Outlook 2013: Fixing the Harder to Open To-Do Bar

October 30, 2012 [updated Dec 20, 2013]

If you have been playing with the Outlook 2013 Preview, one thing you may have noticed is that the To-Do Bar’s display controls have changed a lot compared to Outlook 2007 and 2010. These are the controls that open and close the To-Do Bar; they also control what data you see there. The overall effect of the changes is simplification, and that’s good. But as a result, in some ways the settings are now harder to use.

There are a ton of little changes in these controls, some good, some bad, and I cannot cover them all here. However in this post, I want to focus on one important change that may mess you up: it’s the manner in which you hide and show the To-Do Bar; I think Microsoft has simplified it a bit too much in 2013. The good news is that I am going to show you how to tweak Outlook and add a Quick Access command that will fix it, (sort of).  And I’ll show another method just pointed out to me by Bjørn Hopland, who I now see has an excellent Microsoft Office productivity blog.

The Old and New Way to Show the To-Do Bar

First of all, you may recall that in all my books and classes I recommend that to open and close the Outlook 2007 and 2010 To-Do Bar you use the Minimize button—it’s a small carrot or chevron-like arrow (or double arrow in 2007) at the top of the To-Do Bar (see below for 2010).

This Minimize button is a great tool to use to hide and then re-display the To-Do Bar—I use it 5 or 10 times a day because I often hide the To-Do Bar to let me view the full width of my Inbox when looking for specific e-mails. But then I want the To-Do Bar right back; so the Minimize button is great—or was great.  It’s gone now in 2013!

You may also recall that for 2007 users, I advised you to avoid using the close button (the X at the top right of the To-Do Bar). I had you avoid that X because if you used it to close the To-Do Bar, the only way to reopen the To-Do Bar was to go all the way back to the View menu and then to the To-Do Bar menu and then to the Normal item on its submenu. That’s three layers of steps, which seemed like quite a lot for a routine open and close operation. So I was glad they removed the close button in 2010 and left only the minimize button—that way users weren’t even tempted to click the X; minimizing was so much better.

Well, that whole world has been switched around in Outlook 2013 and it is quite different. As I said, the minimize button is gone, and the close button (the X) is back (yikes!). As a result, when users close the To-Do Bar, they may now try to go through three (or more) levels of menus to re-open the To-Do Bar—a major pain (see the last bullet at end of this article to see why I say “or more”).

Well, all is not lost. There are three ways to get the effect of the Minimize button back.

Method #1: Use the Reading View buttons [this method added Dec 20, 2013]

Method #1 is to use the Reading View buttons. I discovered this later, and it’s a pretty good workaround. I describe this approach in this post.

Next, Methods 2 and 3 only work if you take one of my other recommendations, which is this: use the To-Do Bar to only display tasks—don’t use it for anything else. If you can do that, try methods #2 and #3.

Method #2: Use the Pin Command (suggested by Bjørn Hopland)

This method is pretty simple. You already know about the major navigation tools at the bottom of Outlook 2013 where you see the items: Mail Calendar People and Tasks. You might know you can take a peek at each one by hovering your mouse over them. Well, this time, with the To-Do Bar completely closed, right-click the Tasks item in that bottom navigation area, and from the popup menu choose Pin the Peek (see below). That will open the To-Do Bar with the Tasks pane displayed. Repeating that closes it. Brilliant!

[Update: this menu entry was changed to “Dock the Peek” in the final version of Outlook 2013]

Again, this (and #3 below) only works well as a method to fully open and close the To-Do Bar if you do not activate any of the other panes on the To-Do Bar (e.g. Calendar or People). If those other sections are open, they stay open when you try to clear it using Pin the peek; so the To-Do Bar does not close. Worse, when you reopen tasks, the relative positions of the other panes shift up and down depending on what order you opened them—and there can be too much space between sections; it’s kind of unpredictable. Better to just leave them out of the view and focus on Tasks. And better: I just wish Microsoft would add the Minimize button back, there is plenty of room for it. We really need a way to reshow the last state of a fully populated To-Do Bar in one click.

Method #3: Adding a Quick Access Command

Another way that works almost identically (and needs one fewer click once set up): add a Quick Access Toolbar button that opens the To-Do Bar into the tasks-only view.

The Quick Access Toolbar is a feature in all Microsoft Office applications. It sits in the upper left corner and displays 2 or 3 common commands for that application (see below). By default in Outlook 2013 it has a Send/Receive button, and an Undo button.

Well, what most people don’t know is that it is easy to customize it and add more commands to it—and that’s what we are going to do, we are going to add a Tasks button to it that opens and closes a tasks-only To-Do Bar. Here’s how.

  1. Close the To-Do Bar completely, including the Tasks, Calendar, and People sections
  2. Click the View tab to activate the View ribbon
  3. Click the To-Do Bar button on the View ribbon
  4. Right-Click the Tasks choice from its submenu
  5. Select “Add to Quick Access Toolbar” as shown in figure below.

That’s it! This adds a small Tasks button to the Quick Access toolbar (see below).

Now click it and notice that it opens the To-Do Bar displaying tasks (only). Click it again and the To-Do Bar closes. From now on, you can use it to instantly open and close the To-Do Bar; the Minimize button is essentially back!

And I offer the same cautions as above. This only works well if you do not activate any of the other panes on the To-Do Bar (e.g. Calendar or People). It gets a little strange otherwise.

