Why I don’t recommend setting reminders on Outlook tasks

May 2, 2012

If you’ve read my books, or taken my classes, then you know that I do not recommend you use the Outlook reminder feature on Outlook tasks, even when the tasks have a future deadline. People question me on that, wondering if I am really sure. So in this post, I want to tell you a little bit more about why I think using reminders on tasks in Outlook is wrong.

Reminders on appointments are good

First of all, remember that the recommendations of the 1MTD and MYN systems state this: if a task must be done at a certain time of day, then make an appointment out of it—put it on your calendar; don’t rely on the task list. A good example is a phone call that must be made at a certain time—put it on your calendar.

Then, any time you create an appointment, using Outlook’s appointment reminders is perfectly fine. Why? Because they pop up just before the event is due. There is no confusion about whether you need to act when they pop-up or not; for example if it is that phone call, and the agreed-to time is upon you, you must make the call—no question.

But don’t set arbitrary task appointments

In contrast, if a today-deadline task can be done at any time today, then put it on your task list; don’t schedule it on the calendar. The task list is a much better place to list tasks that you will work on when you can—working off a list is ideal for that. Why? Because such tasks have no appointed time. If you try to schedule tasks like this on your calendar, then you will be scheduling them at arbitrary times that have no teeth. You’ll find that when their time comes, since each task is not really due at the scheduled time, you’ll just keep working on something else you are focused on; or you’ll favor something else that seems more urgent in the moment. The result is you will be endlessly skipping scheduled tasks; and as a result, you’ll often be dropping them.

So use the tasks list for this instead, set aside time to work tasks in general, and just work tasks in priority order.

Why task reminders don’t work

And this helps explain why reminders on tasks don’t work. Like above, task reminders are appointments for things that in reality have no appointed time. If you use a task reminder and the reminder pops up, you will likely be focused on some other activity that is more appropriate at that point—and the reminder feels like an interruption. Because of that, you will usually ignore the reminder, either dismissing it or snoozing it to later. And then when it pops up later, you are likely to be focused on some other activity again and ignore it again. Soon you get in the habit of immediately dismissing or snoozing all task reminders and they become useless.

In 1MTD and MYN you don’t need task reminders

And using task reminders just doesn’t make sense in MYN and 1MTD anyway, for one major reason: if you are using the system correctly they are not needed. Using the rules in MYN and 1MTD, you will be checking your Critical Now list as often as every hour. And you will be checking your Opportunity Now list at least once a day; hopefully in the morning. So you will clearly see tasks that are due today, likely noting them quite early in the day. Since they are due today you’ll make sure they are highlighted in the Critical Now list. And as you repeatedly check your Critical Now list and see the item there, you’ll be consistently reminded to work on it. You don’t need a poorly timed popup reminder to do that.

Even more important is this: when you decide to look at your task list, it is usually because you are open to taking on a new task; that’s why you’re looking at the list—to see what to do next. So you are more likely to be in a frame of mind to start a new activity when you see it there—it won’t feel like an interruption in the way that task reminders do.

So, the MYN and 1MTD systems handle the need for a reminder without using them, and the systems do it in a better way. You don’t need reminders.

Task reminder feature unreliable in Outlook with MYN

Finally, the reminder field on Outlook is unreliable when used with MYN. Why? Because if you set and then change the start date of the task, which I recommend you do often in MYN, then the reminder date will change by the same number of days—you probably will not notice that or set it back. The result? The reminder will not trigger when it should and you’ll miss the deadline. So when consistently using the task start date (as in MYN), the task reminder field is an unreliable field and it is best to avoid it.

So use the MYN and 1MTD systems in Outlook as they are designed, and you’ll never need a reminder field on a task. Things just won’t slip by!

Michael

13 thoughts on “Why I don’t recommend setting reminders on Outlook tasks

  1. Eileen Janeke

    Hello Michael from Eileen in Cape Town, South Africa!
    After YEARS of wrestling with “the other system” with its contexts, horizons, etc. etc., I have had a very good look at your 1MTD system in the last couple of days.
    I downloaded and printed a hard copy of your One Minute To-Do List e-book. Thank you for that GREAT freebie. Much appreciated :-)
    I am now starting to read the MYN chapter 9 and have ordered the 3rd edition of your TWC 3rd edition book. EVERY single methodology that you describe just ‘clicks’ with me! At last, a task system that runs on urgency zones!
    My whole business (bookkeeping & payroll services) runs on concrete deadlines – cannot avoid monthly returns to statutory bodies such as SA Revenue Services and Unemployment Fund etc.!
    I will be using Producteev rather than Toodledo – but set up in one list using your urgency zones.
    I do, however, have a big reservation about discontinuing my dozens of Outlook Inbox ‘client’ sub-folders, each housing processed emails, by client. I can use tags (categories) and only one folders but am nervous about that!! Any guidance please?

