Salesforce Activities – What You Need to Know [Tech Tips]

Salesforce Activites
While helping with the Salesforce Foundation office hours a few weeks ago, I was asked an excellent question. Someone asked if there was any place where they could find all the limitations/gotchas on Salesforce Activity records (i.e., Tasks and Events). While I had a few answers, I knew there must be more, and I realized I had never seen a single location describe all of them. I’ve collected all the major ones I could find from friends in the Salesforce Community, both nonprofit and for-profit. This includes fellow MVPs as well as gracious persons in the Power of Us HUB. Of course, you could scan through the Ideas site as well, but I think these are the ones that affect people the most and I’ve heard of more than once.

Salesforce Activities are special

Activities consist of Tasks (i.e., to-dos) and Events (i.e., meetings). When you go to edit them in Setup to view fields, they are subdivided into Task Fields and Event Fields. But then if you want to add a custom field, it is under Activity Custom Fields. Not the most intuitive. Basically Tasks and Events function like record types for Activities, except they are not set up as Record Types.

Salesforce Activities more than a year old are automatically archived and not reportable.

Idea here.
Want to report and compare last year’s tasks to this year’s? No such luck. Any task more than one year old is automatically archived. You can view them in data exports, by clicking View All on the Activities related list on a record, or in Advanced Search, but they will not show up in reports, default list views, or default search results. You can get the one-year timeframe extended to three years by contacting Salesforce support directly, but this limit is designed to speed up your database’s performance, so proceed with caution.

You can’t create custom lookup fields on Salesforce Activities.

Now in pilot; info here.
Until recently, you couldn’t create a custom lookup field on Activities to track relationships to other objects beyond the standard fields that link to Contacts (WHO) and the other object of your choosing (WHAT). Perhaps you want to track Activities on an Account also in relation to a particular Campaign, or one Activity in relation to two different Contacts in two roles? This one is actually a great example of the power of the IdeaExchange — Salesforce’s Product Managers are listening! After receiving more than 17,000 votes, this feature is now in Pilot, meaning you can sign up with your AE to get a sneak-peek feature that may not be fully polished and ready for prime time quite yet. While Salesforce is under no obligation to finish developing the feature and release it widely, you can generally expect to see Pilot features in a wide release fairly soon (safe harbor!)..

You can’t create a workflow email alert from an Activity.

Idea here.
This one is under consideration, but to date, you can’t send an email alert from a workflow rule on an Activity. Want to remind someone about an upcoming Event they’re assigned to? Want to alert a manager when a team member’s key Tasks are completed? Sorry about that. Not quite yet.

Salesforce Activities are not truly private, even if you set the Organization-Wide Default to Private.

Idea here.
I’ve experienced this use case first hand, and it can be frustrating. I was working with a nonprofit who had generally open access for Accounts and Contacts, so that people could see which donors were in the system and not create duplicates if they were unable to find them. However, some high-level donors (those who give $1 million+ per year) needed a bit of additional security and privacy. The Activities were where major gift officers would keep notes on meetings they had with these individuals and did not want that information to be visible to all 300+ users at the organization. The OWD was set to private, but it still inherited the open sharing model of the Account, making the Activity read-only. As a workaround, we had to create a custom object which was private, and attach Activities to that. Not an optimal solution!

Tasks cannot be assigned to a Queue.

Idea here.
I distinctly remember running into this one back in 2009 and having my very first, “Seriously? I can’t do that?” moment. I wanted to create a followup phone call task and assign it to my entire team as a queue so whoever had a chance to make the call first could “claim” the task and complete it. Sounds easy, right? Folks often think “Group Tasks” solve this one, but they don’t — they create copies of the task for each group member, which is an entirely different use case (i.e., “Everybody please go do X individually,” not “One of you please go do X, then the rest of you are off the hook.”). I did manage a workaround whereby I repurposed an unused granted license (it was a small org!) as a “queue” user, assigned the tasks to it, and then team members could claim tasks by reassigning that fake user’s tasks to themselves. This was definitely not an ideal solution, and certainly would not be free for most orgs. More than 12,000 votes have been cast for this one; my fingers are still crossed that it will be in a future release!

