Calendar or Task?

This is a common confusion. Let me clarify it once and for all. This article shows you the thought process, NOT step by step instructions. If you are looking for a quick fix, this article is NOT for you. Read on to understand the thought process involved in deciding whether to create Calendar or Task.

Bad Habit

Tasks are activities which are to be finished on or before the deadline. People use one of the three methods in the context of Outlook:

  1. Create a Calendar entry
  2. Send a mail to self
  3. Create a Task

Items 1 and 2 are wrong. Third one is the right approach.


Reminders for Tasks

This is the most commonly asked question. Everyone wants to put reminders for Tasks. We know that whenever you add an appointment, Outlook automatically sets an alert sometime before the appointment or meeting.

We also know that Outlook does NOT enable the reminder option when you add a Task.  We also know that you can manually enable a reminder for Tasks.

The question we have in mind is “why is Outlook troubling me by forcing me to enable Reminder first and then setting the reminder options?”

The answer is NOT obvious. While we are getting irritated with MS not giving you the reminder action by default in tasks, we forget to think about the fact that Microsoft also thinks. MS thinks about which default to provide in which situation – not just for calendar or tasks but for everything in the context of Office.

So, somehow, their default (after lot of thinking) is to disable reminders for Tasks.

The right approach

Whenever you find something non-intuitive or irritating or not so obvious in the context of Office, you must learn a new technique to decode the significance of Microsoft’s decision.

If they consciously chose to deactivate default reminder for Tasks, there must be  a reason for it. Rather than complaining about MS changing the default for Task reminders, you must try to think about WHY they did it.

Why no reminders for tasks?

Reminders are useful when you know what is to be done when. Reminder time and date can be chosen by you. For example, if there is a customer meeting, you may set the reminder 4 hours before the meeting because the customer is far away from your location. If you need walk across two buildings in the same premises to attend a meeting, you will set the reminder for a meeting to 10 to n minutes depending upon the physical travel time.

Unfortunately, we equate tasks to calendar entries in our mind. That is a very wrong interpretation.

Tasks have a deadline. Meeting requests have a specific, pre-defined date and time stamp. What does the deadline mean?   The day on which the work should be completed. Now, if you enable reminder for that date, is it not just urgent fire-fighting?

There is no compulsion to finish the task exactly on the day of the deadline. In fact, all of us know that if we finish the task proactively earlier than the deadline, it is good for us.

The problem is, you yourself do not know the exact date and time on which you are going to execute the task. You just added a task and the last date on which it should be completed on. In order to execute the task, you need to find TIME.

As you already know, TIME cannot be blocked in a Task folder. It must be done in the Calendar. Once you put it in Calendar (which is a simple drag-drop from Task to Calendar), you have actually decided the date and time on which you are going to execute the task.

Calendar does provide reminders

The default reminder in a calendar entry should be changed on a case to case basis depending upon travel time, preparation time and so on.

But in any case, we have a task in the Tasks folder and a related appointment in Calendar (which does give you a reminder by default).

Even when the appointment (to execute the task) comes and goes, the original task is not marked as complete automatically. Why? Because, Outlook does not know whether you actually spent time on the task. You still have to update the Task Status in the Task folder. If you did not execute the Task at the assigned Calendar time, you have to create another appointment.

Finally, when the task is actually completed, you must go to the Task folder and mark it as complete.

What if I put a task as a calendar entry?

As you know, calendar gives you reminders BEFORE the appointment. We usually see it in a consolidate dialog which shows all overdue or upcoming appointments. Most of us choose the Dismiss All option there – which defeats the purpose.

If you did no end up doing the work during the specified calendar entry, it will not be shown in the Tasks folder with red color. It will just lie dormant in the calendar folder. Nobody is going to drag drop the pending item automatically from Calendar to next week or day.

That is why adding tasks ONLY to calendar is a bad idea.

Calendar or Task: the right way

We rarely think about whether it should be added to Calendar or the Tasks folder. It is just driven by the habit (bad one).

If you want to execute a Task, put it in Task folder and drag-drop it into the desired place in the calendar.

If you just want an appointment, put it in Calendar directly. Remember that meeting someone does not automatically mean there are Tasks to be executed.

But once you create a Task, you must find and block time to execute it before the deadline. This requires a Calendar entry.

Sending mails to self: Another bad habit

Trust me, some people send mails to themselves as a reminder to execute tasks on or before the deadline.

That is not the right approach. You must create it as a Task, rather than a mail.

Otherwise, you set the red flag for such mails and over a period of time, you have too many red flags. This is not the right approach.

Best Practices

  1. If it is a Task, create it in the Tasks folder
  2. Drag drop the task into Calendar to block time to actually execute the task
  3. If it is a date and time bound appointment, put it in Calendar

Try it out and then you will realize the difference. Cheers.


Comments? Suggestions? Wish list?