Turn emails into tasks with Microsoft Outlook and To Do

Some emails require you to take action and it may not be possible to do so immediately. Will you forget? Not if you turn emails into tasks. Here’s how to do it in Microsoft Outlook and To Do.

Microsoft Outlook is a great email service, and it is used by hundreds of millions of people. The Microsoft To Do app has also become an excellent tool for managing your daily, weekly and recurring tasks. There are many email and task and to-do managers of course, but these two are favorites of mine.

Creating task or to-do lists is essential for boosting productivity and organizing your workday or week. You need to make sure the things that need to be done actually get done and ticking them off a checklist is a great way to do it.

Both services are accessible everywhere and you can access your email and tasks on the web at outlook.com and to-do.microsoft.com using a web browser on Windows PC or Apple Mac. There are also desktop apps for both computers in their respective stores, and there are apps for Android phones and the iPhone.

I will be using the free web, computer and phone apps to turn emails into tasks, but everything works for Microsoft 365 subscribers too. Free is fine though. Microsoft Outlook and To Do apps sync across devices, so you can do this on any mix of devices – web, phone, and desktop app. A change made in one place is reflected everywhere. Let’s look at Outlook running in a web browser on PC or Mac first.

Create tasks in Outlook webmail

1 View My Day

Screenshot of Outlook in a browser: View today's tasks
View upcoming tasks in Outlook

Go to outlook.com in a browser and ignore the inbox and emails on the left. Click the button at the right side of the toolbar that shows My Day when the mouse hovers over it.

This is not exactly your day and it is more like your week and information is pulled from several sources.

There is the current week at the top, with today’s date highlighted. Below is a list of items in date order and they consist of appointments in your Outlook Calendar and tasks with deadlines from Microsoft To Do.

A task can be created right here by clicking the plus button and this is useful for creating quick tasks after reading an email, but wait a minute, there is more you can do.

2 View Microsoft To Do in Outlook

Screenshot: Access Microsoft To Do from within Outlook

Select the To Do tab and you have direct access to Microsoft To Do from within Outlook web mail in a browser. If you have created tasks, they will show up here and you can set them as done, or mark them as important with the star icons. Click Add a task to create a new task.

3 Select a task list

Screenshot: Access Microsoft To Do tasks in Outlook web mail
Select a task list in Microsoft To Do

Microsoft To Do lets you create multiple lists so that you can organize your tasks by topic, project, priority, work or personal and so on. It is up to you what lists you want to create.

Click the default Tasks category and a menu showing built in task lists and those you have created yourself is displayed. Select the list you want to add a task to before creating it.

4 Create a task in To Do

Screenshot: Creating a To Do task in Outlook mail
Creating a Microsoft To Do task in Outlook web mail

Here I selected the My Day task list. All you need to do is to type in the title of the task and click the Add button on the right. The task is automatically added to Microsoft To Do and can be seen in this panel on the right in Outlook.

5 View tasks in Microsoft To Do

Screenshot of Microsoft To Do
Microsoft To Do

Tasks can be created and viewed in Outlook web mail in a browser, but the Microsoft To Do app for PC, Mac and phones looks much better. Open the app, select My Day and here is the task that was created. Click it and a deadline or reminder can be set, notes and files added, and so on.

Turn emails into tasks on a phone

There is another way to turn emails into tasks that appear in Microsoft To Do and it can be done in Outlook mail, but just for a change, I will be using the Microsoft To Do app on an Android phone. It can just as easily be done on an iPhone.

1 Open the To Do menu

Microsoft To Do menu on an Android phone
Tap your account in Microsoft To Do

Open the Microsoft To Do app on your phone (Android or iOS) and if it starts with the My Day view or something else, tap the back arrow in the top left corner of the screen to go to the task list. Tap the down arrow next to your name at the top of the screen.

2 Go to Settings

The account screen in Microsoft To Do app on a phone
Go to settings

The account screen appears and there is a Settings or gear icon at the bottom. Press it to continue, we need to change the settings.

3 Add a new list

Microsoft To Do app settings on a phone
Enable Flagged email list

There is a collection of predefined lists that the To Do app can use, along with on/off switches to show or hide them. If Flagged email is turned off, turn it on. This will add the item to the list screen (first screenshot).

You might need to actually flag an email in Outlook in order for Flagged email to appear in the Connected apps list. Don’t worry if you can’t see it, just continue and return afterwards to turn on the switch.

4 Flag an email in Outlook

Flag an email in the Outlook phone app to turn emails into tasks.
Flag an email in Outlook

Open the Outlook app on your phone (web or computer work too) and open an email. Tap the three dots at the top and then press Flag on the menu. It adds a small red flag to the email message.

Swipe options in the Microsoft Outlook app on a phone
Define the swipe action in Outlook app

To make it even easier to flag email messages, go into Outlook app settings and configure the Swipe options. Tap CHANGE to choose an action for a left or right swipe. I set up Swipe right to flag an email.

Flag an email by swiping and turn emails into tasks using Outlook.
Swipe to flag an email in Outlook app

Now I can go through the inbox email list and swipe to flag anything that requires action. (I set up swipe left to delete emails, so I can quickly deal with messages.)

5 To Do flagged email

Flagged email list in Microsoft To Do
The Flagged email list in Microsoft To Do

After flagging some email messages that need actions in Outlook, switch back to the Microsoft To Do app and there is now a Flagged email task list. I flagged one message and the count is shown on the right, but you can flag multiple messages to turn emails into tasks. Tap Flagged email to open the to-do list.

6 View email tasks

Flagged email to-do list in Microsoft To Do app on a phone
A flagged email in Microsoft To Do

Here is the email I flagged that requires some action. It has been automatically turned into a task and when it has been completed, the circle can be tapped to indicate it.

It may not be clear from this brief To Do list entry what the original email was about if you have forgotten, but you don’t need to hunt for it in the Outlook app, just tap Message below the title and the full original email is shown.

Summing up

The way that the two apps, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft To Do, work together is very useful and there are obvious benefits to using them both, rather than two separate email and to-do apps. Turn emails into tasks and and it helps you to manage your email and work more easily and to avoid forgetting to deal with important messages that require some action or follow-up.

Everything here was achieved with a free Microsoft account.

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