How to get the most out of Microsoft’s redesigned (and renamed) To Do

James Walker

Microsoft To-Do is getting a fresh new look across all platforms

To Do is one of the newest additions to Microsoft’s range of productivity tools. It recently acquired a comprehensive UI refresh after a slew of new features, so we decided to take another look at what it can offer in 2019.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

To Do was borne out of Microsoft’s acquisition of Wunderlist. Although Wunderlist is still operational today, engineering resources have been diverted to To Do. Microsoft has rebuilt the app atop its Office 365 infrastructure, ensuring it meets compliance requirements for enterprise use. This architecture also enables To Do to synchronise with emails and tasks in Outlook.

To Do’s redesign earlier this month moved the app closer to Wunderlist’s design language. There’s greater use of colour and a more careful attention to padding between interface elements. The new look, coming with a subtle change in name (from To-Do to To Do), indicates Microsoft’s growing confidence in the product.

Getting started

Today’s To Do is available across almost all major platforms. Apps are offered on Windows 10, macOS, iOS, Android and the web. In addition, To Do integrates into a growing selection of Microsoft products. These include Outlook, Cortana and Microsoft Planner, so the app is capable of becoming a hub for all your tasks.

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be using To Do on a Windows 10 PC. Most screens are very similar across all platforms, so you shouldn’t encounter any issues following along on your own device.

After downloading To Do, you’ll first need to login. Both personal Microsoft accounts and enterprise Office 365 accounts are supported. Using the app’s settings screen, you can add additional accounts later on.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

Once you’re signed in, you’ll land on To Do’s “My Day” screen. It’s worth taking a moment to assess the interface. On desktop devices, To Do uses a two-pane view. Your task lists are displayed on the left, while the centre section updates to display the contents of lists. When you select a task, an additional pane will appear on the right to edit its properties. The mobile layout is very similar, with the navigation hidden behind a hamburger menu.

To get to the app’s settings page, click your profile picture in the top-left corner. Select “Settings” from the drop-down menu, or “Manage accounts” to add and remove Office 365 accounts.

Importing existing tasks

The Settings screen allows you to import your existing tasks from Wunderlist. This means you can pick up where you left off in the older app. To Do will automatically create lists to replace your Wunderlist ones, populating them with your tasks in Wunderlist.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

Settings also lets you change a few fundamental options within the app. There’s light or dark theme support and the ability to disable deletion confirmations and completion sounds.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

Further down, you’ll find a set of toggle buttons for “Smart Lists.” We’ll be revisiting Smart Lists later but for now just know it’s possible to prevent unused Smart Lists from showing up in the app. The final toggle button allows you to control whether flagged Outlook emails should appear in To Do – disabling this will remove the “Flagged Email” section from the navigation bar.

Creating lists

To create a list, click the “New list” button at the bottom of the navigation menu. Type a name for your list and press enter. Optionally, you can add a custom emoji to use as the list’s navigation icon. Click the list’s name in the central pane and then the smiley button to select an emoji.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

Got several related lists? Try creating a group. Click the button to the right of the “New list” button to create and name your group. You can then drag individual lists into the group, making them children within it. This can help tidy up your navigation menu by hiding infrequently used lists.

List options

You can access a list’s options menu by clicking the three dots icon in the top-right of the app. You can adjust the app’s theme individually for each list, change the task sort order or rename the list.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

This menu also gives you a way to show (or hide) completed tasks within your list. Finally, there’s menu items to pin a shortcut to your Start menu or delete the list. This will remove all the tasks within the list, as well as the list itself.

Sharing lists

You can share lists with other users to facilitate collaboration. Begin by clicking the person icon next to the list options button.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

Click “Create invitation link” to get your sharable link. Give the link to people who need access to the list. They’ll be able to view, add and edit tasks within the list. To manage sharing options in the future, click the sharing button again. You’ll see collaborators added to the list and an option to revoke shared access.

Working with tasks

Tasks are the most important objects within To Do. Creating a task is simple: select a list and then click “Add task” at the bottom of the screen. Type a task name and press enter.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

In its most basic form, that’s all there is to it. You can keep adding tasks by typing descriptions and hitting enter. Tasks have many more options available though, so try clicking one to bring up its details pane.

Here, you can set a reminder, due date and recurrence schedule for the task. There’s a text field for additional notes (handy for website addresses) and a file picker to add attachments.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

At the top of the pane, the “Add step” link lets you create a set of sub-tasks. This is useful to create simple checklists within a larger process. For example, you might add “Carpets”, “Floors” and “Surfaces” to a “Clean the house” task.

Finally, the small star icon lets you mark a task as important. This will result in it showing up in the “Important” list visible in To Do’s navigation menu. Similarly, “Add to My Day” will display the task in the “My Day” list – more on this in the next section…

Using Smart Lists

Smart Lists are To Do’s way of describing lists which automatically aggregate tasks from other lists. You can’t create Smart Lists but you can choose which ones are displayed, as we saw on the Settings page.

We’ve already looked at two Smart Lists: Important and My Day. My Day warrants further explanation, as it’s one way in which To Do differentiates itself from the competition.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

Rather than relying entirely on due dates, To Do gives you the ability to select tasks to work on each day. The idea is you’ll review your pending tasks in the morning, add a few to “My Day” and then work from that list. This helps you avoid being distracted by unactionable tasks in your lists.

To Do is smart enough to be able to suggest tasks to add to My Day. You may see suggestions appear when visiting My Day in the morning. Typically, To Do will suggest tasks with a close due date. It will also include any tasks you added to My Day yesterday but didn’t get around to completing. This helps you quickly get back to where you were while managing your workload for the day.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do

There are currently three other Smart Lists within To Do: Planned, Flagged Email and Assigned to Me. Planned surfaces every task with a due date. Flagged Email displays any emails which you have flagged for action using Outlook. Each email is converted into a regular To Do task.

Assigned to Me, which is specific to Office 365 accounts, contains Microsoft Planner tasks which you’re currently working on. This means you can use a team Planner while still maintaining your personal task list. There’s no need to switch between applications when using both Outlook and Planner side-by-side.

Microsoft To Do

This is the end of our quick tour of To Do. As you’ve hopefully seen, To Do has matured into an increasingly comprehensive task management solution. It’s feature-filled and capable of integrating with much of the Microsoft ecosystem.

To get the most out of it, you do need to make use of features such as Smart Lists. It’s these touches which elevate To Do above the crowd. However, it’s equally useful as a simple task app for personal use – adding new items takes a matter of seconds.

To Do’s biggest productivity gains arguably come when combined with other Microsoft products. Microsoft is using the app to combine its disparate services. To Do is becoming a productivity hub which aggregates data from Outlook, Cortana and Planner. The ability to use the app on every platform ensures you can always access all your tasks, wherever you are.

With support for collaborative work, robust options on individual tasks and daily planner functionality, To Do has grown into a well-rounded task management platform. It has been able to do so while remaining exceedingly simple to get started with, so whatever your requirements are, To Do can probably meet them.