're one of the unfortunate users who can't access a reminder through the Follow Up option because you are using IMAP, you can still add reminders, but it isn't as intuitive or easy. You'll need to add a Quick Step:

  • Click the Home tab.
  • Click Create New in the Quick Steps group.
  • Change the name to Add Reminder.
  • From the Choose an Action drop-down, click Create A Task With Attachment. You can also choose a Shortcut Key, but doing so isn't particularly helpful in this situation.
  • Click Finish to add the new Add Reminder quick step to the gallery.

To add a reminder to an existing email, select it and then click Add Reminder in the Quick Steps group. There's the monkey wrench in the works - you can only add the reminder to an existing mail item.

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Bottom line

Never work harder than you have to. If a seemingly easy task seems impossible to complete, you're probably going about it wrong. Adding a reminder (a special type of flag) to a message is easy if you take the right route.

About

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.

7 comments
jasontd101
jasontd101

I use an app called TickleTrain and it fully automates my follow-ups for me. I can set follow-up messages for different subjects and then set them to be sent automatically or approve before send for any number of emails I want to follow-up on at a later time and day. Very easy to use and saves we a ton of time. Their site is http://www.tickletrain.com

JJMach
JJMach

This may sound a little PHB, but I occasionally use the lower "Flag for Recipients" option, which can be very useful if everybody uses Outlook.  (Mind you, I know a researcher who once called a Callendar invite "facist.")

Say my boss tells me he needs the TPS Reports on his desk Wednesday morning.  I need inputs from my minions by lunch Tuesday or I won't have time to compile the reports, so I send them an e-mail asking for the info and give them a deadline, then I Flag it to give them a pop-up Tuesday morning to remind them in case they haven't responded yet.  It also puts it in their task list so they can see the task whenever they check Outlook.

It's a little blunt, but I find a little grey pop-up reminder is subtler and less micro-managing than me doing it in person. 

Brad Patterson
Brad Patterson

Very handy.  Thanks Susan.

Another option for this is Boomerang.  Works very well, and you can 1) remind when emails weren't responded to in 4 hours/1 day/1 week etc 2) defer any message for a time later 3) and even schedule emails to be sent at specific time.  It's among my go-to productivity tools.

mackelcd
mackelcd

If you're on an old version of Outlook that lacks this functionality, you can CC: followupthen.com to get a reminder email.

They're at http://www.followupthen.com/how - I find the free service sufficient for my needs.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

Never work harder than you have to. Adding a reminder (a special type of flag) to a message in Outlook is easy if you take the right route.

ssharkins
ssharkins

@mackelcd Another good tip about services. I'm not familiar with this service, but I'm glad to hear that it works well for you.