The Activity “Subject” field is strange hybrid of picklist and text.

The Activity Subject field is a “combo box”, best described as a picklist field that looks like a lookup field and behaves like a text field. Confused yet? Yeah. There are a two primary ways of working with this field — you can either ignore its picklist-ness, let people type whatever subject they want, and just not worry about it, though you lose some reporting granularity there, or you can write a Validation Rule to enforce the picklist-ness and lose the option of free-text for your users. It’s not a huge issue, but can be confusing to your users as they get used to the system.

There is no task tab out of the box.

Idea here.
Many times I have had people ask me where the Task tab is in Salesforce. There isn’t one! Activities are a special kind of object and as such, do not have their own tab. However, you can get one by using the Basati Activities Tab, found here on the AppExchange.

Workflow Generated Tasks can be related to a Contact or another object but not both.

Activity records have a lot of special features, because they can have a “WHO” (Contact) and a “WHAT” (pretty much any object). Because of this special status as an object which can be related to both a Contact and another object (the WHAT), when creating workflow rule tasks, you can only relate the task to either the WHO or the WHAT, but not both. This can be a little frustrating if you want to assign both the Contact and the other object as part of the Workflow Rule. Of course, you can do this with Flow, my favorite Salesforce tool, but not with the standard Workflow engine.

Records lock when importing or updating Activity records en masse.

You may not come across this often, but when you do, it is really important to know! Directly from this blog post: “when a task is inserted or updated, the associated Who, What, and Account records will get locked. However, on insert, the locks only occur if the task status is Completed and the task activity date is not null. On update and delete, the locks occur regardless of the task status or activity date values.” In other words, if you are doing mass data loads of Activity records, you could be locking their associated records (Contact, Opportunities, Accounts, etc) while the data load is going on. Doesn’t happen every day but definitely important to know.

You cannot add Notes or Attachments to Activities.

I haven’t really come across a use case for this one, but it’s not possible anyway! If you want to add a related Notes/Attachments list to your Task, you cannot. That wouldn’t really seem to be so much of an issue for me if it were not for the next one…

You cannot add custom fields that are long text area (new one) or rich text.

You can definitely add custom fields to an Activity, but you are limited in what types are available to you. It is not possible to add custom fields that are long text area or rich text. The Comments field on a Task is up to 32000 characters, so that might not be an issue. But if you want to add a rich text field so you could have an image, that is not possible.

Do you have more to add? Please add them in the comments!

About Beth Breisnes

A 2014 Salesforce MVP, Beth has been helping nonprofits and social enterprises with their Salesforce environments since 2009. She is currently the in-house administrator and developer for Canada’s largest environmental nonprofit, the David Suzuki Foundation, and co-leads the Vancouver (BC) Nonprofit User Group.

About Mary Pustejovsky

A 2013 Salesforce MVP, Mary joined Heller Consulting in 2006 and has been helping nonprofits be more effective with their data ever since. At Heller, Mary has worked with clients of all sizes and types, from small schools and hospital foundations to large international relief organizations. She has a passion for nonprofits that drives all of the work that she does with clients. She strives to truly understand the business needs of an organization and help clients to find the solution that is best for them. Mary consults on The Raiser’s Edge as well as Salesforce.com and various Apps in its ecosystem, and enjoys helping clients be more successful with the software they have, or determining what will help them to meet their needs in the future. She is a Salesforce.com Certified Advanced Administrator and Certified Developer, as well as a Luminate CSP Consultant and Technical Specialist.

23 comments

  1. Hi,

    “You can’t create a workflow email alert from an Activity”.

    I tried this but we can create email on task using workflow email alert action. Please confirm is this in new release in winter17 or am I missing anything.

    Thanks,

  2. If Partner users have access to the parent object and activities are set to inherit from that object, the Partner users still can not see activities unless 1. they are assigned the activity or 2. the ‘Public’ box is checked on the activity.

