For many years in the OneNote desktop client (i.e. 2013, 2016, not “OneNote for Windows 10”) we have a “To Do” tag that appeared in the ribbon:

But what does it do? Not much, just a nice little checkbox:

That checkbox is literally nothing more than a tag that can be used for searching, and a visual queue. The most excitement this little feature gets is when you check the box:

And for many years that’s been just fine, as savvy users of OneNote would use these tags (and others) to filter and find notes across pages, sections, and even notebooks.

Wait, this isn’t the same as Microsoft To Do?

No, it’s not. This is Microsoft To Do:

It’s a task management app, available both free for consumer users of Outlook.com as well as organisational Office 365 users.

To Do differs between the free vs. business/education Office 365 versions. In the latter it can connect to Planner, Microsoft Teams, Outlook email, calendar and tasks.

However, Microsoft To Do has absolutely nothing to do with the “To Do” tag in OneNote despite using the same capitalisation. This is important to note because for many people they would only be discovering OneNote now (despite the fact it’s over 15 years old) as well as Microsoft To Do, and potentially getting confused by this feature that appears not to work properly.

Is there a connection at all?

Yes, like a bizarre love triangle there is a connection between OneNote, Outlook, and To Do.

In the world of Office 365, Microsoft To Do relies on Outlook as its underlying storage service. In fact, tasks in To Do are actually tasks in Outlook. Go on, dust off the tasks button in Outlook and have a look – you’ll see all your tasks from To Do.

When using Outlook on the web, the tasks button has been replaced with both the To Do icon and functionality. The integration is strong, in that flagged emails in Outlook show up in a dedicated folder in To Do. As well as this, users can drag emails into To Do to turn them into tasks and drag tasks into their Outlook calendar to turn them into appointments. Very cool stuff. You can read more about the functionality here.

The connection between Outlook and OneNote has been strong for quite some time (but not the “OneNote for Windows 10” version – that can’t connect to Outlook). In OneNote we can link to Outlook calendar appointments, and from appointments we can link to either our own area of OneNote or a shared location for a meeting. You can read more about this functionality here, and here respectively.

However, there’s another linkage of OneNote that only power users have taken advantage of – and that’s the ability to create Outlook tasks from OneNote. Let’s look back at the ribbon in OneNote and we can see our friend Wally hiding in plain sight:

If we use this button on a line in a OneNote page, we should see a flag show up at the start of that line, as can be seen in the second line of this image:

So where does this task go? If we have a look at the tasks area in Outlook, I can now see this:

The linkage isn’t one way though, if I mark the task as complete in Outlook it will update in OneNote too:

You can read more about this functionality here.

But wait, there’s more!!! The triquetra between OneNote and To Do with Outlook in the middle gives us this:

If we mark this task complete in To Do, it will update in Outlook tasks (because that’s where it’s stored) and therefore update in OneNote!

It’s not all happy endings

If you’re a savvy To Do user, then you probably have multiple task lists – not just the main Tasks folder. So, it seems quite reasonable that you’d want to move the task from this folder into one of your other task lists.

Let’s create a new task in OneNote:

Let’s verify that it’s there in Outlook:

And in To Do:

I’ve moved it into a different task list:

The change is reflected in the “In Folder” column in Outlook tasks:

But something happens in OneNote:

Hey… the colour is different.

It looks a bit pale.

Is it unwell?

Yes, yes it is. Hovering over the pale flag, a message shows up:

Wait what!? This is a little confusing because we confirmed that the task is still visible in Outlook, so why is OneNote saying it can’t see it?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. All I’ve been able to demonstrate in this blog post is that we can connect between the three apps, and while the changes we make in the To Do and Outlook worlds don’t seem to make much difference, the connection to the origin in OneNote is broken.


Also published on Medium.

4 comments

  1. Baljit Singh Talwar

    Reply

    Hi Loran, Very good summary. Just to throw spanner in the works. where does ‘My tasks’ in tasks.office.com (aka planner) fit into this. When we click on ‘Add my tasks to Outlook Calendar’ it seems to be a one way integration. In future when Planner is rebranded as Tasks app then will all this merge into just one place for all tasks?

    • Loryan Strant

      Reply

      Good question, however I think there’s a bit of confusion there.
      Planner will stay as Planner. It’s just the app in Teams that is being rebranded to Tasks and bringing in To Do as well.
      With regards to Planner and Outlook – yes it is a one-way integration as it’s just looking at the published version of the calendar online.
      I’ll look to do a post that clears it up a bit further.

  2. David Friede

    Reply

    Nice one Loryan. Great post. Still LOTS of work for Microsoft to fully integrate these three products. I’m using Outlook and Microsoft To Do. I actually don’t see the point of Outlook tasks in the Outlook client – it’s very clunky, ancient and has no concept of “My Day” like To Do does. Would be good to have the full To Do functionality in Outlook tasks so we can use one app perhaps (i.e. have To Do inside Outlook) and not need the separate To Do app… ??

    • Loryan Strant

      Reply

      Agreed, I haven’t used Outlook tasks for years and still don’t now as To Do fronts it all for me. To Do has already replaced Outlook tasks on the web, and work is under way to have it also come to the desktop – but that’s more complex so will probably take a while.

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