In my experience, most law office personnel use only the most basic functions in Microsoft Outlook. (For many, the zenith of their Outlook skills is using Outlook’s Meeting Organizer to put items on multiple calendars.) And their lack of more advanced skills–such as using Microsoft Outlook Tasks or Categories–is killing their productivity.
It’s a shame, too, because knowing a bit more about how Outlook organizes information can open up a wealth of options for organizing your client matters.
In this series of posts, we’ll go over some “beyond the basics” skills in Outlook to equip you and your staff to make the most of this undervalued tool.
Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows.
If you’re not using Tasks, you should be
Once you’ve mastered sending/receiving email and calendaring appointments, the next area is Tasks. To access Tasks, simply click on the Tasks button on the bar in the lower left-hand corner of your Outlook window:
Although you can start a new task by simply following Outlook’s suggestion to “click here to add a new Task,” it’s usually better to use the New Task button in the upper left-hand corner so you will get the full dialog box:
- Type the description of the task here. For optimal effectiveness and clarity (particularly if you’re assigning tasks to others), make this description a “next action” (“Call Rick to get possible deposition dates”) rather than a goal or project name (“Schedule expert depositions”).
- You can either type a Start Date in or use the drop-down calendar to pick one.
- Once you’ve chosen a Start Date, you’ll see Outlook fill in the Due Date automatically. You can change it by either typing or using the drop-down.
- If you want a reminder pop-up, check the box next to Reminder and set the date and time.
- Use this space to keep any notes you will need or will accumulate as you perform the Task. You can even …
- … embed an Outlook Item (an email, a contact, etc.) into a Task or attach a file (a Word document, etc.).
- This field can come in handy for tracking the status of your Tasks (more on that when we discus Views). In addition to Not Started, you can pick In Progress, Waiting for Someone Else, Deferred, and Completed.
Using Tasks + Categories for Case Organization
The key to organizing Microsoft Outlook Tasks is in combining them with Categories, found on the right side of the Task tab:
Yes, the delivered Categories leave a lot to be desired, but here’s the good news: they’re customizable. Click All Categories at the bottom:
Now that you’ve added your new case/matter category, it’s selected by default. (You can, by the way, assign more than on Category to a Task, or to any Outlook item.) So your finished Task looks like this:
And once you click Save & Close on the Task tab, it appears in your Task list like this:
Creating Tasks with Categories is just the beginning
Creating the Tasks for your open matters is a great start, but using Tasks plus Categories for organization becomes much more powerful when you learn how to customize the View (such as the one shown above). Next time, we’ll talk about how you can insert (or delete) columns in this view, filter according to criteria such as due date, save multiple Views for different uses, and print reports that can give you an at-a-glance view of what’s due when.