Using Outlook Emails for ToDo lists

Here’s a simple productivity tip that I came up with recently…

At work I basically live in Outlook, so I’m not interested in introducing another application to handle my “ToDo” list. However, I’ve never been particularly fond of the Task List that Outlook provides. So I’ve come up with a simpler approach: On Friday afternoons, I email myself a list of the things I want to accomplish the following week.

One thing that this approach misses, however, is a convenient way to “check off” the individual tasks. So I set up a simple way to do this with a few easy clicks, using built-in features in Outlook. My customization makes use of the AutoCorrect feature.

1. First, I entered the following two AutoCorrect entries:

  – Two square brackets (“[]”) get replaced with an empty box.

  – Right-bracket + backslash (“]\”) get replaced with a “checked” box.

2. So now, if I type brackets+tab, I get a checkbox. (By pressing tab rather than spacebar, the checkbox is transformed into a list bullet, so subsequent lines automatically get added to the checklist with their own checkbox.)

3. To check off an item, click on the item, hit Home twice, then type R-Bracket + slash + tab (which sounds complicated, but it only requires a simple roll of the fingers; you don’t even have to hit Delete). Note: Since the items are now list items, hitting Home twice will display formatting that makes it look like your change will apply to the whole list, but only the box with the cursor will get “checked off”.


If you haven’t used customized Autocorrect entries before, here’s the step-by-step instructions for setting one up in Outlook 2013 (instructions work in earlier versions too):

1. In an email, use Insert->Symbol, to select and enter the symbol you want to use. (I chose Wingdings, character 168 for the empty box.)

2. Now in the email, select the symbol you just added. Then open the Autocorrect feature by navigating here:

         FILE -> Options -> Spelling and AutoCorrect… (button) -> AutoCorrect Options… (button)

3. Now notice that the symbol you selected in step 2, has been automatically placed in the “With” field, and the radio button should default to “Formatted Text”. In the “Replace” field, type the characters that you want to use to trigger the action (open & close square brackets, in my case). Hit the “Add” button, and then OK.

4. Repeat these steps for the marked checkbox. (I use Wingdings, character 254.)

5. One last thing I have to do before using this method: Since I have emailed this list to myself, it is not automatically editable. To make it so I can check the boxes off, I must open the email in its own window (not in the Reading Pane), then in the MESSAGE tab I click Actions -> “Edit Message”.

And now, voilà! you have a very convenient way of making and using ToDo list checkboxes in emails. Here’s a snippet from my morning list:

Now I can go check off that second box. (I love checking off boxes!)

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