How to Use Microsoft To Do Effectively

If you want to use Microsoft To Do Effectively, it helps to understand the different features that it has available and where it fits into the large Microsoft Task Management and Planning solution ecosystem. We’ll look at both aspects of this deceivingly simple task manager and highlight features that are incredibly useful whether you work as part of a team at a large enterprise or if you just need something to keep track of family obligations.

Learn how to use Microsoft To Do Effectively but utilizing advanced features and integrating it with other systems

We’ll briefly explain what Microsoft To Do is, where it fits into the Microsoft task and productivity ecosystem and then highlight the different features of the software you should be aware of to get the most out of it.

What is Microsoft To Do?

Microsoft To Do is a simple and easy to use task manager. It’s targeted at helping you organize projects on a daily to weekly time horizon by tracking tasks in different lists, sort of like a digital grocery list.

Items are added to the list,, can be moved around in different priorities or organized by due date and once they’re completed you can check the box that the task is complete and it’s removed from the list.

The following screenshot highlights the core features of To Do, tasks are added to a list, assigned due dates, notes or other information, and you click the circle to the left to complete the task.

Screenshot of Microsoft To Do being used to plan My Day with the most important tasks

It’s available on the cloud through a web browser, or through mobiles apps available both for Apple or Android. Tasks are automatically synced across devices, and Microsoft To Do has integrations with Microsoft Planner, Teams, Outlook, and other Microsoft services.

Where Microsoft To Do fits into the Microsoft Task Management Ecosystem

You may have heard of Microsoft Project, Microsoft Planner in addition to Microsoft To Do and wondered what the difference is between the three. The easiest way to think about it is that each piece of software focuses on a different part of a project lifecycle and cover different project scopes.

  • Microsoft To Do – Small tasks for individuals to complete within the next day or week.
  • Microsoft Planner – Small to Medium sized projects that require collaboration across a business team, often to be completed within the next several months, broken down into smaller bite sized pieces to allocate to individuals. Small tasks can even be sync’d to individual’s To Do App.
  • Microsoft Project – Extremely large and complex long-term projects used by professional project managers.

There is some overlap between the different products to meet different business needs. To Do is the simplest way to keep track of what you need to do to today and this week that could be part of a larger project or plan.

Getting Started with Microsoft To Do

The biggest feature of Microsoft To Do is its simplicity. We’ll use the cloud version for example purposes, but the same features and general ideas transfer over to the mobile apps regardless of which platform you are using.

The key features to get started are:

  • Add a New List – Button to create a new list is on the bottom left corner.
  • Add a New To Do Item – Top text box on the right side of the screen.
  • Add Button – Press Add or Press Enter on your keyboard to create a new task
Example of creating a new list and adding new tasks to Microsoft To Do
  • Task Complete Button – The small circle to the left of each task will complete it and remove it from the list.

At the most basic level, Microsoft To Do is a digital To Do list. Instead of writing items down, you type them, and click a button once they’re complete instead of drawing a line through them with a pen.

It’s a very intuitive and easy interface to work with.

Now, let’s look at the more powerful features available to get the most out of To Do and use it more effectively!

Advanced Features of Microsoft To Do

You may have already seen in some of the previous screenshots that there are additional tags added to our To Do list items, such as categories, and due dates. These additional tags are the starting point of the advanced features available.

After creating an initial to do item, you can click on it from the list below the task entry box and add additional details or functions.

Viewing advanced features to add more detail to an individual task in Microsoft To Do

Items that can be added are:

  • Adding Sub-Tasks – In the top right corner you can add additional steps that need to be completed prior to completing a larger goal.
Add sub-steps and additional to do items within a single to do list card
  • Add to My Day – Another important feature of To Do. The My Day section lets you prioritize and see only things that are coming up in the near future. It allows you to combine tasks from multiple lists, co-mingle them, and sort them regardless if it’s related to work or home.
  • Remind Me – Timed reminders with presets for Today, Tomorrow, Next Week or with a custom date picker.
  • Due Date – Track when a task must be completed by
  • Repeat – Setup Recurring tasks
  • Category – Group like tasks together and assign color coded cateogries to them
  • Add Attachment – Include screenshots, videos or other files as part of your to do list
  • Add Notes – Section for more detailed notes about a specific task

Many of these settings will generate a small icon or additional notification on the task view. Clicking on a task will display the additional detailed information.

