Introducing the To-Do Bar

To help people get a handle on their time and tasks, we are introducing the To-Do Bar into Outlook.

Outlook 12

Instead of looking at scraps of paper, notepads, planners, and the Outlook Inbox, you can see everything you need to do simply by looking at the To-Do Bar. The To-Do Bar shows a Date Navigator (a small monthly calendar), your upcoming appointments, and a list of your tasks on the side of the screen. In the To-Do Bar, you can accept/decline meetings, quickly access the full Calendar, add new tasks, categorize, rearrange, and change the dates of your tasks all while responding to e-mail. With the new To-Do Bar, you may never leave your Inbox.

We wanted to provide a light weight view on one’s time and tasks – to help people to better prioritize their time. Hopefully you will find that the To-Do Bar, and the rest of the time management system will help you do just that.

Some more details and a little background

Outlook 12: The To-Do Bar

During site visits, we discovered that people frequently referred to desk calendars or their system clocks when looking for date (sometimes changing their system clocks in the process - oops.) To help with this simple task, we added a Date Navigator to the To-Do Bar, which allows you to find a date with just a glance. In addition, clicking on a date in the Date Navigator takes you to the Calendar, making it even easier to get to this oft visited place.

For many of us, what we can accomplish in a day is dictated by what appointments and meetings we have. By default, the To-Do Bar shows your next three appointments. Like the Date Navigator, the appointments in the To-Do Bar look and act just like they do in the Calendar: you can right-click on them to accept/decline meetings, change privacy settings, apply a Color Category, forward, print, and open.

Through our time management research, we found that people are likely to use scraps of paper or notepads to keep track of the tasks they need to complete because a) the content of these lists is always visible and b) it is easy to add items. Therefore, in the To-Do Bar, we made tasks always visible and added an easy task entry point where tasks can be entered without switching context.

To add a task to the To-Do Bar, you can:

  1. Type in the easy task entry line in the To-Do Bar
  2. Flag a mail item or a contact
  3. Drag a mail item or a contact to the task list portion of the To-Do Bar
  4. Hit Control-Shift-K to create a new task
  5. Click New->Task

(And this is just within Outlook. You can also create tasks in SharePoint, OneNote, and Project and have them show up in Outlook too.)

We also improved upon paper lists by making it easy to manage your tasks once they are in the list. Once a task is in the To-Do Bar, you can:

  • Drag it between groups to rearrange it
  • Drag it with in a group to set its priority
  • Add a category to make it stand out
  • Change the arrangement to pivot your tasks by different fields (date vs. category)
  • Click on the task to rename it – without overwriting the subject of the mail or contact.


In cell editing in the To-Do Bar: Changing to-do title of flagged e-mail with subject "Getting Things Done" to "Write to GTD group."

The To-Do Bar also filters out completed items, keeping your list tidy.

You can change the arrangement of tasks in the To-Do Bar by using the arrangement drop down. This feature enables you to easily switch from viewing your tasks by start date to due date to categories, etc. You can even specify your own custom arrangement.

To prevent you from losing your tasks, overdue tasks continue to "roll over" to the present day until they are marked complete, deleted, or the flag is cleared. If you don’t complete your tasks, they will begin to accumulate in the Today grouping. However, we have kept the coloring of overdue tasks so that you can tell which are overdue.

Because not everyone works in the same way, we have tried to make the To-Do Bar as flexible as possible. The task list can be customized in the same ways that lists in the Task Module can be customized. (For example, you can turn off the coloring of overdue tasks by clicking on the Arrange by: header in the To-Do Bar, then Custom…, and then change the settings in Automatic Formatting.) You can also change the number of Date Navigators and appointments shown in the To-Do Bar by going to the View menu then to To-Do Bar (in Beta 1, you may have to expand the menu to see the To-Do Bar option on the View menu.)

While one of the To-Do Bar's advantages is that it's always visible, you can also minimize it, thereby allowing for more space for viewing mail while still providing useful information such as the time and subject of the next appointment and the number of remaining tasks on the day

The hope is that the flexibility we have provided will let you work any way that you are accustomed to – while still providing valuable information to help you get your job done.