Q: Can you reclaim a Task in Outlook after you've assigned it?

A: One of the great collaborative features in Microsoft Outlook is the ability to generate tasks and assign them to individuals. Tasks can be simple or complicated. They might be composed of many details that make them time-consuming to recreate. Therefore, it would be nice if you could reclaim a task that you've previously assigned that hasn't been completed, but Outlook currently doesn't give you that ability.

When a new Task item is created, you can assign the responsibility of the task to another user by selecting the Assign Task button in the Ribbon, as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1: The Assign Task Button on a New Task in Outlook (click image for larger view)

This function adds a To field to the Task form, as Figure 2 shows. After you've filled out the Task properties as desired, you then assign the task and send it, like a message, to the desired recipient.

Figure 2: Assigning an Outlook Task to a User (click image for larger view)

Note that when you assign a task from an account using Microsoft Exchange Server, there's a check box, selected by default, requesting that a copy of the updated task reside in your task list. Using this option can help you recreate the task if you need to reassign it later.

Incidentally, I had a user who clicked Save & Close, thinking that assigned the task. If you were adding a task to your own task list, you would click the Save & Close button, but you must click Send to actually send an assigned task to the specified recipient.

After the task is sent, you must wait for the recipient to accept or decline the task. At that point, you, the task assigner, will be notified by a return message to your Inbox. Assuming the task is accepted, the task is no longer yours. There's no way to recall the task or reassign it without action by the assigned recipient. The recipient can decline a task that they've already accepted, sending the task back to the sender, who can then reassign it. By the way, if the recipient is using Outlook Web App (OWA), they won't be able to accept or decline an assigned task. As you can see in Figure 3, this action requires the Outlook client.

Figure 3: An Outlook Task Request Viewed in OWA (click image for larger view)

When a recipient of an assigned task declines said task, the task is returned to the sender, who can then select Return to Tasks to reassign the same task to another user. If a recipient has accepted a task but is no longer available to complete or decline the task (e.g., they've been let go from the company), you might not want to recreate the entire task. Assuming you left the check box selected that leaves a copy in your task list, you can right click that assigned task and select Copy, then paste it in the white area below your task list. In Outlook 2007, you can highlight the task, select Edit, Copy to Folder, and then choose the same Tasks folder to place the copied task. This operation generates a new, unassigned task with all the details intact. You can then delete the assigned task that you're unable to reclaim from the initial recipient.

Alternatively, you or an authorized administrator can log on to the assigned recipient's mailbox, if it still exists, and decline the task to free it up for reassignment to another recipient.

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