With Microsoft investing more resources into its task management apps, it's never been a better time to use Outlook Tasks. When combined with Microsoft To-Do, Cortana and OneNote, Outlook Tasks are an extremely versatile solution for managing lists, reminders and your daily schedule – with just one small flaw.
Outlook tasks have both a "Start Date" and "Due Date," which enables you to indicate when you expect to work on a task. In theory, your task isn't relevant until the Start Date has arisen, so it shouldn't need to pester you in the Outlook interface.
Unfortunately, Outlook normally ignores the Start Date – so tasks scheduled for the future will remain visible, cluttering your list and making it harder to see what's immediately actionable. Fixing this isn't intuitive but can be achieved with Outlook's advanced view filtering features.
Before we get started, it's important to note you'll need to repeat the following procedure for each Outlook task view you want to use it with. For example, the Outlook To-Do Bar, To-Do Peek and individual task folders are all distinct task views which can be individually filtered. Therefore, applying this behaviour to every view is an exercise in duplication.
First, create a task with a Start Date in the future so you've got something to work with. You should see the task show up straightaway, which isn't particularly helpful as it's not yet actionable.
Right-click the To-Do Bar (or the background of the view you're working with) and click "View Settings" in the menu which appears. From the popup window, click "Filter…" and switch to the "Advanced" tab of the resulting Filter popup.
You should see at least one default filter already exists. As indicated by its logic, this filter is responsible for enacting Outlook's default behaviour of hiding completed tasks, so we won't be touching it. Instead, we'll be adding new filters using the inputs below the table.
Start by clicking the "Field" dropdown, and navigating to "All Task Fields" > "Start Date" in the menu which appears. This will add a filter on the "Start Date" property. From the "Condition" dropdown, select "on or before" and then type "Today" (without the quotes) in the "Value" input box. Finally, press "Add to List."
Click "OK" on both the open popup windows and you should see the task view is filtered to include only items where the start date has been reached. This may well solve your specific use case, although there is one more issue you may wish to resolve.
Currently, this filter will also hide any tasks which don't have a start date, which isn't ideal. To resolve this, head back to the Filter window as described above. Add another filter on the "Start Date" property, this time choosing "does not exist" as the condition and leaving the value empty.
Now, when you apply the filters, you should see the task view displays tasks where the start date has arisen, as well as any tasks which lack a start date.
Whether you'll benefit from this change depends on your task management workflow. You may like all your tasks to be visible all the time, irrespective of when they're scheduled for implementation. In this case, Outlook's default behaviour will be satisfactory. However, for more complex workflows with multiple open tasks, it's important to hide tasks which can't be actioned yet to reduce the cognitive burden. Although it's far from obvious, setting this up in Outlook isn't particularly difficult.
Finally, it's worth noting these changes apply solely to the Outlook desktop app – other Outlook Tasks experiences, such as Microsoft To-Do, lack the ability to filter tasks in this way. However, the Start Date property (and all other Outlook fields) are available on every Outlook task, irrespective of how it was created.