Create an Outlook Task in OneNote for an effective To Do List

Create an Outlook Task in OneNote for an effective To Do List

Man sitting at a Table with Laptop - Create an Outlook Task in OnenoteIf you use both Outlook tasks and OneNote 2016, you should be aware of a clever way in which you can select any text inside OneNote and have that text automatically appear as a new task inside Outlook. Better still, the new task is synced between both applications, so if you check it as complete in Outlook, it will show that way in OneNote, and vice versa.

(Note that this functionality currently only exists in OneNote 2016. It doesn’t exist in OneNote for Windows 10 or OneNote for Mac.)

The key to creating tasks inside OneNote is a special type of tag. You are using tags aren’t you? If not, you should be. Let me explain those first, then I’ll come back to the creation of tasks.


The very useful OneNote tags feature

Tags in OneNote (available in all versions) is a fantastic little feature. You will find them in the Home ribbon as shown below.

Tags in Microsoft OneNote - Create an Outlook Task in Onenote

I usually explain tags as being similar what we do in our paper notebooks. Over time, most of us have developed a bit of a system for ensuring that certain notes on a page stand out so we can find them later. We may highlight certain text, underline it, place an asterisk alongside it, etc. Some people develop quite a detailed system, well thought out and structured, while others might take a more relaxed approach. In my experience, it is something most people do in some way, shape or form.

In OneNote, you have access to a very similar system, though the OneNote version is far more useful and versatile than any paper version. There’s a host of predefined tags you can use in OneNote, and if they aren’t enough you can even create your own. You can also modify the existing tags to suit your requirements. That’s for another day, but it is definitely worth exploring the tags feature.

Tags are a great way to relate pieces of text spread across different Notes pages. By searching for a specific tag (using the Find Tags button) you can find all notes in your Notebook that have text with that tag.


To Do Tag

The To Do tag is probably one of the most widely used OneNote tags. You can use it to create a checklist anywhere on a notes page. You simply select the To Do Tag in the Home ribbon and start creating your checklist.

The To Do tag has special behaviour, in that after you finish your first item, hitting the return key creates a new line and with another To Do tag ready for your next entry. (Other tags aren’t automatically applied to following lines in this way.)

To Do Tag in Microsoft OneNote. Create an Outlook Task in OnenoteAlso, when you have completed an item on your list, you can left click in the box to display a little red tick indicating that it is done! Brilliant, I can hear you say…and I agree.

The only downside to using the To Do tags is that the lists are independent of any other task lists you may have. So you still have to remember to come back to that page to check your list or complete the task.


Creating Outlook Tasks inside OneNote

To avoid having little tasks lists all over the place, I tend to use Outlook as my main to-do list. Thankfully there is a special tag feature in OneNote 2016 that creates new, linked to-do items in Outlook Tasks. If you use Outlook Tasks, you will love this integration!

Say you are taking notes on a page in OneNote, and you decide something is really important or is an action you need to complete. Of course you could tag that text as I’ve just described, however you can also send it straight to your task list in Outlook by using an ‘Outlook Tasks’ tag.

To achieve this, place your mouse cursor somewhere in the line or paragraph that you want to create a new task from. Then click the Outlook Tasks button (see below – it shows a flag icon). You can select pre-set due dates or ‘Custom…’ if you want to choose your own date.

Outlook Tasks Tag in Microsoft OneNote. Create an Outlook Task in OnenoteIf you select one of the pre-defined due dates (Today, Tomorrow etc), the new item is created in Outlook Tasks in the background. If you select Custom, this opens up a Task form from Microsoft Outlook, in which you can complete more details including selecting when it is due, the priority, categorise it, etc.

Picture of Outlook Task with a link back to Microsoft OneNote after you have created an Outlook Task in OnenoteWhen you create a new task in this way, a link is placed in the body of the task that will take you directly to the OneNote page from which you originally selected the text. This is incredibly helpful as now have quick access to ALL your notes on that page which you may like to refer back to as you complete your task.

You can even place your Outlook Tasks tag on the page heading of your OneNote page as an indicator that there’s a host of actions on that page that you need to complete. I’m always using that feature!

Finally, you can mark one of these tasks as completed in either OneNote or Outlook and the change of status will be reflected in the other application. Everything stays nicely in sync.


I love how Microsoft OneNote and Outlook work together seamlessly to help you keep on top of your notes and all the teasks resulting from the notes you take.  Try it…I promise, you won’t look back!


Geoff Prior – Lingford Consulting, July 2021

Workload & Email Management Training/Coaching. MBTI Consultant.


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