In this Productivity Tip, some recommendations and tips about Outlook reminders.

The key point to realize about Outlook’s reminders is that they are interruptions.  And in today’s often-hectic world, the last thing you need are more interruptions to break the flow of your current activity.  So you want to be judicious in your use of reminders.

REMINDERS FOR TASKS

My recommendation here is simple: DON’T!  If you use Outlook for managing your tasks – and you should, using my MPN system or another methodology – then I advise against setting reminders for your tasks.

Your task list should be under your control, not the other way around.  You want to see the items on your task list at the appropriate time, when you are ready to choose a new task to begin work on.  If you set a reminder for a task, it will almost certainly pop up when you are in the midst of some other activity.  You’re interrupted and distracted from your current action, while being reminded of a task that you aren’t ready to perform at that moment.

Instead, maintain and keep current a task list in Outlook, and refer to that list when you choose to.  And when you’re working on a task, stay focused on that activity.

Your Outlook may be configured to automatically set reminders for all tasks you create that have Due Dates.  If you take my advice not to use reminders for tasks, you should turn this option off.  To do so, follow these steps:

  • On the Outlook main menu, select Tools > Options.
  • Click the Task Options button.
  • Uncheck the box labeled “Set reminders on tasks with due dates”.
  • Click OK twice to return to the main Outlook window.

REMINDERS FOR APPOINTMENTS

Appointment reminders can be a great asset to aid you in being on time to appointments and meetings.

A reminder for an appointment is a good thing when it pops up at the appropriate time.  What’s the appropriate time?  It’s the time when you need to stop and get ready for the event.

What you don’t want to do is set an appointment reminder so that it pops up too far in advance, when you are not yet ready to stop and prepare for the event.  In this case, you typically find yourself snoozing the reminder one or more times.  Used in this way, reminders often prove to be distracting and interrupting more than useful.

If you find yourself snoozing your reminders often, that’s a good sign that they’re probably not set to an appropriate value for you, and you should consider changing the default reminder time.

DEFAULT REMINDER TIME

Outlook’s reminder time defaults to 15 minutes prior to the appointment’s start.  Most people know that you can change that time for an individual appointment on that appointment’s open form.  In Outlook 2007, this is done via the “Reminder” field in the “Options” section of the Ribbon; in prior versions, use the “Reminder Time” field in the middle of the appointment form.

If you find that in general 15 minutes is not the optimal time for you, then you can change this default time.  Perhaps 15 minutes is too long – you only need a nudge 5 minutes prior to meetings so you can get to the appropriate office or conference room.  Or maybe you want 30 minutes, because your meetings are typically with clients and you need some advance time to prepare.

To change this standard time for all new appointments, follow these steps:

  • On the Outlook main menu, select Tools > Options.
  • Change the “Default reminder” field to your desired value.
  • Click OK to return to the main Outlook window.

SNOOZING

Outlook’s pop-up Reminder window includes a “Snooze” field, with a drop-down list of values.  This of course allows you to dismiss the reminder for a certain amount of time, and have it pop up again at that time.

The Snooze feature also has a useful and little-known capability (which I first learned about from my friend and colleague Jared Goralnick).  While the Snooze drop-down list contains a set of predefined time values, you can also type in other values and Outlook will understand them.

You can type in a duration to delay the snooze – for example, type in “8 minutes” to snooze the reminder for 8 additional minutes.  Or you can type a specific time of day – for example, type in “10:55 am” to be reminded at that specific time.

But remember that the Snooze capability should be used as an exception rather than as a rule.  As I discussed above, if you find yourself using Snooze regularly, it’s a good sign that you should change your default reminder time instead.