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.

Improvements to Planner integration with Microsoft Teams

One of the bugbears for users of Microsoft Teams is the challenges of Planner integration – or lack thereof.

In the early days of Teams, the Planner integration was very limited – it had no ability to see existing Plans that had been created, only those that it created.

As of present Teams production builds the frustration is that users need to keep navigating across to tabs within channels within teams in order to see their tasks – as any Plan created inside a channel would not show up under My Tasks inside of Planner and similarly users could not access My Tasks from within Teams.

There are two key improvements in this area, though not 100% feature complete.

Accessing My Tasks in Teams

To see My Tasks inside of Microsoft Teams you will need to switch to the developer preview mode. This can be done by clicking on your picture in the bottom left corner, navigating to About, and then selecting Developer preview.

You will then see the following warning:

Continuing will restart the Teams application and get you to sign in again. Not much will appear different except that the navigation on the left will now show three dots underneath the Files button.

Clicking this will now show the Planner app button.

And clicking this will now bring up the My Tasks from Planner inside the Teams interface, allowing you to group by progress or by plan.

Accessing Planner tasks from Teams in Planner

It seems like a no-brainer, but it is currently in progress.

At the moment the functionality is limited where I can see tasks from a Plan in a Teams channel, but not the Plan itself.

Notice in the screenshot below the names of the three Plans: Paradigm Solutions, Teams eBook, and Teams-Planner test. Now take a look under the My Tasks heading and you’ll see that there are tasks from a Plan called “Plan”, but then looking back at the Plans listing it’s not there.

Over at the Office 365 Roadmap you can see that some of these bits are in development and should be released to production early in 2018.

Hopefully the Planner team can keep up with the pace set by the Teams team for integration and development!