Many of these fields will automatically populate if tasks are being added or assigned from connected tools such as Microsoft Planner.

Automatically Sort Tasks

Sorting and Filtering can be applied to any To Do list. After adding tasks to a list you can choose to Sort by Importance, placing starred items at the top, or by Due Date to make sure that the most important and immediate tasks are placed at the top of the list.

Sort a To Do List by importance, due date, alphabetical order or creation date to customize your list

Group Tasks by Category

For people working across multiple teams and co-mingling work and personal tasks grouping them together can be a useful option. Clicking on each task brings up additional options where you can assign a color category to them. These tasks can further be grouped by clicking Group By at the top Right corner and choosing Categories. The list will automatically be split into sections.

Task Categories help you keep track of tasks by department, or separate home from work life when working from home

Disable Add New Tasks on Top

While this is a matter of personal preference, we find that placing the newest task on top just meants that we have to move it to the bottom of our list. We prefer looking at the most important and most urgent tasks at the top of our list which are often not the ones that we are adding.

Screenshot of disabling add new tasks at top to keep the most important tasks at the top of a list and place new tasks at the bottom

Turn off Add new tasks on top and newly added tasks will be added to the bottom of your To Do list.

Enable Dark Mode

We recommend enabling dark mode on productivity, writing, and business software whenever possible. While some people enjoy the darker aesthetic, we find that it’s easier on our eyes after extended periods of time especially when working on a large productivity boosting computer monitor.

To turn on Dark Mode in Microsoft To Do, navigate to the Settings Icon at the top right of Microsoft To Do and toggle Dark Mode on.

Screenshot of how to enable dark mode from Microsoft To Do settings

Leverage Integrations

The biggest benefit of Microsoft To Do is that it’s part of the Microsoft Ecosystem of task management and planning solutions. It can sync with Outlook, Planner, Teams and a number of other applications.

Sync Flag for Follow-Up in Outlook with To Do Lists

When you flag an e-mail for follow-up it will automatically sync with To Do if you are using Microsoft Outlook for desktop or the online version. To the right of each e-mail in a list of e-mails you can mouse over the right side of the subject and click on the Flag icon.

Exampling of flagging an e-mail for follow-up in Microsoft Outlook

Once an e-mail is Flagged it will show up in Microsoft To Do and sync a copy of the e-mail that it came from. This is a quick way to move messages from your e-mail inbox to your To Do list.

Flagged E-mails become new tasks within Microsoft To Do automatically after syncing

Flagged Email To Do items can be dragged into different lists or assigned to different lists, categorized, assigned due dates etc. All of the advanced features are available if you click on the to do item.

Integrate Microsoft To Do with Microsoft Teams

If you currently use Microsoft Teams at work for video conferencing and chat, you can add functionality through Microsoft Teams Apps. One of the more useful integration is with Microsoft To Do. Microsoft has been upgrading Teams and making it more of an all in one business hub to track tasks and share data across teams.

To integrate Microsoft To Do with Microsoft Teams, go to the Apps section on the bottom left of Microsoft Teams, and search for the To Do app by Microsoft. Once it’s added you will have a new menu available called Tasks by Planner and To Do that embeds the same functionality of To Do directly into Teams.

Screenshot of Microsoft Tasks by Planner and To Do integrated directly into Microsoft Teams as a Teams App

Teams has been incredibly useful at putting all of your business information from Power BI Dashboards, share files, and sub-sets of groups and message boards all in one place.

