Are ‘To Do’ lists finally ‘Done’?

Are ‘To Do’ lists finally ‘Done’?
Tom Rock

Following on from the purchase of Wunderlist in 2015, Microsoft’s first serious public foray into the world of ‘To Do’ lists began in April 2017 when they released Microsoft To-Do – at the time it was made available only to those who were signed up to the First Release program for Office 365.

I must confess that I didn’t pay much attention to that initial release, but today Microsoft announced that this app was going to ‘General Release’.  What does that mean?  It means that over the next 30 days the ‘To Do’ icon will magically start appearing in the Office 365 App Launcher (the thing shown in the image to the right) for all those people with appropriate Office 365 licensing.  What the app icon will look like is currently a mystery, as is whether it will replace the existing ‘Tasks’ app – but mysteries are exciting, so I am fine with that!

In practical terms, General Release means that you’ll be able to log into the To-Do site (https://todo.microsoft.com/).  It also means that the mobile phone apps (links on the left) will start working for everyone – so ‘To Do’ items will be synced across your devices (limitations do apply, see footnote).

OK, so that’s the boring stuff out the way.  As any of my colleagues will attest, I am a serious ‘To Do’ list junky – so I was pretty excited to test drive this new Office 365 app.  I’ve tried various different approaches over the years – ranging from pen and paper, standalone apps such as Toodledo, and right now I’m using Trello.  The ‘To Do’ list marketplace is quite noisy and fractured, but (in my opinion) Microsoft have correctly identified that ‘managing lists of things that need to get done’ is a very important part of many people’s day.  Visual Studio Online aka Team Services (also from Microsoft) is awesome for software development teams who want to manage a backlog of work, but most people are not software developers (shock horror!) so there is a big opportunity for Microsoft to fill that space for the general user.

So… the big question for me is this: can Microsoft To-Do convince me to abandon my current love affair with Trello?  Let’s take a look, and see what it can do.

The first thing that strikes me is that the Android app is basic, very basic.  It comes with 2 lists ‘out of the box’ (My Day, and To-Do) – and to these you can add any number of extra lists.  You can customise the colour and theme for your lists, but only from the pre-canned 6 themes and 5 colour choices. I created a list called ‘Office Refurb’ (as we are currently renovating the Brisbane office), and to that I added a couple of items (as below):

Again, I am struck by the basic nature of what I am able to do.  There are only 4 main fields I can update: Name of Item, Reminder, Due Date, and Notes.  You can also add the item to ‘My Day’ (if you plan to do it today), and you can cross it off when done.  And that is about it!

Jumping over to Outlook, I can see that the items have helpfully synced up to my task list (so big thumbs up there):

One thing I do notice is that ‘Lists’ in the phone app are called ‘folders’ in the Outlook client on my PC (potentially confusing for some people).  I tried to see if I could invite a colleague to participate on an item (that would be very useful!), but you can’t unless you keep it in the ‘Tasks’ folder (and hence you can’t use multiple To Do lists):

And here is where my journey ends – that is just about everything you can to with To-Do from Microsoft at this point (apparently there is a clever algorithm that suggests what you might want to do today, but I’ve not tested that).  However, some things that are essential for me with my ‘To Do’ lists are:

  • Ability to add files, attachments, and screenshots
  • Ability to have sub-items and checklists for a given item
  • Ability to collaborate on items, including allocation of task ‘owners’
  • Ability to comment on items
  • Ability to receive notifications of updates made to items

Given the large mis-match between my requirements and the current features of To-Do, I will be holding off on making the move just yet – but for those with more modest needs, this tool might just do the trick (it’s certainly worth checking out anyway).  I’m fairly certain that Microsoft will start rolling out more features over the coming months, so this is definitely something for us all to keep our eye on (there are not currently any features in the Office 365 Roadmap, but I will update this blog when I know more).

To quote Microsoft (emphasis mine): “In the coming months, we’ll bring more of the favorite elements of Wunderlist into the Microsoft To-Do experience, adding features such as list sharing … as well as additional integrations with other Microsoft services. Once we are confident that we have incorporated the best of Wunderlist into Microsoft To-Do, we will retire Wunderlist. While the name and icon may change, the team that brought you Wunderlist continues on.”

I can’t wait to see what they come up with…

Further information / notes

Microsoft ‘To Do’ does have an ‘import from Wunderlist’ option in the mobile app, for those ready to make the switch.

For more detailed reading about this new app from Microsoft, there is a help site available.

Synchronisation across devices will only work if the user has an Exchange Online mailbox.  This means that enterprises with certain hybrid configurations, or Exchange on-prem will not be able to use this app (yet).

The licensing for this app will be turned on default for all users, so if you don’t want that to happen, now is your time to toggle this setting in your Office 365 admin console (it is per user, under your general Office 365 licensing).