Using Recurring Tasks in Outlook
Feb 10, 2011
What Are Recurring Tasks?
Recurring tasks are a type of task in Outlook that allows you to create a task once, and then have it recreated automatically after a designated time interval. You can make any existing task into a recurring task by simply using the Recurrence button at the top of the task window.
An example of why you would create them might be a Monday status report that is due each week. You can cause that task to recreate itself every Monday morning in your Outlook tasks list. Unlike repeating appointments, however, future instances of recurring tasks are not placed in your task list until the previous one is marked complete or deleted. So they are a convenient way to keep a repeating task on track without burdening your task list with a long list of future tasks. Outlook’s implementation of recurring tasks is quite well done. It provides a lot of flexibility and power.
Using Recurring Tasks with MYN
Recurring tasks in Outlook work perfectly with the MYN system. In fact, I think they work even better in the MYN-configured Outlook task list than in the out-of-box Outlook task setting. In the MYN list, when you mark them complete, they disappear (they don’t in normal Outlook). And they only reappear when they are next needed; they then pop into the top of the MYN task list at just the right time. Perfect.
There is one thing to be aware of, however, if you are just now starting the MYN system in Outlook. The MYN Outlook system, as you may know, focuses on the start date of tasks, not the due date. If you create new recurring tasks (created with a start date) all is fine. But if you already have recurring tasks in your Outlook system that are based on due dates (or have no dates), they do not work with MYN Outlook configurations. And if you want to convert them to being start-date tasks, you need to delete and reenter those tasks as start-date based tasks. Otherwise they will no longer work. And don’t just try to edit them by adding the start date—that won’t work either. Rather, be sure to fully delete and then fully reenter the tasks; then they will work fine with MYN. That’s my only caution. Otherwise, recurring tasks are an excellent tool to use with MYN.
Two Kinds of Recurring Tasks in Windows Outlook, One in Mac Outlook
Probably the most confusing aspect of Outlook recurring tasks is that, in Windows, there are really two kinds of recurring tasks, and understanding the difference between them can be confusing. One I call a scheduled recurring task, and the other I call an interval-since-completion recurring task. The former exists in both Windows and Mac, the latter only in Windows. The two are nearly identical, but each has its own best use. In describing recurring tasks, I’ll sort these out.
Finding the Recurrence Button
You may know you can mark a task as recurring by navigating to the Recurrence button at the top of the Task dialog box. In Outlook 2007, 2010, and Outlook Mac 2011, that Recurrence button is found in the middle of the Task Ribbon at the top of the Task dialog box (shown below), and in earlier versions it is found in the middle of the main toolbar at the top of the Task dialog box.
When you click the Recurrence button you are next given some choices. And this is where it gets interesting because there are a lot of recurrence options, particularly in Windows Outlook, and they can be confusing. I’ll start with Windows, and then later below show you the Mac.
Choosing Recurrence Options in Windows
When you click the Recurrence button in Windows, the following Task Recurrence dialog box opens in Windows:
This dialog defaults to a weekly Recurrence pattern (see the upper left corner). Since this is the most common and easiest to understand, let’s work with that as an example.
Creating Scheduled Recurring Tasks
As I said above, in Windows there are two kinds of recurring tasks and the first is called Scheduled. Why create these? Sometimes you want a task dated to a specific day every week (Thursday say, as above). To do that, leave the Recur button (at the top middle of the dialog box) in its default selected state of Recur with a week count of 1, and set the day of week below that to Thursday. This will initially create a task in your list with a date set to the closest Thursday. When you save it, you can tell that task is recurring in your task list because the task icon changes to add a tiny double arrow in a circle.
After you finish that task and you mark it complete (or delete its instance), this is where recurrence kicks in. A new task is magically created in your tasks list, and the date is set to the subsequent Thursday. This keeps going on forever, unless you set an end date in the dialog above. By the way, if you never complete the first task and so you do not mark it complete, the old instance of the task remains alone on into the future (you don’t end up with two identical tasks come next Friday).
You can experiment with this behavior in an unfiltered task list (like the Simple List view in the Tasks folder). If you create a weekly scheduled recurring task there and then mark it complete (or delete its instance), you’ll immediately see another task appear there, with the date set ahead to the next week. Mark that complete and another task appears with the date set to the next week out, and so on.
This works especially well in our MYN configured TaskPad or To-Do Bar. Since those views are date- and completion- filtered, after you mark the task complete it disappears, and it only reappears when its new start date equals today. It then stays there until you complete it, and the cycle repeats. So the TWC-MYN design is perfect for using Outlook recurring tasks.
The other settings in that dialog box are fairly self-explanatory, except for the regenerate button, which I cover below. When creating a scheduled recurring task, changing the interval or day-of-week settings in the recurrence dialog box results in fairly predictable outcomes; setting the interval to 2 for example causes the task date to advance every other Friday, and so on.
Be Careful When Setting Day of Week
Something not immediately obvious is that you can select more than one day of the week at the same time (these are check boxes, not radio buttons), which allows you to create an odd sequenced task recurrence within the week. That would be a rare need, but it may get set by accident. For instance if today is Wednesday, Wednesday is set by default when you create the recurrence settings. But if you intend to set it for Friday, when you check the Friday box, Wednesday remains set and you might not notice that; the task will now regenerate twice a week. So you need to remember to uncheck today’s box when you create the task for another day of the week.
