Jan 27, 2011
In my article on Outlook Mac 2011, I complained that there was no easy way to convert e-mails to tasks in Outlook 2011, which greatly diminished the power of the task system there. I had heard then there were ways to write an AppleScript program to do this, but I did not want to subject my readers to doing that.
Well, it turns out, there is a predelivered script already in my current copy of Outlook Mac 2011 that enables this. I am not sure if I missed this before or if it turned up in a recent update, but it pretty much solves the problem.
[May 2015 Update: this script menu is not present in the new Outlook for Mac software. See more information here.]
With a message selected in Outlook Mac 2011, simply open the script menu at the far right end of the menu bar (see left—it looks like a small scroll) and choose Create Task from Message. (See this post if that script is missing). A new task opens with the e-mail title as the task name, and the e-mail body in the body of the task. Rename the task to be more action oriented, and then be sure to set the start date, Priority, and other fields, and save it. This is pretty simple and this significantly relaxes my objections to using tasks in Outlook 2011.
A couple caveats though. First, since tasks in Outlook 2011 cannot hold attachments, if there are attachments in your email, they will not convey into the new task. But, assuming you save or file your mail, you can easily find that e-mail later to get at those attachments—here’s how. When using the task later, just select and copy a unique phrase out of the body of the task (recall the task body came from the original e-mail) and paste it into the Spotlight search field (with one of your mail folders active); that should allow you to find the original e-mail. If it’s filed in a different folder, you may need to select All Mail at the left edge of the Search tab on the Ribbon to get at it.
One other thing when using this workaround. If you have converted e-mails to tasks in a Windows version of Outlook, you know that at the top of the body of the task Outlook inserts some useful header info about the source e-mail; this includes the sender, the date of the e-mail, and the original e-mail subject line. That’s not true on the Mac; using the script above in Outlook 2011 does not insert that information, and so later you may be left confused as to the context of the task. To fix that, here’s another level of the workaround. First create a reply message to the original e-mail (which creates the header), and then run the script with that reply message open. That inserts the header into the body of the new task, giving you the context you need. Then delete the reply without sending it.
Also note, unlike Windows, you cannot create one task from multiple selected e-mails; if multiple e-mails are selected in your mail list, the script just fails. And there are a lot of other aspects of tasks in Outlook Mac 2011 that just don’t really work right compared to Windows Outlook. But this included script is a huge step forward for Outlook 2011 tasks, so try it out.