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A reference task is not an independent task, but a pointer to another task. It's like a second email address for a single person, where anything sent to one address will get to that person, and messages sent to the other address will still get to that same person. Change the comment or other data in a reference task and you will see it reflected in the original task. Change data in the base task and you will see it reflected in all references.
A reference task in the list or tree view looks like any other task except for two differences. The beginning of the title has a shortcut icon. And the ID of the reference is a unique ID but it is prefaced with the ID of the original base task in parentheses. See the image below where task 17 is a reference back to 13.
This feature can be used for many purposes. How its used should be carefully considered. You may not want values changed to be reflected somewhere else - in which case you do not want to use a reference task, you might want to copy/paste a task into a new task of its own.
For an example of where a reference task might be valuable, consider a single task called “Wait”. This might be added as a reference to all primary tasks. If anyone working on a single task sets a flag on this, everyone will see that flag. Users of other tasks will see this even if they have a filter active to only see their selected tasks in that tasklist.
In a single-user environment a reference task can still be used. For example in a report where only a single parent task is shown, plus its subtasks, you can include a reference to another “Overall status” task as a subtask. This can be included in all reports for all parent tasks.
This section describes details about this feature which should be understood to avoid confusion later.
Paste As Reference
Note some concerns when pasting tasks, including references.
If parent tasks are calculated based on values of sub-tasks, and a reference task is pasted as a sub-task, the parent of the receiving task will now include the time data for the reference task. Here is an example:
A general-purpose task named Discussions is being used to track all kinds of office communications. The time logged so far is 7.2 hours. That task was pasted as a reference under the Big event task to keep track of discussions for that specific event. But the time of 7.2 hours, which is for all office activity, is being included in the time for this one event. This isn't a bug. It's the way reference tasks work. This behavior should be understood so that good decisions can be made when using the feature.
Paste a reference as a reference?
You can copy a reference task like “(13)17” above, and paste it as a task, but you cannot paste that as another reference task. So you cannot get a reference to a reference, like “(13)(17)18” - and there is probably no usage case for doing so. You can copy “(13)17” and paste it to a new task “18”. But this is really a clone of task 13.
Reference to other tasklists?
Tasks cannot be pasted as reference across tasklists, though this could be a nice feature. So you cannot create a single task which is common to multiple tasklists. You can however create a User-Defined Tool to make changes one task based on data in another tasklist. Explanation of this is beyond the scope of this documentation.
Some edit features apply to reference tasks, others not. For example you can't split a reference task into two separate tasks
References are only to one task
Select a parent task that includes sub-tasks, copy, and paste elsewhere as a reference. Only the parent task is set as a reference - the sub-tasks are not seen under the reference.
Note however that when changing a value in a sub-task of the original parent, that the parent task may be updated based on preferences, and that update will be reflected in references. In the above example, task 13 “Discussions” might have had sub-tasks about specific discussions that totalled to 7.2 hours. Update one of those sub-tasks, the parent will get a new total, and that will be reflected in all references.
Copy/paste a parent and all sub-tasks as a reference
You can select a parent task along with its sub-tasks. This multi-task selection can be pasted anywhere to get a single copy of each individual task. When pasting a group as a reference, each task in the selection gets a reference task, just as though they were pasted individually. The fact that there is a relationship between the source tasks isn't really relevant.
This allows for an interesting but perhaps confusing behavior. Copy/paste a small parent/child tree of tasks as a reference. Now promote one of the subtask references to the same level as the parent. Changing the time on the subtask reference still updates the time for the parent. This is because it's not the reference being updated - there is no relationship between the references. It's the original tasks that get updated, their relationships determine the calculations which affect the parent task, and the values of the parent task are reflected in all of its references.
Archiving a reference task adds the reference task itself to the archive, not the base task. In the above example, archiving “(13)17” will archive that task 17, not 13. This creates an anomaly where the there is an archived reference to a task that is not in the archive. The result is a reference with no title or other data. This is a scenario that should be avoided.