Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Productivity Features in iPhone OS5: Email Flags and Reminders

In the almost 15 years since I've started using electronic devices to manage my life, there's one thing I've wished for: the ability to read and FLAG emails and synchronize that with Outlook.
Flagging emails, and sorting my inbox so they remain at the top, is my number one tip for staying organized at work and making sure things I have to do don't slip through the cracks. But when I first had Palm Pilots, I either couldn't sync my email, or they didn't have a flagging option. I have had Blackberries issued by my employer, but until the most recent one, flags weren't supported-- and I really hate the Blackberry screen, so I've avoided using it since I got an iPhone. But the iPhone email app isn't that great, and didn't show flags at all... until now!
I just upgraded to iOS5 on my iPhone 3GS, and now the flags synchronize perfectly with Outlook! I can read my email on the go and not have to mark it as "unread" if I want to remind myself to follow up when I am back at my desk. Unfortunately, the iPhone email app still lacks a lot of features I'd love, like being able to filter the view to only unread messages, or sort the inbox so flags are at the top.

The other feature I'd been looking forward to in iOS5 was the "Reminders" app. I've used other 3rd party To-Do list apps-- Toodledo is pretty good, but the problem with that was that syncing to Outlook was always a bit dodgy (and the app I used is no longer even supported)-- and that was when I was able to actually install the needed desktop program on my work computer. When I was upgraded to a new computer, the IT department totally locked down our ability to install any non-approved programs, so I completely lost my Outlook syncing.

But now that I've got iOS5 and Reminders, the problem is solved! After upgrading, Reminders was automatically added to the apps syncing with my Exchange account, and the first time I opened the app, my tasks were there and syncing worked perfectly in both directions. Unfortunately, there are a couple of major features missing again! First of all, my tasks are not sorted in any order I can figure out in the iPhone app list view-- they aren't by date created, they aren't alphabetical, they're just totally random. There are no options to determine your preferred sorting method. You can sue the date view to see tasks due on a particular date, but you can't see more than one day at a time, so that seems pretty useless.

The other issue is that I can create multiple task lists on the iPhone, and all the tasks in those lists will sync with Outlook-- but on Outlook all the lists are merged. There is no way to map your Outlook task categories to your Reminders lists. So much for my idea of going back to having multiple task lists on Outlook for Business, Personal, Grocery List, etc. Yes, I can have these lists on my phone, and I can recategorize tasks on the desktop, but it will be annoying to have to maintain this somewhat manually instead of having it automatically sync.
I have yet to come across any other reviews that address these issues, but I can't believe I'd be the only one to want these features, so here's hoping they add them later! I won't hold my breath, though. But I can at least loop this back to the topic of money by pointing out that these kinds of productivity aids help me manage my job and hopefully get ahead in my career and make more money... and the iOS5 upgrade was FREE!

Does anyone else have any good iPhone productivity tips?


Dictated But Not Read said...

I have same reaction to the new reminders feature. Glad it's finally there, but it's way too limited. The list view is useless. And when I use the date view, I get all my out-of-date old low priority reminders up front because I never changed the old due dates - ugh!

Anonymous said...

I am a heavy user of Outlook Tasks. The tasks move to my new iPhone 5 but agreed they are in no order. I need to sort by priority and then by subject. Is there a way to do this on the iPhone?

Madame X said...

I found an app called TaskTask that syncs beautifully with Outlook and offers much better features than the built in reminders, including sorting.