Use Microsoft Planner and To Do Together

Microsoft Planner uses Kanban boards to track where projects are in their life cycle. Each task can be broken down into smaller sections of items to do and each to do item or card can be assigned to an individual person on a team.

Screenshot of Microsoft Planner using kanban cards and various task assignments

When a project is assigned to a user, it will automatically sync with Microsoft To Do under the Assigned to Me section allowing you to prioritize it and add it to another list or My Day to ensure that you have visibility to it.

Tasks assigned in Planner become assigned to me in Microsoft To Do with automatic integration

Planner and To Do work together to break larger projects into smaller bite sized tasks that need to be completed within the next week or day.

Manually Sync Tasks when Necessary

To Do syncs with other systems like Outlook and Planner on a regular basis. However, if you need to see an updated list immediately due to an updated assignment or if updates aren’t showing up right away, you can manually tell To Do to sync with other services by clicking the Settings Cog in the top left of the To Do panel and click on Sync within the Help & Feedback section.

Screenshot of how to automatically sync to do lists when they do not automatically update as expected

Real-time Collaboration with List Sharing

To Do lists can effectively be used to enable collaboration across your team at work or family members. Click on the Share List icon at the top right of To Do and create an invitation link. The link will send an e-mail to the recipient inviting them to join your list.

Sending an invitation to another person to invite them to join a to do list so they can be worked on collaboratively

After additional users are added to your list they will have full visibility to see what’s on your To Do list, they will also be able to add new items and re-prioritize them. This could be a blessing or a curse depending on who your list is shared with, we recommend sharing lists sparingly.

Use My Day to Manage Immediate Action Items

The My Day section of To Do is setup to give you a punch list to work through your day. It’s different than other lists that you create in that every night it automatically resets. Any tasks that were not completed the day before are automatically rolled forward into the next day helping you remember uncompleted tasks.

Time Management Strategies

At the end of the day, To Do along with other productivity and task management apps are tools to help you keep track of things. There are some universal best practices and ideas that you should keep in mind when using To Do that are the same with traditional pen and paper lists or digital tools.

  • Prioritization with My Day – Start each day by populating the My Day section with high-priority tasks
  • Task Deadlines and Reminders – Assign deadlines and reminders to tasks to
  • Recurring Tasks for Routine – Use the recurring tasks feature to set routine tasks like weekly meetings
  • Time Blocking – Dedicate specific blocks of time in your calendar for completing tasks, or utilize a Pompodoro Timer to improve focus.
  • Batch Similar Tasks – If you have tasks that have a lot of overlap, batching them together will let you complete them more efficiently by eliminating the need to re-focus after taking a long break.
  • Use the Two-Minute Rule – For tasks that take less than two minutes, do them immediately. You can even have a “Quick Tasks” list for these kinds of activities.

By incorporating these time management strategies into your Microsoft To Do usage, you can enhance your productivity even more.

Notion – The Best Alternative to Microsoft To Do

If you’re looking at Microsoft To Do or have been using it for a little while you may find that you’re not using features like Teams and Planner integration or that while it is a simple tool to use it lacks specific features that you would find useful.

If you’re looking for a tool that scales between improving personal productivity and business productivity for your team we recommend Notion. Notion is a task management tool that combines a few different technologies that can help you get through your day.

  • Integration between note taking and task creation
  • Utilize AI to organize notes and automatically create to do lists
  • Easily Share Boards, Notes, and Lists in One Application

Notion is free to sign up to test out.


Microsoft To Do is a useful tool if you’re already working within the Microsoft Ecosystem and using other Microsoft planning products. To Do is targeted at helping you keep track of tasks that need to be completed in the next day or week.

You can create multiple lists, share them with others and work on a to do list collaboratively. Free mobile apps let you take your to do lists with you wherever you go, and there are many features available to help you sort and keep track of tasks across multiple Microsoft productivity applications.

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