In my previous Productivity Tip, I explained why Outlook’s Follow-up flags are counter-productive, and I recommended that you instead make a task from an e-mail when that message represents an action you need to take.

Creating an Outlook Task from an e-mail is actually quite simple. So how does one do it? There are several approaches, and they create slightly different outcomes, so let’s take a look at them this week.

Probably the most straightforward way is via drag-and-drop. This is done by dragging and dropping the message onto the Tasks button in the lower left portion of the Outlook window:

Creating a task from an e-mail message

When you drop the message, a new task item is created and displayed. The Subject of the e-mail becomes the Subject of the new task item; the text Body of the e-mail becomes the Notes section of the task.

(The subject of the e-mail is likely to be a poor description of the action you want to take, so you’ll almost certainly want to edit the task’s Subject to make it more accurate.)

Now let’s talk about attachments. While the above drag and drop operation copies the text Body of the e-mail into the task’s Notes field, it does not copy over any attachments that were in the originating e-mail message. If the e-mail contains attachments and you want to retain them, you can accomplish that as follows: instead of performing a normal drag and drop operation by holding down the left mouse button, perform a right-drag operation by holding down the right mouse button as you drag the e-mail onto the Tasks button. When you right-drag, a menu will appear as soon as you drop the e-mail onto the button:

Using right-drag to create a task

Select Move Here as Task with Attachment or Copy Here as Task with Attachment. Select the Move option to create a Task and remove the original e-mail from the Inbox; select the Copy option to create a Task and leave the original e-mail in the Inbox.

In either case, instead of copying the Body text of the originating e-mail, Outlook will attach a copy of the originating e-mail to the task at the top of the Notes area. You can then double-click the attachment at any later time to open that e-mail copy. Since it is a full and complete copy, it will contain all file attachments that were in the originating e-mail.

This also means that there’s no need to keep the original e-mail in the Inbox, and removing it is actually an important key to maintaining control over your Inbox. If you used the Move option, it’s already gone from the Inbox. If you used Copy, you can delete it, or file it away to a reference folder if you feel you need to keep a copy of it available.

Now here’s an alternative to the above drag and drop-based approach. Right-click the actionable Inbox item to display its context menu, and select Move to Folder…:

“Move to Folder” option on the item context menu

This displays a folder list window; select the Tasks folder from that list. This performs the exact equivalent of Move Here as Task with Attachment as described above.

Note that the exact same procedures explained here work for Appointments as well. If you are processing an Inbox e-mail and the action to take on it involves an appointment or meeting, you can create an Outlook Appointment from the e-mail. To do this, follow any of the approaches explained above for Tasks, but drag and drop the message onto the Calendar button, or Move to the Calendar folder, rather than Tasks. Outlook will create an Appointment from that e-mail message. All of the same options that I discussed for Tasks apply here.

Of course, creating an Outlook Task from an e-mail is only really effective if you have a personal organization system that uses Outlook Tasks to keep track of your commitments. We’ll be talking more about how to accomplish that in coming weeks.

In addition, there are Outlook add-ins that provide enhanced ways to make a Task from an e-mail, and we’ll be covering that topic as well.