    Reply
  2. Eileen Janeke

    Of course, I meant only one folder with tags – not folders – in the above comment.

    Reply
  3. Michael Linenberger

    Hi Eileen
    Thanks for your comment. As to your concern about moving to a one-folder system, this is the one aspect of the MYN system that most people get fearful about adopting. But all I can say is give it a try. You can always switch back to mutiple folders. But 99% of those who switch over say they will never return to the multi- folder approach. And even if you do not adopt it, the rest of the MYN system still works.
    Michael

    Reply
    1. ganesh

      Hi Bru,

      Gasping at your brilliance! Thanks a tonne for sharing all that content. Can’t stop reading. Honestly!

      I’m in the middle of setting up Absence Management R12 (12.2.5)
      I’ve set up absence type: Sick Leave associated with non-recurring information Element “Sick Leave”.

      When I try to create an open-ended absence of the same type for an employee, i.e. with a null actual end date, I get the following error message:
      APP-PER-449865: You must enter both the Actual start and end dates.

      I’ve also tried using projected dates, and get a similar error APP-PER-449864.

      How can I enable open-ended absences? This is a business requirement, as an employee could fall sick without knowing when they will return to work.

      Appreciate your help.

      THANK YOU!! This saved my butt today, I’m
      immensely grateful.

      Obrigado,

      Reply
  4. Giovana

    I really like the idea of a viosin statement. Sometimes when I am procrastinating, all I can think about is what needs to get done, not the benefits/rewards of getting it down. By thinking of the positive outcome, it would be easier to just get it done.

    Reply
  5. Graham R

    Mike,

    Few questions: I need help with integrating my MYN with my outlook calendar. I use version 2007, and am not on Microsoft Exchange.

    When do I drag a task into an appointment? I think I read somewhere about if it takes more than 2 hours or something. OK, fine, but what about when I need to do a task with somebody else? i.e. train a colleague a new procedure/system or something – do I set this as a task, or as an appointment (because it involves somebody else?)

    Also, say I need to do a 2 hour slot of telemarketing every day, between 10.00 and 11.00. Do I put this in my MYN as a recurring task, or should I set an appointment in my calendar?

    What are your thoughts on ‘zoning time’? I need to spend more of my time working on my long term projects, and BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)… :-) How do I manage these? I need to do a certain amount on it every day, but I dont really know at this point all the tasks that I will need to do before I accomplish my goal, so how can I put them all in my task list? At the moment I just zone in a time slot every day, but I dont really feel in control of it enough.

    And with zoning, should I then ‘zone’ time (say 2 hours in morning, and 2 in afternoon) to do task list tasks, i.e. the medium priority Opportunity Now stuff? And then within that 2 hour slot, I just plod through my task list?

    With categorizing mail, do you have any recommended categories, or is it really what fits best for me? Or even a recommended number? how specific should I be?

    Look forward to some ideas.

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger

      Hi Graham, thanks for your note. You’ll find that most of these questions are answered in my Outlook book, but I’ll give you some brief answers below to help you out immediately. I’ll intersperse them with your questions. Here goes:

      Q: When do I drag a task into an appointment? I think I read somewhere about if it takes more than 2 hours or something. OK, fine, but what about when I need to do a task with somebody else? i.e. train a colleague a new procedure/system or something – do I set this as a task, or as an appointment (because it involves somebody else?)

      **You’re right, it’s more complex than just how long does it take to do the task. Even with short tasks, if the task is very very important, you might want to put it on your calendar and set a reminder to pop up since the reminder fields on tasks are not reliable– and so an appointment is really the only way to get a reliable pop-up. And yes, of course if the task involves meeting with someone else you need to set a meeting on your calendar. And from another perspective, if a task (with or without others) must be done at a certain time of day, make an appointment out of it; in contrast, if it just has to be done *sometime* during the day, use a task. These perspectives are all overlapping, so you’ll need to use your judgment on when to use a task and when to use a calendar appointment.**

      Q: Also, say I need to do a 2 hour slot of telemarketing every day, between 10.00 and 11.00. Do I put this in my MYN as a recurring task, or should I set an appointment in my calendar?

      **This is answered above; if a task must be done at a certain time of day always use an appointment.**

      Q: What are your thoughts on ‘zoning time’? I need to spend more of my time working on my long term projects, and BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)… :-) How do I manage these? I need to do a certain amount on it every day, but I dont really know at this point all the tasks that I will need to do before I accomplish my goal, so how can I put them all in my task list? At the moment I just zone in a time slot every day, but I dont really feel in control of it enough.

      **I like zoning time; I call it time mapping and I write about it a little in my Outlook book. However, people often ignore the zones. So BHAGS may be helped better by the use of the approach that I call “significant outcomes” or SOCs. Long story on that, you’ll find it written up in the book, or search this blog for some info.**

      Q: And with zoning, should I then ‘zone’ time (say 2 hours in morning, and 2 in afternoon) to do task list tasks, i.e. the medium priority Opportunity Now stuff? And then within that 2 hour slot, I just plod through my task list?