  3. Can a trigger be written to hide certain activities if they are from higher role orders?

  4. Sam Kamensky

    Idea here: https://success.salesforce.com/ideaView?id=08730000000BpqcAAC

    You also can’t track field history

  5. If an activity is created via ‘Email to Salesforce’ (the BCC option), then workflow rules will not evaluate.

  6. If you want to rollup tasks or event fields you can do so with an app called Rollup Helper. Here is the link to it on the AppExchange: https://appexchange.salesforce.com/listingDetail?listingId=a0N30000009i3UpEAI

  7. You can create email follow ups based on events or tasks with the Process Builder that GAs in a couple of weeks.

    • If you have a guide on how to do this, I’d love to see it.

    • When we book events via Chili Piper – an event gets created in Google Calendar, one in Salesforce and we also write a field on the lead/contact object that lets you know an event was recorded. This allows you setup email follow ups and tasks. It records meeting type as well for deeper customization. E.g. if you book a meeting type demo the follow up is different than a meeting type on-boarding. Hope this helps

  8. Simon Tweedy

    Definitely an area which could do with a bit of re-modelling from Salesforce. The changes they have made to the Price Books are greatI just hope they turn their attention to this area as it is certainly lacking in functionality

  9. For Task management, there is also a Salesforce Labs app on the AppExchange called “My Task List” that may be useful: https://appexchange.salesforce.com/listingDetail?listingId=a0N3000000B5KJuEAN

  10. Ian Womack

    You cannot create ACTIONS on Events (tasks yes, events no).

    This means that entering meeting notes, or otherwise updating the event, on the SF1 app means that you must enter full edit mode.

    We have a workflow rule that fires on a custom “Share__c” field being set to true and it would be ideal to have an action that sets this rather than editing the whole record.

    equally:
    – Update Location
    – Update Event Time
    – Add Comments
    – update

    Would be things great custom actions for the Activity(Event) Object.

  11. You cannot add notes to a task, but you can add Chatter, which can be helpful for extended notes.

  12. Adam Roderick

    RE: You cannot add Notes or Attachments to Activities.

    When you place the Chatter feed onto the Object Activities it shows the Attachments related list.

  13. Rena Bennett-Dellwo

    It would be great if deleting multiple tasks simultaneously was easier.
    It’s not that exporting, changing a csv file, and uploading the changes (via dataloader, I believe) is a hard process; it’s just too many steps.

    I voted up this idea (https://success.salesforce.com/ideaView?id=08730000000l2TmAAI)

  14. Really great post! So glad that you compiled this list. Very helpful 🙂

  15. Great & Useful Post. Thanks for sharing !

  16. Brendan Conroy

    You cannot Rollup Tasks. Say for example that you wanted a rollup of how many emails,calls, meeting, etc Task Types are associated to a Lead/Contact. You can’t do this without a Trigger or the process builder with a flow in it (not easy either way).

  17. David Berman

    Thanks for the helpful write-up. Regarding “You can’t create a workflow email alert from an Activity”, you weren’t able to do *any* workflow action off an activity, since you couldn’t base a workflow rule on an activity.
    However, the new Lightning Process Builder comes to the rescue and lets you do just that – base rules in activities and hence actions (including emails).

  18. Great list!

    Another one that we get asked all the time is the ability to relate multiple “Related To” records to an activity. (We released the ability to relate multiple “Name” records — contact/lead — a little while back.)

    The custom lookup capability for activities can be a workaround for this limitation, depending on how many extra records you need to relate.

    -Kayvaan
    Product Manager, Activities | Salesforce.com

  19. Susan Kenna Wright

    This is an awesome list. Great reference and great way to quickly educate others about Activities. Thanks.

  20. Great article. One comment – it is now possible to add attachments to tasks. No notes, but attachments yes. Not sure about events but presumably the same. Just note that you can only add an attachment to a task when you are in edit mode on the task – the related list on view mode doesnt include the attach a file button. (Make sure the related list is exposed on the task layout)

  21. You can’t run reports on events that are on a public calendar, even if they are less than a year old.

    Idea: https://success.salesforce.com/ideaView?id=08730000000KXrkAAG

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