I don’t manage the social calendar in our house, and for good reason: We would never have any planned interactions with our friends. I like our friends, and I like hanging out socially… But I suck at planning social meetings. That’s why my wife is in charge of our social calendar. (Thanks, Jes!) Maintaining client relationships is all too similar to maintaining personal relationships… And all that means is I struggle maintaining client relationships, too. However, I’ve learned to make use of some simple tools in Outlook to keep me organized and on track with my client relationships.
Tasks are a built-in feature of Outlook, but people tend to forget about them, or maybe just not know how to best use them. Used properly, tasks can act as your de-facto “to-do” list, and you can organize and complete them to keep track of the status of those items. Often times, people may start using tasks in Outlook, but forget to check on them. By the time most of your Outlook tasks get out of date, you’ve already defaulted back to pen and paper lists or are forgetting to do things entirely! So how can you use tasks in Outlook more effectively?
Increasing Task Visibility
In Outlook, tasks have a separate area where they show up, so it’s easy to lose track and forget you have another section to check on a regular basis. However, you can add a view of tasks to more commonly used areas, like your email and calendar. This is a good way to keep tasks visible so you don’t forget about them.
On the calendar, under View Layout, you can add the “To-Do Bar” for tasks. This shows tasks that are due on each day in a pane at the bottom of your calendar. This is a great way to spot check them as you look at your calendar for the week. Similarly, if you add the “T0-Do” bar for Tasks to the email section of Outlook, you get a side panel that shows your upcoming tasks. That’s a great way to keep them visible and in mind as you work on your overflowing inbox.
Make use of the reminders feature on tasks. You can set a reminder alert based on a date and time, and it’s not necessarily tied to the start or end date of the task. This is great, since you may need to be reminded of a task well ahead of the actual due date.
Unfortunately, task reminders are not turned on by default, so it’s easy to forget to set them each time you create a task. Luckily, you can change that default setting in Outlook Options. Turn it on and set a default time in Tasks > Task options. The first thing I did was turn these alerts on by default, so I don’t miss out on something accidentally.
You can set up tasks to recur just like appointments: Daily, weekly, monthly, etc. However, there’s a helpful additional type of recurrence: Task regeneration. When you set up recurrence, you can tell it to automatically create a new copy of the task again in the future when it is completed. This is perfect for keeping in contact with clients. I often set up a task to touch base with a client, just a quick email or phone call. When I mark it complete, it regenerates a new task due X number of weeks from now for me to follow up again. Of course, this doesn’t take the place of scheduling actual appointments, but it’s perfect for unscheduled touches. The best part is that if I’m a week late touching base, it will still schedule the next touch the right number of weeks out and I won’t be reaching out too soon.
Modern smartphones typically synchronize up with Outlook tasks, so you can access them easily on the go. For example, on the iPhone they sync up with the built-in iOS Reminders app. Task reminders, recurrence, descriptions and many of the details show up so you’ve got everything you need at your fingertips. If you’re in sales or service, tasks can also be directly synchronized with your Microsoft Dynamics CRM implementation. With just a click or two in Outlook you can associate tasks with the appropriate records in CRM. This is great for maintaining relationships across an organization in one central place.
You can do so much more with tasks, like assigning to other people, tracking working hours and tracking more detailed items. I encourage you to take a look at the features, learn about them and make use of them. With the above tips to keep tasks easily at your fingertips, you’re sure to stay on top of your to-do list!