Task Management with Microsoft To Do

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Microsoft To Do is a task management tool that comes with Office 365. It is based on the Wunderlist platform, which Microsoft bought in June 2015. Like all of Office 365, it works in the browser and has apps for desktop and mobile devices. You can create tasks, with rich context including deadlines, reminders, sub-tasks, notes, and files. You can create tasks for yourself or assign them to your team. To Do has “Smart Lists” and suggestions based on tasks and flagged emails from other applications across Office 365, including OneNote, Planner, and Outlook. To see all of your tasks in one place from across Office 365 or to help manage a remote workforce, you should check out Microsoft To Do.

Getting Started

To get started, access To Do through your browser by going to Office.com, logging in and viewing the Office apps. You may have to click on “See More” if this is your first time using it. You can also download and install the To Do application for Windows or Mac, iOS or Android. Log in with your Office 365 credentials.

Settings

First, you can make some choices about how To Do interacts with other Office 365 applications. Click on your username in the upper left corner and look under Settings. Under Smart Lists, you can toggle on or off  “Important” “Planned” and “Assigned to You”.  You can turn these Smart Lists on and off at any time, you won’t really know if they are useful until you have used the product for a little while. Under Connected Apps if you or your office use Planner, or Planner through Teams, make sure that Planner is toggled on. If you use flags for follow-up on MS Outlook emails, make sure that this feature is also toggled on in Connected Apps.

Personal Task List

To Do is oriented in the left navigation panel by lists. These include pre-set lists like My Day and Smart Lists like “Assigned to You”, “Flagged email” and “Important”. Below that you can add your own tasks lists.

My Day

In Microsoft To-Do you start with “My Day”.  You can add a new task at the bottom of the todomydayandsmartlistsscreen. Once you have entered the text in the “Add a task” bar and hit enter the task you added appears in the My Day list. From that list, click on the task and a panel appears to the right. You can click on the star symbol to add the task to the “Important” Smart List. You can add steps (sub-tasks) to your task. For instance, if the task is “Update the Jones’ Estate Plan” you can add steps like “review medical directive”, “update trust pursuant to new rules”, “make sure client’s contact information is correct”, etc.  You can then add a reminder, a due date, and whether this is a repeating task. You can also add relevant files (up to 25 MB) and notes.

Want to see what might need to be added to My Day? Get suggestions by clicking on the lightbulb in the top right. Items that will appear as suggestions include Outlook tasks, “Tasks assigned to me” from Planner, emails you have flagged for follow-up, tasks you created in OneNote and tasks in other To Do Lists you have created. Click the plus sign on the right to add the task to My Day.

If the suggested task is from a flagged Outlook email click on the task and the side panel that opens will let you add steps, reminders, due dates, files, and notes. It will also let you open the original email in Outlook. Similarly, if the task originated in Planner you can open the task in Planner from the side panel.

You can sort tasks in My Day or in Smart lists by Importance, Due Date, Completed, Alphabetically or by Creation Date. Just click the ellipses at the top right and choose “Sort by”.  To mark a task as important, click the star to the right of the task.

When you mark a task complete the default is to remove the task from your list.  However, in any section (My Day or Smart Lists) click on the ellipses and choose to “Show Completed Tasks”. If you find that you have the same task come up repeatedly you can set it to repeat daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or a custom series.

Smart Lists

While you can see suggestions in My Day pulled from a variety of areas in Office 365 you can also look at them in Smart Lists.  Items that appear in the Important smart list are tasks you deemed important by clicking on the star in the task. The tasks that appear in the “Assigned to You” smart list are those that are pulling from assigned Outlook tasks, assignments from Planner, and tasks assigned to you in To Do.

If you frequently flag emails for follow-up in Outlook they appear in the “Flagged email” smart list. This lets you turn a flagged email into an actionable task by adding a deadline, notes, steps, files and more. You will get a summary of the email in the right panel and you can also click to go read the original email in Outlook.

If you find that a certain Smart List is unnecessary either right-click to hide it or go into Settings to remove the Important, Planned, and Assigned to you Smart Lists. By default, empty Smart Lists do not appear in your list menu.

Shared Task Lists

Below “My Day” and your Smart Lists in the left panel you will see an option at the bottom to add a “New List”.  You can create project-oriented tasks grouped together in this section and share them with others.

Lists

To add a new project, click on the plus sign to the left of “New List”.  You will give your todolistlist a name, like “Baker Will”. You then add individual tasks under the list, like “Review Previous Will” “Request List of Decedents” “Request List of Properties”, etc. Like all tasks, you can then click on the task to see the right panel and add due dates, notes, and sub-tasks. For instance, sub-tasks (“steps” in To Do parlance) for “Review Previous Will” could include “request will from Sam Baker” “scan to file” “add to shared OneDrive folder for the client” and so forth. You can also drag tasks from My Day or a Smart List to your new project.

Duplicate

If you want to create a project list that you use as a template, you can create a list that has the general tasks and sub-tasks and then right-click on the list name and choose “Duplicate”.  This will copy the entire project and name it with the word “copy” appended, which you can rename. You could create a list called “Will Preparation” and then duplicate it and edit it for each client.

Group

If you have a larger project, say an estate plan, you can group lists. To the right of the todogroup“New List” click on the box icon to create a Group. As an example, you can add a Group for “Smith Estate Plan” and then drag lists for Smith Will, Smith Trust, Smith Taxes, Smith POA, Smith Medical Directive, etc. into the Group. You cannot duplicate a Group. Groups are just to help you stay organized if your lists become long and unmanageable.

Collaboration

You can share lists with collaborators in your firm. To share a list, first create your new list and then in the top right click on the icon that looks like a line drawing of a head on a body. A dialog box will open and you will click on “Create invitation link”. You can click “Invite via email” to open an invitation in MS Outlook and add your collaborators. Or choose “copy link” and send the link in Teams or another communication tool. If you want to edit who has access to the List at any time click on the sharing icon and choose “Manage access” from the dialog box. You can remove a collaborator, choose to limit access to the list, or stop sharing it.

Search and Tags

todotagsYou can search across your tasks by clicking the magnifying glass icon in the upper left corner. There are no search filters available, just a keyword search.

If you want to add some filtering and intelligence to your tasks you can add tags. Just add any word with # preceding it in your lists, tasks, steps or notes. It instantly becomes a filter and you can click on that word to instantly see everything in To Do with that tag.

Conclusion

To Do is not a full project management tool and it doesn’t have any reporting or dashboards features. However, for gathering tasks from disparate parts of Office 365 and creating your own to-dos and shared task lists the product is functional and easy to use. If you are looking for a way to manage your team when you are working remotely, or just trying to stay on top of your own to-do list the product is a great way to get started. To learn more NCBA members join us for Learning Objectives: Tools to Manage Tasks in Office 365 on April 15, 2020 at 12pm.