Reviving your Neglected Outlook To-Do List

Feb 12, 2018

For those of you who have used my 1MTD or MYN task list systems in Outlook, a number of you may have seen the Outlook task list get out of hand as it exploded in size. Perhaps it even got so out of control that you’ve switched back to paper for your daily to-do list. If so, here are some quick steps to get that neglected Outlook task list cleaned up and restarted, all in just a few moments.

By the way, it’s easy for any automated task list to get out of hand. The number-one cause is accumulating too many tasks in the list. Since any computerized list saves everything you write down, it overflows fast, even when most of those tasks have lost relative importance long ago. When the list is huge, you will stop trusting it and give up. At least with paper you can start a new list each day, focusing only on current items, and doing that cleans it. Not so with computerized task lists; if you don’t remove or hide or deprioritize old tasks, your lists will just keep expanding.

The good news is that you can quickly clean the 1MTD and MYN Outlook list too and recover its many advantages. Here’s how. 

Quick Review

First, let’s review the simple 1MTD and MYN task rules and how they map to Outlook’s high, normal, and low task priority sections. The urgency of each of the sections are respectively: absolutely due today, due in 1 to 10 days, and due beyond 10 days. The size limits of each are respectively: 5 items, 20 items, and unlimited. And the review cycles of each are respectively: once an hour, once a day, and once a week.

Okay, with that rules review done, let’s clean your list up in 3 steps:

Step 1: Force-Clean the Critical Now Section

Start with the Critical Now (high) section. You’ve probably got way more than 5 items there, so identify which items absolutely must be done today and move the rest down to the top of the Opportunity Now (normal) section. Get the Critical (high) list down to 5 or fewer. Be ruthless and do this quickly. It’s even okay if it’s at zero items. If you are an MYN user, set the start date to today before you move those excess tasks down.

By the way, don’t worry about losing those excess items into the overflowing normal section, we’ll get to that next. And now stay serious about the rule “absolutely due today” for that section.

Step 2: Prioritize Top of Opportunity Now

Next, and this is a key point, in the normal or Opportunity Now section, which probably has way more than the 20-item limit, perhaps hundreds, here’s a shortcut. Don’t try to clean the whole thing quite yet, that may feel overwhelming. Instead just clean and prioritize the top of it. What I mean is, starting at the top, scan down the list and move say 5 or 6 or more items you really want to do today or soon to the very top of the normal list forcing the others lower. With basic 1MTD settings (with the Windows Outlook To-Do Bar simply sorted by Importance), that means dragging the items to the top of the section. With MYN settings that means setting the start date of those items to today, which if your MYN settings are correct, will force them to the top of the normal section and in Windows underline them.

(MYN users only: If you end up with more than 5 or 6 items at the top with a start date of today, set the lowest priority of them to a start date of yesterday.)

(MYN users only: If that sorting does not work anymore—i.e. today’s tasks are not at the top of the section—then try clicking the label at the top of the start date column once or twice. If that does not work, your MYN settings are broken and so review chapter 3 of the Outlook book to get the settings reset. Or, perhaps install the MYN Views software. And MYN users may want to reread chapter 4 of the book to understand start-date sorting. Or watch lessons 7 and #11b in the MYN video course. Lesson 8 in that course shows how to make the MYN settings.)

Step 3: Treat these like Paper

If you had switched to a daily paper task list, think of these two sections—the high and the top-of-the-normal section—as your paper list that you create each day. This is your working “must consider today” list. From now on use it like that, and keep it up to date, keep it fluid. Adjust it a lot. Transfer key items from any other lists back to Outlook into the high and top-of-the-normal sections. Just ignore the old items lower in the Outlook list for now. Focusing on the top like this will pull you back into using the Outlook task list and you can benefit from all its advantages (like easy converting of emails into tasks). Use it like that for a few days to get your use of Outlook tasks reinstated.

Later Clean Ups

Then, when and if you have time in the days ahead, clean up the bottom of the normal priority section and get the whole section down to about 20 items again. Bite the bullet and delete as many as these old tasks you can. For those tasks you can’t delete, prioritize ruthlessly and drag the less important ones down into the Over-the-Horizon (low priority) section until the normal section is down to 20 again. Feel free to overload that low priority section for now—consider it a storage area for old tasks you can’t let go of yet.

And don’t fret if you cannot do this deeper cleaning right away. Completely cleaning this all up soon is not crucial; rather, doing the above steps 1-3 is enough to get you going again. But if and when you do get all of the normal section cleaned and down to 20 items, start reviewing that entire list once a day, and keep it clean.

And finally, MYN users, if you have an overflowing low priority section (Over-the-Horizon), then when you have 30-minutes or so in the week ahead, try to implement Defer-to-Review in that low section. That will get it cleaned up.

1MTD users, if the low section has more than 75 items and you can’t delete the excess, consider switching to the MYN system and using Defer-to-Review. That will get your list under control. But if you are not ready to advance to MYN, note that you can extend 1MTD in Outlook, perhaps even double its capacity, without moving to MYN, by using the lessons in the 1MTD Video Course (see Videos 9 and 10 there). Or by using the corresponding videos in the Outlook Inbox Ninja Tasks videos (Lessons 4.9 and 4.10). So definitely consider that if you aren’t ready to move up to MYN.


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2 Responses to Reviving your Neglected Outlook To-Do List

  1. George says:

    Thank you for this. My lists in Toodledo get very long, and I just feel overwhelmed sometimes. Then I switch to a simple scratch list as you mentioned. Now I have a plan to eventually get the list cleaned up.

  2. Henry Larry says:

    Appreciate the clear instructions for MYN users especially the tips on resetting settings if needed. The focus on daily adjustments aligns well with the fluid nature of task management.
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