How to Setup Microsoft To-Do to Get Things Done

Tanner Lytle
Tanner Lytle
June 21, 2021

So this article includes a bit of a confession, even though I'm in the IT business and have all of the top industry tools at my fingers tips, I would rely on a yellow pad of lined paper with a hand-written lists to keep track of the tasks I had to do. To be fair to myself, this was quite the upgrade from the mass amount of sticky notes that I would use previously.  But, ultimately with the goals of totally utilizing the tools that we provide and to move Honorbound IT to be a "paperless" company, I knew that I was going to need to change my practices.

The Right Tool For the Job - Microsoft 365 To-Do

I have have put considerable focus on making my daily routines more effective with the goal of stopping procrastination, getting things done, and improving my work/life balance.  I've always been the type of person who has struggled with turning off at 5pm and leaving work "at work".  So, I knew going into this, that any improvement in this area, was going to go a long way for me.

Following up on my previous article "Time Blocking Your Calendar in Outlook", at the start of each work week and updated at the start of each work day, I time-block my calendar in Outlook.

This gives my day the structure I need to dive-in and focus on specific tasks and also has the benefit of letting my co-workers know what I'm working on and if I'm available.  Once a time-block starts, I needed to know exactly what I was going to accomplish during and this is where taking the time to clarify the steps into Microsoft To-Do has been incredibly valuable.

In David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" he defines the method, which is made up of five steps to systematize the clutter in your head and... get things done!

  1. Capture Everything
    Write down anything that crosses your mind, big or small, into a centralized area.
  2. Clarify
    Go through and process what you captured into clear and concrete steps.
  3. Organize
    These tasks are then scheduled in a time-block in Outlook and defined at steps in Microsoft To-Do with completion dates.
  4. Review
    At the beginning of each day look over, update, and prioritize the lists.
  5. Engage
    Start working on the items as their time-blocks are active.

Setting Up To-Do Task Lists

From web browser visit the Microsoft To-Do page.

Here is a blank canvas to start creating tasks.  To start out in the "My Day" tab which opens by default. Let's create the task — Write "To-Do Article" for Website, by entering in the title into the "+ Add a Task" Section of the page.

After writing in the title and hitting enter the task will be created and how we can clarify what should be done in this task.  By selecting the task, on the right hand side of the page some option fields will open.  Here we we can further clarify the Task by:

Star the task, which marks it as important

Adding steps to the task

Adding the task to "My Day"

Note: this is added by default if you create the task in the "My Day" tab of To-Do

Setting up reminders

Adding a due date

Configuring the task to create a new instance automatically at a certain interval.

Adding a  category

Note: You can change the name of the categories within Outlook Settings to be more specific and relevant to your (examples: Marketing, Sales, Personal, etc.)

Uploaded a file to be associated with the task.

Adding Notes

I make sure that each time I create a new task I take a little bit of time to clarify and configure these fields.  The little extra bit of time it takes goes a long way to keeping me on track.  It may be clear to me what I need to do when creating the task, but a few days or weeks later I may have no memory of the specifics that I was thinking of back when I created the task.

Reviewing To-Do Task Lists

Once all of the To-Do task are created it needs to be easy to sort through and review the list.

On the left has the option to filter the tasks using different criteria so it's easier to review the current to-do tasks you have:

  • My Day
  • Important
  • Planned
  • Assigned to you
  • Flagged email
  • Tasks

Adding To-Do Tasks to Outlook Online's Calendar

Outlook on the web has the ability to create and add tasks directly to the calendar.  From the top right of the page, select the "My Day" button and go to the "To-Do tab.   Here we can quickly add and edit To-Do tasks and drag them directly onto Outlook calendar.  This gives a much more intuitive way to time-block out calendar with to-do list items.

When to use Microsoft To-Do

I have found that Microsoft To-Do has been a fantastic tool for me to organize my personal tasks.  It is really designed for each personal user to manage their own action items and keep themselves organized.  Where it is lacking is in the collaboration department, my next article will introduce you to Microsoft Planner, which is an incredible tool keeping track of steps in Teams based projects!

Just like any tool it has it's perks and limitations.  Microsoft is constantly improving Microsoft To-Do by adding in new features and integrations with other apps within the Microsoft 365 suite.  You really do get as much out of the tool as you are willing to put into it.  I have found by taking just a few minutes each morning to build out time-blocks in my calendar and setting up my daily tasks in a to-do list, a lot less falls through the cracks and I get started much easier than before.

I would really recommend picking a copy of David Allen's "Getting Things Done".  It is an amazing guide to productivity and break through the procrastination wall!

Tanner Lytle
Leading the Sales Department of Honorbound IT, Tanner is the main point of contact for a new and existing customers. When not working with others, he is busy updating the website and creating articles and videos!