Pay Attention to Setting the Start Date
Note that when using the MYN system you need to be attentive to what dates you set inside the task itself. Recurring tasks, to work right in MYN, must have a start date set on the task. But you may recall if you create tasks in the Tasks folder, (or anywhere in pre 2007 Outlook), it does not auto-set the start date, even if you set it inside the recurrence dialog box. So when using the MYN system you need to remember to fill in that start date inside the task (not just inside the recurrence dialog box). By the way, if you create a recurring task in the Outlook 2007/10 To-Do Bar, both dates are set by default, which is much better default behavior.
Interval-Since-Completion Recurring Tasks
The above is the story for Outlook’s scheduled recurring tasks. Let’s now talk about Outlook’s Interval-since-completion recurring tasks. These are only possible in Windows Outlook.
What are interval recurring tasks and why might you use them? Here’s an example. Let’s say you have a task to water your plants weekly and you initially created the task for a Friday, and you do water them every Friday. Then one week you are traveling and do not water until the following Wednesday when you return. In that case you would not want to start up again on the upcoming Friday (in two days); you might over-water the plants. Instead, you now want to wait to the next Wednesday to water, and continue from there. An Outlook interval-since-completion task is perfect for this.
So use these when you want to set an interval between task completion and the next task date. You do that by clicking the Regenerate new task button (in the middle of the dialog box above), and choosing the interval. In the dialog box example above, the interval unit is set to week(s); but if you had chosen a daily recurrence pattern in the upper left, the word week(s) would be replaced by day(s). Note that clicking Regenerate dims out the ability to choose a day of week. This highlights the key difference between a scheduled and interval recurring task in Outlook: one is recreated set to a specific day, while the other is recreated set to a specific interval after completion of the previous task.
You can experiment with this behavior in an unfiltered task list (like the Simple List view in the Tasks folder). If you create a weekly interval recurring task there and then mark it complete, you’ll immediately see another task appear there, with the date set ahead to the next week. However mark that complete and the next task that appears has the same date: one week out. So the date never advances beyond the interval period. That’s because interval recurring tasks always key their new date off the completion date, not a day of week.
Some Other Points on Windows Recurring Tasks
One side effect of the regenerating nature of a scheduled recurring task is how this regeneration occurs when “catching up” on missed tasks in MYN: if you miss marking a scheduled recurring task complete for many weeks, when you do finally mark it complete, it will seem to be hard to clear out (with MYN settings). What I mean by that is it will keep regenerating itself instantly each time you mark it complete. That will keep repeating until the date catches up to the current week, when it will finally disappear. Interval-since-completed tasks don’t do that in TWC-MYN settings, they just sit and wait until you mark them complete, and when you do they disappear completely until the next interval is up, no matter how long you have delayed past the original intended date. So if your task is not day-specific and possibly skipped often, an interval-since-completion task is probably your best bet, to avoid having to click through all the old occurrences when you do catch up. But if your task is always day specific, then use the scheduled recurring task, even if you expect to skip it often.
One other point. With a scheduled recurring task, deleting an instance of the task is similar to marking it complete. It will still regenerate. You need to “Delete All” to really get rid of it. With an interval task, deleting it removes it fully; there is no instance deletion vs. Delete All.
Using Recurring Tasks On Outlook Mac 2011
Recurring tasks are much simpler on the Mac; but as with many things on the Mac, due to that simplicity they lose a bit of power compared to Windows.
On the Mac, when you click the Recurrence button, you are given a drop-down menu with a few clear and simple choices, as shown below. They represent the most likely type of recurring task you will want to create.
The day and date inside the top three choices above vary depending on what day you create the task, or what start date is in the task. In the figure above, I created the task on Thursday February 10—that’s why you see the defaults you see in the top three choices. By the way, the Once Only selection is how you turn recurrence off once it’s set. If none of these choices work for you, you’ll need to click the Custom… choice, and that leads to this dialog box:
This is similar to Windows but simpler to read anduse. Just choose the recurrence pattern in the first menu; set the number in the next; and set the day in the next. Set the start and end date, and you are done. Once saved, the task appears on your task list with a recurrence symbol in the recurrence column (that symbol looks like two tiny arrows in a circle). The magic begins when you finish that task; when you mark it complete it recreates itself for the next week (or on whatever schedule you chose).
The recurring task I just described corresponds to the scheduled recurring task I described above for Windows. That means when you mark it complete, no matter what day you do that, it recreates itself for the next scheduled day. So in the example above, let’s say you finally complete it the next Tuesday. When you mark it complete, a new task is created for the upcoming Thursday—it always keys off the day of the week that you set in the task. There is no interval task like on Windows, which keys of last completion date, but I doubt you will miss that much—that is really just a special case and a bit hard to understand once in use. And not having them makes the recurring task experience much simpler on a Mac.
As with Windows, when using this with MYN on the Mac, always make sure you set a start date inside the recurring task itself, not just inside the recurrence dialog box. You need to set it in both places; remember, MYN uses start dates on all its tasks.
So that’s the story on recurring tasks and how to set them. Don’t be afraid to use them, they work great!