Ask your students if they’re tired of making lists of “things to do” or projects to check up on. Ask them if they wish for an easy way of getting a progress report on tasks assigned to their assistants, team members, or coworkers. Then get ready for their hero worship as you tell them all about assigning Tasks in Outlook.

As instructors we sometimes forget to teach that next step in the Outlook Task lesson. Teaching your students to set tasks for themselves is certainly a worthwhile venture—they’ll stay organized and always have a running list of responsibilities to keep them focused. But what if they’re heading a committee? What if they’ve got an absent-minded assistant? That’s when assigning tasks will really come in handy.

Task Requests: It never hurts to ask
Tasks are just messages in a different form. They provide a way to ask someone to do something, in detail, via e-mail. When you send a task request to another Outlook user, he will have the option to accept it, decline it, or assign it to someone else. You will receive a message in your Inbox that tells you what he has decided. Once you assign a Task to another user and she accepts it, you are no longer the “owner” of the Task and cannot make changes to it. To create a task request:

  1. Click the File menu, choose New and click on Task Request.
  2. In the To box, enter the name of the person who should receive the task, or click the To button and choose the recipient just as you would in an e-mail message.
  3. Give the task a name in the Subject box.
  4. Select a due date and the priority options that apply. You can choose to mark the task as Normal, Low, or High priority. You also may provide additional explanations for the Task in the notes window.
  5. If you’d like to receive any and all updates made to the task, put a check mark in the box next to “Keep an updated copy of this task on my task list.”
  6. Click Send.

The Task Request form

The Task recipient will receive an e-mail message with a special icon next to it. As with all other Outlook items, the icon will change according to the item type. The chart below shows the Task-related Outlook icons.

Outlook’s Task-related icons

If the answer is “no”
If you receive a message indicating that someone has declined your task, it’s easy to reassign it to another recipient. If you’re going to take on the Task yourself, open the Task and click on the Actions menu and choose Return to Task list. (NOTE: This option will only be available on a Task that has been declined.) This will return Task ownership to you so that you can modify it. To reassign a declined task request to another recipient:

  1. Open the Task Request.
  2. Click the Actions menu and choose Assign Task.
  3. Address the Task as you would a message.
  4. Select or clear the “Keep an updated copy of this task on my task list” and the “Send me a status report when this task is complete” check boxes.
  5. Click Send.

On the receiving end: Answering Task Requests
If you receive a task request, double click the message to reveal the Task Request form. In the upper left hand corner below the file menu, you’ll find two buttons: Accept and Decline. To accept or decline the task, simply click the appropriate button. Regardless of the choice you make, you’ll be asked if you’d like to edit the response before sending.

If you choose yes, you will be able to add a message to the return e-mail, like “I’ll need to work with Bob on this,” or “I’ll get going on this project right away.” If you choose no, the assigner will receive a generic message saying that you have accepted or declined the Task.

You can’t stop progress, but you can track it
You can mark your progress by updating the Status or % Complete fields within an open Task.

If you want to record the time you spend on the assigned task, click the details tab and type in the number of actual work hours and total work hours you spent on the assignment. You may also record Mileage, Billing information, or any companies you may have contacted as you worked. This information will be forwarded to anyone listed in the Update list on the Details tab.

Once you’ve completed the task, Outlook will send an e-mail to the assigner with summary information about the Task. It will include the total number of hours you’ve worked on the assignment.

If your students find that it’s difficult to keep their Tasks separated from those they’ve assigned to others, remind them of the unique ways Outlook allows you to view items. To view only those Tasks assigned to others, click on Tasks in the Folder list or Outlook bar. Then click on the View Menu, choose Current View and click on Assignment or By Person Responsible.

The Assignment view will show all Tasks assigned to other people. The By Person Responsible view will show tasks in a list separated by individual. Click on the check mark to the left of an individual’s name to show tasks assigned to that person.

Using View menu options makes it easy to organize Tasks

Danger: Don’t become an accidental SPAMmer
It’s important for your students to understand that if the person who assigned the task has chosen to receive updates, he or she will receive an e-mail with any updates each time the recipient makes a change to the task. If they’re on the receiving end, they’ll want to be sure to update the Task only as often as needed so they won’t bombard anyone with constant e-mails.

If you’re on the receiving end of this bombardment, you can create a rule to send the updates to a new folder as they arrive. That way you can check them as needed. To find out more about rules, read Outlook training: Use rules to get organized fast

An example of a Task update message.

Double trouble: Two heads aren’t better than one
Many times more than one person is working on a project. You may assign one Task to several recipients, but you will not be able to use the tracking feature. Outlook’s Help files suggest the following remedy for this flaw:

“If you assign a task to more than one person at a time, you cannot keep an updated copy of the task in your task list. To assign work to more than one person and have Outlook keep you up to date on work progress, divide the work into separate tasks, and then assign each one individually. For example, to assign a report to three writers, create three tasks named Write Report: Writer 1, Write Report: Writer 2, and Write Report: Writer 3.”
How are you using Outlook Tasks? What innovative teaching strategies have you used to convey Task concepts to students? What future Outlook training articles would you like to see? Let us know about it! Send us an e-mail or post your comments.