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How to use reminders in Microsoft Outlook: Some little-known tips

If you don’t know about these reminder options, try them. They can help you stay on task when you’ve got a lot going on.

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Image: iStock/Igor Kutyaev

Outlook reminders are exactly what they sound like: They’re a timed message that pops up to remind you of something. You can use them with tasks, appointments, and meetings. What you might not know about are a few options that help you manage your reminders so that they work better for you. In this article, I’ll introduce you to a few of these helpful settings. You can use just one or all of them.

SEE: 69 Excel tips every user should master (TechRepublic)

I’m using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system. Some of these settings aren’t available in earlier editions. There’s no demonstration file; you won’t need one.

How to set up a reminder in Outlook

It won’t help to discuss newer (or otherwise helpful) options if you don’t know how to set a reminder. The good news is, it’s simple, and you can set one for most Outlook items. Using the Calendar, double-click the day (and time, depending on which view you’re using). If the appointment or meeting already exists, double-click it to open it. In the resulting dialog, the reminder option is in the Options group. Simply choose the number of minutes, hours, days, or even weeks ahead from the Reminder dropdown shown in Figure A.

Figure A


Set a reminder for a meeting or appointment.

To set a reminder for a task, open an existing or new task and use the Follow-Up option in the Tags group. Specifically, choose Reminder from the Follow-Up dropdown and use the resulting dialog to complete the settings. Use this same method to set a flag for new and existing emails, which isn’t quite the same thing as a reminder. You won’t see the flag if someone responds: The flag is in the copy of the message, which by default, Outlook will save to the Sent folder.

SEE: How to avoid a disappearing page number in Microsoft Word (TechRepublic)

How to make sure you see the reminder in Outlook

The biggest problem with reminders is that you often don’t see them while working. In the most recent versions of Microsoft 365, you can fix this problem by setting an option that always displays all reminders on top of all windows. So, if you’re working on a proposal in Word, Outlook will display a reminder on top of your document. It’s a nice feature.

To set this option, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab, click Options in the pane to the left, and then choose Advanced.
  2. In the Reminders section, check the Show Reminders on Top of Other Windows option (Figure B).
  3. Click OK.

Figure B


Change the default setting for displaying the Reminder.

Now you can return to work knowing you won’t miss a reminder again—at least not because you didn’t see it! Figure C shows the reminder on top of a Word document.

Figure C


Outlook displays the reminder on top of the open windows.

Now, you might be wondering about the sound the reminder plays—isn’t that enough? It might be for some, but it isn’t for me. I’m often so involved in my work that I tune it out completely. What often happens is that I’m not near enough to the computer to hear it. Using the Reminders section (Figure B) you can select a sound that’s louder, but I found that solution jarring.

SEE: How to use EOMONTH() to return the last day of the month and more in Excel (TechRepublic)

How to remove the reminders automatically

Removing reminders for an event after it happens doesn’t seem necessary until you return from a two-week vacation in paradise and are immediately swamped by all the events you missed while you were gone. It’s not a huge issue, but it is one you can avoid by setting reminders to dismiss themselves. To do so, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab, choose Options in the left pane, and then choose Advanced.
  2. In the Reminders section, select Automatically Dismiss Reminders for Past Events. (You can see this option in Figure B.)

How to create your own time setting

If you can’t find the reminder amount you want in the dropdown (Figure A), enter it manually. Suppose you want a reminder set for an hour and a half before a meeting that’s across town. Simply enter 90 minutes. The time settings will also let you enter times manually—remember to include the AM/PM component.

SEE: How to highlight duplicate values in Excel (TechRepublic)

Recurring items need recurring reminders

It’s easy to lose the reminder for a recurring task. All you have to do is click Dismiss once, and you’ll lose reminders for the remaining occurrences. Instead, mark the task as complete; doing so will leave the reminder settings in place.

If you’ve already lost the reminder, it’s easy to reset. Open the recurring task and set the most recent event to complete. Open the item to check that doing so does reset the timer, just to be safe. You might have to reset other previous tasks to complete.

Also see

This post was written by and was first posted to TechRepublic

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