      **Yes, set general task time on your calendar and then just work down your long task list during that time. That’s the best way to go.**

      Q: With categorizing mail, do you have any recommended categories, or is it really what fits best for me? Or even a recommended number? how specific should I be?

      **I have no recommended categories, it’s all based on business need. But in general, I recommend you use categories as little as possible. Rather, use Outlook’s search engine as much as you can. I firmly believe that most users can find 90 to 95% of their mail using search alone, once they get good at it (see chapter 5 for tips). But you’ll still need categories for some of your mail, and a lot in some job roles that must track -every- email for case or project work (law firm, construction firm, for example); in all cases be as specific as needed while using as few categories as you can possibly get away with. The fewer the better because any sort of topic filing takes a lot of time to do and so you want to minimize it as much as possible. I actively use maybe 5 categories because that fits my business role; if you were an attorney tracking case files you might have one for each case (i.e. lots)**

      Hope that helps!
      Michael

      Reply
  6. Graham R

    Michael,

    that’s great, thanks. I do have your book, but it is long, and I just need some hints and tips to set me on the way!

    Just a couple more:

    I control 2 email addresses. I use outlook 2007, with POP email accounts (not server).

    At the moment i have simple rules set up to send any sales@ emails into one folder, and my graham@ emails to go into another folder. Do you recommend I remove all these rules, so every email comes into by default inbox? Within my inbox, I then have a processed mail folder (which works v well), so every email I get ends up in this folder – is that correct? How then do I track the sales@ emails from the graham@ emails? Maybe the search comes back into play here?? However if I want to reply to an email in my inbox, I have to carefully check that I am sending FROM the right account?

    Please advise, or point towards the right chapter in the book!

    Thanks, Graham.

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger

      Graham,
      Yeah, the book is long but it has a really good index. However, your question below is not answered in the book. This one has no perfect answer. Personally, I like everything in one mailbox, with one Processed Mail folder that all mail goes into. But you are right, you then must be careful to reply from correct account. Instead you could leave them as separate accounts and then drag all mail into only one Processed Mail folder on one of the accounts. That’d work too.

      Michael

      Reply
  7. Amy B

    Hello, the company that I work at recently purchased a CRM system that integrates with Outlook. We are using Outlook 2010 and we do use Microsoft Exchange. I have 20 reps that use this system daily. They schedule 80-100 outbound phone calls per day via Outlook tasks. Some days they get through all of them and some days they only get through 1/2 depending on how the days goes. I have set the CRM system to be task related, but because I did not fully understand how Outlook works when setting this up, I am realizing the flaws in this. Several customers require us to call at a specific time, and we cannot be late making that phone call. I see now that tasks can be missed even though we use the reminder time. Sometimes we miss phone calls and have to reschedule them. With as many phone calls as each rep makes, they need to be completed so they don’t accidentally call them back. I don’t see how to complete a calendar appointment. Anyway, I was surfing the web for my problem with tasks when this forum came up. I would appreciate any suggestions and although I plan on getting all of your books, please tell me which one to start with and I will run out and get it. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Amy, I am sure you saw that I recommend Calendar appointments for time-of-day specific actions. When you say “I don’t see how to complete a calendar appointment.” what do you mean by that? But let’s say you do get that sorted out, and start creating such appointments. Does the CRM system auto-set the reminder alarm on all the tasks it creates. If you also have 20 other tasks that have reminder alarms being automatically set, the user will just ignore ALL reminder popup alarms–that’s too many. So if you can, at least turn off the setting in the CRM that auto-sets reminder alarms in the tasks. And then tell the user to convert time-of-day specific tasks into calendar appointments (some how). One advantage of calendar appointments is that you can look at your calendar and see what (calls) are coming up next, and when. As to which book to get, Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook (4th Ed) is our Outlook book. It’s long and does not cover this discussion in detail, though. You might start with The One Minute To-Do List, just to get the main principles down (it’s short). With all those tasks being created by CRM, you need to prioritize them right, and this short book teaches that prioritization. By the way, what is your CRM system name?

      Reply
  8. Antoine

    I think that task can also be valuable to track actions/works that we expect from other people. E.g. you send an email asking someone to complete a task by a date, you may want to set-up a task near that due date to check the progress. At the specified date, a reminder will pop-up with your email and you can easily follow-up as appropriate.

    I did not get a chance to go through your books, but your system seems to share some common practice with Getting Things Done from David Allen which I really like, does-it?

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Antoine, yes that tracking is done with Follow-up tasks, which I write about extensively and have a whole chapter on in the Outlook book (10). As to David Allen GTD, MYN and GTD work well together but are mostly different. I have a whole section in the outlook book on how they work together and how they are different. Michael

      Reply

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