Outlook’s New Tasks window displays a built-in Priority field with three settings: Low, Normal, and High. Using this setting, you can sort tasks by priority level rather than due date, to give you a bit more perspective. This insight can help you reorganize your tasks when necessary. For better or worse, those three levels are it, and they won’t be adequate for everyone. In this article, I’ll show you how to add a custom priority field to a built-in view, so you can sort and group by priority levels that are meaningful to you.

I’m using Outlook 2016 (desktop), but the technique is applicable to earlier Ribbon versions as well. It isn’t supported by 365’s browser edition. There’s no downloadable demonstration file.

Built-in priority

Before we add a custom field, let’s take a look at Outlook’s built-in priority option for tasks (Figure A). This option is available in the New Task window, and you can sort by this field in most tasks views. The default setting is Normal.

Figure A

The priority option allows three settings; you can’t customize the option.

If this field isn’t visible in the To-Do List view, you can add it as follows:

  1. With the To-Do List view current in the Tasks window, click the View tab.
  2. Choose Manage Views from the Change View dropdown.
  3. Select To-Do List in the View Name list and click Modify.
  4. In the resulting dialog, click Columns.
  5. Choose Frequently Used fields from the Select Available Columns From dropdown, if necessary.
  6. Select Priority in the Available Columns list.
  7. Click Add to move it to the Show These Columns In This Order list (Figure B). At this point, you could click Move Up to change the option’s position on the title bar, but you don’t need to do that now.
  8. Click OK three times.

Figure B

Move Priority to the Show Columns list.

When you return to the Task window, Outlook will display the priority icon on the title bar, as shown in Figure C. You can sort tasks by these three priority levels. As you can see, someone thinks shampooing carpets is High priority! The blue down arrow denotes a Low priority. No icon indicates a Normal priority.

Figure C

The default priority option is now visible.

When adding the Priority field to the To-Do List view, you might have noticed that Outlook offers two interesting fields you might consider using instead of the built-in Priority field: Custom Priority and Custom Status. Unfortunately, these fields are tied to SharePoint and aren’t available to all users.

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Custom priority

The built-in Priority option might be adequate for most, but you can create a custom priority option if necessary. Before you do, give some thought to the type of priority items you need. Do you want a numbering system such as 1, 2, and 3, or would you rather have meaningful text items, such as Alright to Ignore, Better Do Soon, and Catastrophe Awaits? It’s entirely up to you, but when going the text route, consider the alphabetical sort (more on that later). For this example, we’ll use a list of simple digits: 1, 2, 3, and so on.

Once you have a list of priority items in mind, you’re ready to add the custom field. In the Tasks window, select the view you want to modify; we’ll work with Active. If it’s not available in the gallery, choose it from the Change View dropdown in the Current View group. With the Active view current, add the custom field as follows:

  1. Right-click the title bar and choose Field Chooser. In the Field Chooser dialog, click New (at the bottom). Or click Add Columns in the Arrangement group and then click New Column in the middle of the dialog.
  2. In the New Column dialog, enter a meaningful name, such as Task Priority. (Priority already exists.)
  3. We’ll use a Text type, so you don’t need to change that option for this example (Figure D). Click OK to continue.
  4. Drag your custom field to the title bar and drop it (Figure E). Don’t worry if your view is somewhat different; you might have already modified it.

Figure D

Choose a type and format for your custom field.

Figure E

Add the new custom priority field to your task view.

A simple click on the Task Priority header toggles the records between an ascending and descending sort. Currently, there’s nothing to sort by, though. To assign priority levels to existing tasks, click inside the new field and enter a value. Then, click the header to sort your tasks by your custom priority, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Sort by clicking the Task Priority header.

Oops… remember earlier when I warned you about data types and sorts? If you truly have 12 priority levels, you would expect 11 and 12 to sort to the bottom of an ascending list. Because we used a text data type when we added the custom field, 11 and 12 sort after 1 and before 2. If you really have 12 levels, your custom field should be a numeric field–then it will sort as expected. I ran this example on purpose to show you what could happen.

This sort is temporary. You can further modify your view to include a permanent sort by the custom field. To do so,

  1. Click the View tab and choose Manage Views from the Change View dropdown.
  2. Select Active (or the name of the view you modified) and click Modify.
  3. Click Group By.
  4. In the Group By dialog, uncheck the Automatically Group According To Arrangement option.
  5. From the Select Available Fields From dropdown, choose User-defined Fields In Folder (in the bottom-left corner).
  6. From the Group Items By dropdown, choose Task Priority (Figure G),and click OK three times. Figure H shows the results.

Figure G

Set a permanent group for the view.

Figure H

The modified Active view will group your tasks by your custom priority column.

You can sort by other fields by clicking the header, but Outlook will sort by that field within the permanent priority groups.

Stay tuned

To sort by a series of custom priority levels, we added a custom field to the Active view and changed its grouping. You could also copy the Active view and modify it if you don’t want to permanently change the built-in view. Right now, the only way to add a custom priority value to a task is to add it after the fact using the view. In a future article, I’ll show you how to add this custom field to the New Tasks window, so you can add the priority when you create the task.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers’ questions when I can, but there’s no guarantee. Don’t send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, “Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what’s wrong” probably won’t get a response, but “Can you tell me why this formula isn’t returning the expected results?” might. Please mention the app and version that you’re using. I’m not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at susansalesharkins@gmail.com.

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