How to Use Outlook for Simple Task and Project Management

Sandy Writtenhouse 24-06-2016

If you’re working on a small project, as a freelancer, or in a company with few employees, Outlook 2016 can help you manage your projects and tasks without the need for hefty software. With simple customizations to the task section, you can set reminders and due dates, assign to-dos, and track time easily.


Why Use Outlook for Projects and Tasks?

For large projects, project managers and bigger companies use professional software such as Microsoft Project or Basecamp, some of the best project management tools to do the job. They offer the extensive features needed to organize and manage successful projects.

However, for small projects, freelancers, or teams of one or two, Microsoft Outlook has the essential features needed to succeed in any undersized situation. Here are just a few of the basic features it contains:

  • Customizable task fields
  • Assignable to-dos
  • Helpful reminders
  • Time tracking
  • Status updates
  • Prioritization and categorization
  • Export function


How Can Those Outlook Features Be Used?

Customize With Fields You Need

You can easily add and remove fields within the task section. For example, to track time you can add actual work and total work. For status tracking you can add percent complete and custom status.

To choose your fields, right-click on one of the columns and select Field Chooser. Then simply drag and drop the fields you want to the column area.



Assign Tasks Easily

If you work with a partner or one employee, assigning tasks to each other is simple. Open the task and in the top navigation select Assign Task. Click the To button to open your contact list, select the assignee, and click the To button in the pop-up window. This will insert your contact into the task and once you click Send, the task will be on its way to the assignee.

You can also include a field for Team Task that includes simple checkmarks and an Assigned To field to see at a glance whose responsible.



Set Up Reminders

As with any task application, reminders are essential tools. Microsoft Outlook allows you to customize your reminders by selecting the date, time, and a specific sound if you like. The date choices are in a calendar format and the time choices are in 30-minute increments.


Track Time

For freelancers or others who charge clients by the hour, time tracking is a must. With Microsoft Outlook you can use both Actual Work and Total Work fields or just one of them, depending on your exact needs. For instance, you can use Actual Work for the billable amount and Total Work for the entire time spent on the task. Both fields record time in decimal hours.



Update Statuses

Microsoft Outlook includes both percent complete and status fields to keep your projects and tasks on track. As with time tracking, you can use both or just one, depending on your preference.

The advantage to using them together is that if you mark a task as 100 percent complete, for example, the status field will automatically display Completed and the task will be scratched through.

The status field also includes choices for In Progress, Waiting on Someone Else, and Deferred, each of which can be very helpful for staying on track.



Use Prioritization and Categorization

Using the priority field is another great tool for viewing your most important items The 3-Strike System: How To Prioritize Your To-Do List Are you not getting through your to-do list? The problem might not be your productivity, it might just be your priorities. Let's learn how to prioritise the to-do list, and get things done. Read More at a glance. High priority items will show a red exclamation mark and low priority items will show a blue, downward arrow. You can also add a Custom Priority field if needed.


The category feature in Microsoft Outlook is also handy for spotting specific types of tasks at a glance. By default, the categories are named for their color, but changing them to more meaningful names is helpful. For instance, you may use the green category for all finance tasks and name it as such. You can create your own categories and choose the color as well.


Export Your Data

If you would like to export your tasks to a spreadsheet, it is a simple process How to Export Outlook Contacts to Anywhere Do you need to export your Outlook contacts and are not sure where to begin? We show you how to export from Outlook and import in your destination. Read More . To begin, select File > Open & Export > Import/Export. When the next window pops open, select Export to a file in the list of choices. You can then choose from two file types; Comma Separated Values (.csv) or Outlook Data File (.pst).


The Comma Separated Values option is a commonly-use choice. It allows you to map the fields for a clean transition and the file can be uploaded or imported into databases and spreadsheets. If you want to create a simple backup of your Outlook tasks, then the Outlook Data File can be chosen.

In the next step, select the Tasks folder from the list of options and click Next. You can then adjust the file name and location if necessary. You will then finalize your export. You can click the Map Custom Fields button first, if needed, which will allow you to alter the fields in your file; this step is optional. Click Finish and you will be prompted to enter a date range for the tasks to export.


Other Handy Features

For ease-of-use, the tasks in Microsoft Outlook offer additional convenient and useful features to help with your projects and to-dos.

  • Sort by any column.
  • Drag and drop to rearrange columns.
  • Send a status report for an individual task with one click.
  • View the task details section for hours, billing information, and company.
  • Filter all tasks by keyword, status, or time.


Is Mobile App Syncing Available?

Currently, the Microsoft Outlook mobile app does not include a task feature. But, if you need to sync your Outlook tasks on the go, luckily there are apps that you can connect for either Android or iOS.

  • Remember The Milk (Pro version), Android and iOS, $39.99 yearly
  • Tasks & Notes for MS Exchange (requires exchange account), Android, $4.99
  • SymTasks – Outlook Tasks Sync, Android [No Longer Available]
  • TaskTask for Microsoft Outlook and Google Tasks, iOS, $4.99
  • Todo Exchange Tasks (requires exchange account), iOS [No Longer Available]


For additional mobile options that work with a project management app for Mac 5 Easy-to-Use Project Management Tools for Mac Looking to manage projects on your Mac? Here are the easiest project management apps on macOS for any size tasks. Read More , take a look at these tools:

Have You Tried Outlook Tasks for Small Projects?

Using the task feature of Microsoft Outlook does not work for everyone or every project. However, if you are already a Microsoft Outlook user and just need a simple tool, then it works well.

For more, check out some little-known features of Outlook 10 Hidden Features of Microsoft Outlook That Are Rarely Used Microsoft Outlook has a ton of features. Use these lesser known Outlook features and improve your email workflow Read More . And if you’re looking for a dedicated task management tool, these cross-platform to-do list apps 8 To-Do List Apps That Sync Across All Your Devices Choose one of these excellent to-do apps if you want to have your tasks and checklists synced on all your devices. Read More are sure to help as well as for projects with team collaboration How Can Supercharge Your Team Collaboration offers powerful collaboration and organization tools for your team. Here's why you should give it a try. Read More .

Related topics: Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, Project Management, Task Management, Time Management, To-Do List.

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  1. Gordon F. Gustafson
    November 29, 2017 at 9:18 pm

    I would rather use this free project management tool at

  2. Peter
    March 31, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    I have tried to use Outlook for project management and time tracking but there are just too many parts missing. I return again and again to Ecco Pro which ceased development in the 90's because of the emergence of Outlook. Twenty + years on Outlook still hasn't caught up.
    Ecco has a timer, a time search and sum function and the option of including gantt charts in tasks/projects.

  3. Karen
    March 26, 2017 at 8:01 am

    This was very useful and we already use Task extensively for laboratory QA management. Exporting to a spreadsheet was something I didn't known about and will also use from now. We particularly like the ability to drop and drag items between emails, task and calendar.

  4. Hud
    November 21, 2016 at 1:00 am

    Surprised you do not mention the android app Wunderlist, a great task manager that Microsoft recently purchased.

    It is free and with an additional $10 app (forget the name, Bing it) you can sync directly with Outlook for tasks and also have the tasks sync with Outlook for Android calendar.

    We have been using it for several months now and it works seamlessly. Hoping that is the direction MS is going for mobile task management. Worth setting up.

  5. Marie-Andree Giroux
    September 16, 2016 at 3:33 am

    Hi Sandy,
    Very intersting feature you shared in article,.
    Only one question, can you upload a csv file of tasks in outlook?.
    Say you start a new projet, use a project template of task, change dates and then upload in outlook instead of keying all tasks one at a time.