Other changes in 2013 to the To-Do Bar visibility controls:

  • You can no longer reach a set of visibility controls by right-clicking the top of the To-Do Bar. The View ribbon button is now it. Again, simplification, and I see no problem with this.
  • Compared with previous versions, you might now notice that there is no longer a choice to display the Date Navigator (mini-calendar) and Appointments separately. The two are now combined into the one pane called Calendar. I think I like the older design better since some people like to display their next appointments only; that calendar takes a lot of space.
  • If you do decide you want to display the Calendar pane of the To-Do Bar, note that clicking on that Calendar no longer just takes you to the Calendar view as in previous versions. In 2013 clicking a date on the Calendar pane keeps the current view, and changes the list of appointments that are previewed below that pane to match the date you clicked on. Nifty new feature I think. That explains why they combined both into the one Calendar pane.
  • Also, if you want multiple panes displayed each time you open the To-Do Bar (Tasks, Calendar, and People), you have to go back to the menus again to open each of them, perhaps up to three times in a row just to reopen a fully populated To-Do Bar view again. I see no way to save their combined status and open them all at once like you could in 2007 and 2010. I really hope Microsoft brings the Minimize button back—while I commend Microsoft’s overall simplification efforts, removing that button seems like a big step backwards. All that said, if like me you only display tasks, then the Quick Access button shown above is a suitable replacement for now .

Michael

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14 Responses to Outlook 2013: Fixing the Harder to Open To-Do Bar

  1. You can open the To-Do bar with one click. Right-click on the Task Word in the New menu in the bottom of the window which you now use to change between, Mail, Calanda, and Tasks, and chose “Dock the Peek”.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Bjørn: Excellent! I’d not seen that… that’s quite good. I will update my post to include it, and cite your comment as the source. Thanks again! Michael

  2. roo dacosta says:

    every time I open Outlook 2013 it comes up with “Mail” selected at the bottom.
    I want “Calendar” to be the default opening display.
    I have “Dock the Peek” selected, yet it does not open in Calendar. How can I do this? Thanks.

  3. Michael Linenberger says:

    Roo
    We try to avoid general Outlook usage questions like this since we could be doing this all day on all aspects of Outlook. Rather we prefer Outlook questions that are more directly related to our Outlook MYN and 1MTD task systems. But let me answer this one for you, since we hate to leave you hanging! Go to the File tab, choose Options, then choose Advanced, and in the section titled “Outlook start and exit” browse to your calendar folder. Hope this helps!
    Michael

  4. jupet says:

    thx – a good workaround

  5. Leo says:

    Gmail has an Agenda view that I find useful. Otherwise I like the old calendar pane with list of upcoming appointments just below it. It was a nice overall glance at the next following days. You can still see that when selecting your account name in Mail, so not sure why MS couldn’t just add this option, like an Agenda. Thanks for this post.

  6. Bill Zuvela says:

    These steps are useful if you use the task bar in its full view most of the time. However, I like the task bar (pre-2013 version) because I don’t have to click on anything. When it is minimized I can see my upcoming calendar events for the next day or so at a glance, zero clicks. I very rarely open up the task-bar to a non-minimized state since this is all I am looking for. Has anyone found a way to put of a persistent minimalized view of your upcoming calendar events that requires no effort on the part of the user?

  7. Karl Burrows says:

    Good post. My minimize button is missing from my To-Do Bar. I can only open or close it using the ‘x’ and View, To-Do Bar. Any suggestions? I have reset folders, done a repair, etc. Data file is Office 365 ost.

    Thanks!

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Karl, thanks for your question. Office 365 desktop Outlook is the same as Outlook 2013, which this article is about. And this article is about the fact that the minimize button is missing from the To-Do Bar (as you describe) and how to make up for that. So this article answers your question. Michael

  8. RK says:

    Michael,
    You had indicated that Methods #2 & #3 only work for Tasks. Actually Quick Access commands can be used for any of the To-Do Bar options. When Calendar is highlighted in the To-Do Bar, Right Click and choose Add to Quick Access and you would be able to toggle To-Do bar with a Calendar.
    The best part about this, is that you could technically add both the Calendar and the Tasks for instance to the Quick Access Tool bar and show/hide on one click!
    Trust this helps
    Cheers,
    -RK-
    PS: And if you’re a Keyboard freak like me, Alt+ will allow you to do this fairly quickly.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      RK- Thanks for your note. Actually, I didn’t mean it imply this works only for tasks, that’s all I wanted to demonstrate. But, yes, you can use the same technique for the other types. Thanks for pointing that out! Michael

  9. Terry Thompson says:

    Michael,

    I am having a problem with the Outlook 2013 To-Do list bar not showing all of the columns I selected and not showing them in the proper order. When I followed your set up instructions with Outlook 2010, the columns in the To-Do bar show up as they should. In 2013, however, they don’t unless I expand the width of the To-Do bar to almost half of my screen. When I narrow the list, only the Task Subject and Complete columns appear and in that order. I have tried setting the column widths in the custom view setup and that does not work. Trying to adjust the column with by dragging the gutter line between columns also does not work.

    Do you have any idea why this is happening and how I can fix it? Thanks in advance.

  10. Michael Linenberger says:

    Terry, your to-do bar is still in compact layout. It sounds like you left out one step in the configs. It’s where you go to the Other Settings button in the tall stack of buttons and clear the checkbox near the bottom called Use Compact Layout at widths less than… Michael

  11. Ramana says:

    Hi All,

    Am just wondering if we have any option to find the quick contact in outlook 2013 as of one we have in outlook 2010. In 2010 when we select the quick contact we use to see all the Groups/contact of Lync at the bottom right hand side of the outlook 2010. Could someone let me know if this option is available in 2013?

    Regards.
    RVR.

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