That really is the quintessential question and it’s one that people have to answer multiple times each day. The ability to quickly mark items for follow-up, to have easily accessible ToDo lists and to have clear and useful views into deliverables is essential for effective time management and productivity. To this end, I’d like to share some of the significant investments we’ve made with Tasks and ToDos in Entourage 2008. Our work is by no means done – items like Task syncing with Exchange is definitely on our ToDo list but we hope you find the enhancements to Entourage 2008 as valuable as we do and that they go a long way in streamlining your day and making your time management and workflow that much more efficient.

First up is the concept of ToDos. We changed our approach to the flagging of messages and contacts – flagging these items now additionally classifies them as a ToDo. ToDos encapsulate the notion of time and include attributes such as a start date, due date and reminders. We felt that the ToDo concept made sense since a flagged message or contact is something you need to act on, something you need to do. ToDos are useful in a variety of situations. If you have to call a customer next Tuesday, you can easily flag the corresponding contact in your Address Book and set the due date for next Tuesday with a reminder for the day before. If you’re perusing your mail and need to re-read or reply to a message later on, you can flag the message and set the ToDo properties that are relevant for you.

ToDos are accompanied by infrastructure to help you organize, track and manage them effectively. The ToDos and Tasks views are integrated together resulting in a holistic view of your day and action items. I find this at-a-glance view super useful and use it frequently. I’ve also created custom views of Tasks and ToDos – these help me keep track of my work items in a way that’s manageable and compartmentalized.

  

Speaking of Tasks, Task creation is easier than ever before. We consider Tasks a first class citizen alongside Mail and Contacts. The ability to set due dates and reminders is integrated in the Task creation process, making the whole experience fast and seamless.

  

Tasks can be accessed from within the Calendar view as in Entourage’s earlier incarnation. However, the new filter options and the new Task creation bar afford greater flexibility and utility – I’ve often looked at the events on my calendar and remembered something I needed to follow up on. I find that instantaneously creating a Task from the Calendar view saves me valuable time.

 

We also have some cool integration of Tasks and ToDos with various other Mac Office 2008 apps. MyDay displays Tasks and ToDos which are associated with the particular day you’re viewing in MyDay. I can print out my day from MyDay and it lists not only my meetings but also all the deliverables which I need to get done on that particular day. Totally useful for times when I’m on the run. The integration with the Notebook Layout View in Mac Word 2008 is handy for situations when you’re jotting something down and know you’ll need to follow-up. Creating a Task on the fly and associating it with that document ensures that you’ll have a placeholder for tracking that item and also ensures that it won’t slip through the cracks.

Since we’re all about productivity, information management and making your life easier, I’d like to offer a couple of tips to help keep things sane. When you’re finished with a Task, mark it as complete. When you’re finished with a ToDo item, mark it as complete or unflag it. This may seem really minor, but believe me, it adds up. In our research, we’ve found that people don’t cultivate these habits and the end result is large and unwieldy Tasks and ToDo lists. It’s less distracting and much less taxing on the brain to deal with fewer items on your todo lists (you know you agree with me about that!) so try these tips out and see how you go!

As you might have read on recent blog posts, we’ve reached RTM and our launch at Macworld is fast approaching, so it’s only a matter of days before you’ll be able to explore Mac Office 2008 firsthand. And by taking advantage of the new features in Tasks and ToDos, we hope you’ll spend less time wondering whether To Do or not To Do and more time wondering what to do with all that free time :-) .

Sumitra Sujanani