Giving Microsoft To-Do another try

Initially when To-Do was launched I was underwhelmed. It was touted as the replacement to Wunderlist (bought some time ago by Microsoft for a lot of money), yet was missing a considerable number of features.

What was good about To-Do was that it provided a nicer front-end to Outlook tasks than Outlook itself, as well as a mobile-friendly interface. Unfortunately for me that wasn’t enough, and so I set it aside.

My daily role is that of an individual contributor – I work for myself and consult to a number of Office 365 clients, partners, and vendors; so managing tasks is paramount.

Without going into detail about how I manage my tasks for my projects, I want to focus on why I’ve decided to start using To-Do again as my daily task management tool.

Generally as individuals we have two sides of us in the workplace: the individual contributor, and the team member. This is where choice in Office 365 is a good thing; we have Planner for group tasks and To-Do for individual tasks. I recently wrote a short post positioning the difference between them which may help mentally visualise it.

Changing my habits

One of the ways I would historically remind myself after-hours to do things the next day was to send myself an email. This way it would sit in my inbox until it was done. Simple task management really!

When looking at To-Do again, I thought I’d be smart and create a Flow to take those emails and put them into the relevant task list based on a prefix in the subject. As I started to create the Flow I was hit with an idea: what if I put the To-Do app on the front app page on my phone? That way I can create the task in the right place, assign it to the next day, and add any notes.

I’ve also pinned the To-Do app to the traybar on my Windows devices for quick and easy access as well. Now I simply keep the To-Do app open most of the day, and when I have moments of ‘focus time’ I simply look at the list and what I’ve prioritised for the day. Not ground-breaking I know, but a simple change in behaviour that has yielded considerable improvements in productivity.

What brought me back

The two main things that brought me back to To-Do were the recent addition of “steps” and task list sharing, the former being more important to me because not every task is a single action.

Personally I would prefer if steps was just called “sub-tasks” or “checklist” (like it is in Planner) as “steps” to me indicates an order of events. While the steps feature does allow you to order them, the naming just doesn’t sit right with me.

The list sharing is a very handy feature, because from time to time I work with other people on a project. Sometimes the use of Office 365 Groups or Microsoft Teams is overkill, and similarly so is Planner; we just want a simple list of tasks to work through, and task list sharing fits this purpose nicely.

What stops me from fully embracing it

Alexa integration

Previously my wife and I used Wunderlist for shared task lists such as groceries, chores, school holiday activities, trip planning/packing, etc. We switched over to Todoist when I introduced Alexa into the house, as Wunderlist does not offer any integration; and we wanted the ability to add items to the shopping list without having to use our phone (when you’re making breakfast and talking to your kids, this distraction of looking at your phone is actually not a good thing for either of you).

Account selection

To-Do only allows you to sign in with either work or personal accounts; not both at the same time. This means for me to use the app on the phone I have to make the decision which is more important to me, because switching accounts (signing out and back in manually) is not practical. So I continue to use Todoist for personal tasks and To-Do for work tasks.

I’d love to see Microsoft give the ability for you to be signed in simultaneous to both accounts at the same time, so when adding a task I can choose which persona & list it needs to go under. The reality is the border between our personal and working lives is blurred. We do work at home, and personal things at work. I think for To-Do to really succeed it needs to support this way of working.

Which to use when: To-Do & Planner

Let me start by saying, there is no infographic here. This is a super quick and concise post to explain when to use To-Do or Planner in simple terms.

Why is this needed? Because this week Microsoft To-Do released two new features that overlap with Planner functionality: List Sharing and Steps.

List Sharing

This is as simple as it sounds; you can now share lists with other people. Microsoft says this is for colleagues, friends or family.

I genuinely don’t know why you would be using To-Do for friends or family, given there are a plethora of significantly more advanced task management systems that integrate with others (eg. Any.do, Todoist, and even Wunderlist which is slowly dying under Microsoft’s ownership). To give it some context; I use Office 365 in my personal life (as in full E5 suite) but use Todoist as the task management system for my wife and I as it integrates with Alexa. Anyway, I digress. (Sorry To-Do product team, but this is the reality of killing Wunderlist.)

Steps

This is another name for subtasks. Or as they are called in Planner; checklist items.

Sounds like To-Do can do some of the things Planner can. Why should I use it?

I’ll make this as simple as possible: To-Do is to OneDrive as Planner is to SharePoint.

In OneDrive we can share files with other people and collaborate with them while the content resides in our OneDrive location.

However, in SharePoint we collaborate with team members, with all of them has access to everything in the site.

The same goes with To-Do and Planner:

If I want to share a list of tasks with one or more individuals – I’ll do it with To-Do.

But if I want to work with colleagues on a project or activities in a collaborative fashion – I’ll use Planner. Not to mention that a Planner is generally tied to an Office 365 Groups group and/or Microsoft Teams team, so brings with it a lot of other functionality we can use to work together on.

For those who want a graphic, here you go: