Microsoft’s New To-Do Module—Does it replace Tasks?

About once a month I get a note from someone asking: “When are you going to show us how to use the new Microsoft To-Do with MYN or 1MTD?”

Well, for MYN, my short answer is: “not until they add a ton more features. And it may be a while, by the way.”

UPDATE May 15: See my warnings below and in comments. Don’t activate this app on your existing MYN task list without a lot of thought about what might happen.

For 1MTD, there are some pretty good possibilities for use, but only if you are willing to stop using desktop Outlook’s task module as your main task interface. So, I will write up how to use To-Do with 1MTD in a bit, for those that need a simple app like To-Do.

The main issue is this: Microsoft To-Do is designed for a different audience than my MYN audience, and so it lacks some really important task management stuff that MYN users come to expect. Here’s the list:

  • There is no 3-level priority setting;
  • there is no start date field;
  • view filtering is very limited;
  • no categories;
  • and no task assignment.

In terms of which of these features are really important, the lack of 3-level prioritization and the lack of a start date field kill it for MYN. Though again, there are some 1MTD possibilities—with tweaks to the system.

The other deficiencies are unfortunate too because they lead to greatly limiting your flexibility for sophisticated task management. You see, I have a ton of optional task views and processes that I also teach, and many people use, and they provide ways to take MYN and 1MTD to the next level. They provide advanced users a way to really nail down their comprehensive daily work management routines. But all those lacking features preclude you from making those expansions.

Not All Bad

I look at To-Do as sort of similar to Google tasks, which is another very limited tasks module. As with the very simple Google tasks, I am sure there is a market for To-Do among casual to-do list management users.

So, I am not knocking To-Do in general, in fact, I applaud Microsoft’s efforts to provide simple solutions for simple users. There is no doubt in my mind that many people have found Outlook’s Tasks module too confusing and need a module like To-Do.

But those people are not serious task managers. The amazing power of a serious task system like MYN, and even 1MTD, comes from some very specific task capabilities. For example, the start date field is especially important for MYN. And there are a lot more capabilities needed to really get serious about managing tasks.

I don’t expect To-Do to try to become that; and I admit, not many to-do list apps even come close to having all the features needed for MYN.

And that’s okay. As long as Microsoft doesn’t eliminate Outlook’s Tasks module, or remove features, then my readers will be able to continue to use the older Tasks module. And they should just ignore To-Do.

And so far, that seems to be the case—the Tasks module continues to be supported. If you go to the module launcher in the web version of Outlook, for example, you will see that Both modules are available there (see figure below).

And Outlook desktop has no link at all to To-Do. So far so good.

If You Try Out To-Do

By the way, many of you, after reading this article, are going to try out To-Do, which makes sense. But a few warnings before you blindly do that.

If you launch To-Do from your current Outlook Online (OWA) account, it will sync all your Outlook Tasks into the To-Do module and display them in the To-Do view. If you then use To-Do to edit those tasks, be careful. I’ve heard horror stories on how To-Do will screw up the start dates when it syncs those tasks back into the Tasks module, and now your Outlook Tasks are messed up.

So, MYN users who use start dates, it might be best just to avoid To-Do for now. And if you want to learn more about it, perhaps open it in a “spare,” non-critical Microsoft Exchange account that you might have. Or simply do a Google search and read about it for now.

Is the Tasks Module “Safe”?

As I said, it looks like Microsoft is supporting both To-Do and Tasks, which at first seems harmless. However, Microsoft adding the To-Do module may not be completely harmless, because it then leads to a question: Is the Tasks module safe from Microsoft’s ongoing simplification and cost-cutting scalpel? In its obsession to simplify its Office suite and cut costs in the MSFT corporation, will Microsoft eventually kill the Tasks module?

Well, the following interview might answer that question. Here is an excerpt from a Feb 5 2018 interview between John Gruber and Microsoft’s Senior Product Manager of To-Do, Simon Chan:

Question from John Gruber: “Outlook Tasks have always been a bit lacking and hasn’t been upgraded to fit into Microsoft’s productivity and collaboration suite well. To-Do is a much better option. Is Microsoft To-Do going to replace Outlook Tasks?”


Answer from Simon Chan: “You might be surprised to learn this, but there’s actually a sizable active customer base of Outlook Tasks! But almost every customer we talk to tends to agree that Outlook Tasks is in need of some attention. Long term, we are looking to simplify and unify the tasks experience customers have across the Microsoft ecosystem which includes improving Outlook Tasks. We don’t have an exact schedule of when you’ll be seeing a new Outlook Tasks experience, but it’s something that we’re working towards.”

So, what does that tell me? Well, I am not sure. The phrase “simplify and unify the tasks experience” could be interpreted in different ways.

I Hope Microsoft Does it Right: Simplified Ribbon

My advice to Microsoft is this: Use your new Simplified Ribbon approach as a template for how you simplify the Tasks module. You see, the recent Ribbon simplification was done the right way. What Microsoft did with the new Ribbon was to present a greatly simplified Ribbon, but then leave all the full-power features of the full Ribbon available only one-click away. And they even provided ways for you to customize the new Simplified Ribbon to add back certain features you may want within it. That whole upgrade was very nicely done.

Please, Not What Happened with OneNote

What I don’t want to see happen is what happened with OneNote recently. The way that was handled was a BIG mistake in my mind.

Here’s the story: Back in 2014 or so, Microsoft developed a parallel product, the Windows Store version of OneNote—mostly tablet based. It had nice tablet features, but it came with a fraction of the features of the full OneNote. We all hoped that eventually the new OneNote would become feature-equal to the main one, with the added tablet features, and we could all use it instead, whether on a tablet or not.

But it didn’t happen. The dev team was slowly moving in that direction, got maybe 75% to feature equity, but then a huge unfortunate decision was made. Last year they announced they would stop development of the original OneNote and focus all energy and distribution on the new one, which was still far weaker in most areas that mattered. And still is.

At that point, the old OneNote (OneNote 2016) was orphaned. The new and in my mind weaker one is what is distributed with Office these days. The older, more powerful one, is now only made available as an optional download—a download that few people even know exists.

What is particularly galling is the lack of future OneNote 2016 development. While Microsoft might pretend OneNote 2016 is still supported, it’s obvious that it’s a dead end and all of the best new stuff will never get there. The new, in my mind weaker, OneNote is all that matters now.

Here’s my point: I seriously now wonder if the entire older OneNote 2016 module will shortly disappear. After all, Microsoft does not have unlimited resources and it is known to cut and run on lower-priority projects (think Microsoft Phone).

Is that Happening with Tasks?

In fact, I am seeing some of that happening now with tasks. I am seeing Microsoft favor the newer To-Do module over the older Tasks module for new development. Case in point: Microsoft recently added to its online version of Outlook the ability to convert emails into To-Do items (this new feature is slowly rolling out). But it has not yet added the ability to convert online emails into the Tasks module (though the near instant sync with Tasks does provide a partial solution).

Also, Microsoft has released smartphone apps that have all the features of To-Do. But not so with the Tasks module—only third-party apps work with the Tasks module, and Microsoft has ignored it in the smartphone arena.

So, is the sunset of Tasks already starting?

Outlook.com and Outlook Online Have Started to Cut Over

Furthermore, over in the Outlook.com world (the online version) and in the Outlook Online (OWA) Insider version, Microsoft has already started to replace the Tasks module there with the To-Do module. If you have an Outlook.com account or an Insider version of Outlook Online, open it now, online. Then look down in the lower left corner at the navigation icons (you might have to drag the right edge of the folders pane wider to see them all).

Many or all of you will now see a To-Do icon instead of the Tasks icon, as shown in the figure below. If you see the one on the left side, well, you’ve already been assimilated into the new To-Do world.

While this is in trial for the full Exchange version of Outlook Online (you have to toggle the switch labeled “The New Outlook” in the upper right corner), it appears that it’s a done deal for Outlook.com. That means, as an Outlook.com user, you now only have access to To-Do and your old tasks are now imported into the To-Do module. The Tasks module is essentially gone. Is that what you wanted?

Also, the main navigation icons in the lower left of the Windows Mail app (the Microsoft Store app called Mail), now are displaying a link to To-Do. So it’s the default task app there too.

Now granted, not many MYN or 1MTD users were using the older Tasks module in Outlook.com. The tasks editing screens for that were terrible, so I don’t bemoan that change. And not many MYN or 1MTD users are using the Microsoft Store Mail app either. And after all, all of these are considered consumer or personal versions of Outlook, and it probably makes sense to link the simpler To-Do module in these apps.

But for the full Exchange version of Outlook Online (OWA), this movement to emphasizing To-Do could be a bit risky for MYN users. First of all, with those changes it becomes a bit problematic to use OWA as an MYN task input mechanism, as some did. If you have the new OWA version with the new Tasks pane on the right, and convert an email to a task by dragging it there, there is no way to set the start date (it defaults to None) so you have to edit the task back in desktop Outlook. Admittedly it’s nice that you finally have a way to convert an email to a task in OWA, it’s just too bad the task is not ready for MYN.

Again though, not many of my clients use Outlook Online (OWA), so this is not a huge deal.

My Concern: Eventual Desktop Changes

But my concern is this: I have noticed that changes made to Outlook Online (OWA) often end up in Windows Desktop Outlook. Examples are the Archive folder and the Focused Inbox: both started first in Outlook Online, and then migrated to the desktop version. So, is this where Microsoft is going, and will they eventually be replacing the Tasks module in desktop Outlook?

If so, and if in that process the OneNote fiasco happens with the Tasks module—if Tasks gets sunsetted or dumbed-down too much—I’ll be very disappointed. To me, the desktop version of Outlook is the ultimate version of Outlook, and the only one I really feel can save the overwhelmed office worker. By now you know that ALL of my best teachings direct you to Windows desktop Outlook. It’s the cream of the crop. All this Office Online nonsense is, in my mind, silly noise Microsoft is making in trying to compete with Google, and mostly a waste of time for the serious productive knowledge worker.

We Have a Fallback

So, if Microsoft does make a really stupid decision, and eventually does swap To-Do into the desktop version of Outlook, the good news is we at least have a fallback. I will simply tell all my customers to use Toodledo instead. Toodledo can be used quite effectively with Outlook, so it is an option. The Toodledo company is dedicated to creating a full-featured, non-compromised tasks solution and continues to add power-user features along with simplifications. I know their pricing has gone up, but in my mind, they are still the best task management software out there, after Outlook Tasks. Maybe even better.

But I hope it doesn’t come to that—it would be unfortunate. And it would cut out a lot of corporate users who need to keep their enterprise data—including data embedded in tasks—on their internal servers (Toodledo is cloud only).

Maybe That’s the Good News

And that is my good-news indicator that Microsoft will in fact be retaining the Tasks module for the long-term. You see, their new To-Do module was designed bottom up to be a cloud feature only—it’s not built into Exchange. So, unless Microsoft integrates it into Exchange, the Tasks module appears to be safe. Why do I say that? Because all companies that demand to use an on-premises Exchange Server will need to continue to have access to an on-premises Tasks module, through Exchange—Tasks are too widely used in the corporate environment. So that bodes well for the longevity of Tasks in Outlook.

In fact, this may be the reality: It may be that To-Do will always and only be a focus in Microsoft’s online, browser-based, app world, the one that competes with Google’s apps. If so, fine.

Again, I steadily and consistently tell my readers to focus on the Windows desktop version of Outlook and to generally ignore Outlook Online. I do that because the desktop version is the only version that has enough features for full MYN tasks management, and the only one suitable for my full Outlook Inbox Ninja email management system. The online apps don’t even come close.

So if To-Do is all about Outlook Online, then fine.

But that said, there is a wrinkle. Microsoft is heavily committed to Office 365 and all its online glory. How to reconcile that with companies that demand inside-the-firewall data protection? Well, Microsoft is now reportedly developing on-premises versions of its web-based Office 365 server that can exist inside the firewall. Presumably, such a server could replace on-premises Exchange. If so, then who knows, maybe To-Do will be favored over the Tasks module.

Tell Microsoft What You Want

So, if a slow, full cutover to the To-Do module, while a long way away, is eventually inevitable, and if To-Do does eventually replace the Tasks module, even on the desktop, let’s at least hope they strengthen To-Do features and make it usable by serious task managers. If they simply added start dates and 3-level priority, they’d be a long way there.

To that end, perhaps we should all start pinging Microsoft to do at least that—to add those two features to To-Do. Microsoft has a pretty good system for collecting user input. It’s called UserVoice, and it allows vote on feature suggestions. Those two feature requests are already out on UserVoice. So, do me a favor and go there now and vote for them using the two links below.

Vote on the Add 3-level Priority feature here.

Vote on the Add Start Date feature here,

Please follow those links, and go and vote for each of them now. Let’s try to influence Microsoft to at least beef up To-Do over the long run, in case they eventually emphasize it over the older Tasks module, even in desktop Outlook.

Conclusion

I admit, Microsoft’s marketing of To-Do is pretty snazzy. All you have to do is go to the To-Do marketing webpage to see all the bling—to see the full-court push Microsoft is making for this new module. There is no corresponding marketing for the venerable, and much better, Tasks module. So, you and others might be swayed, by all that sexy advertising and by the brand-new, pretty, smartphone apps, to make a change.

But please don’t let the bright colors and the apparent “newness” of To-Do sway you from what’s important. If you are an MYN or 1MTD user, which means you care about powerful task management, then stick with the Tasks module. It will serve you well for a long time.

And note this, in case the fancy new To-Do smartphone app is swaying you: there are plenty of smartphone apps that support the full Tasks module: TaskTask, Nine, and so on. So, there is no reason that you must cut over to To-Do. The older and wiser Tasks module is the place to be.

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7 Responses to Microsoft’s New To-Do Module—Does it replace Tasks?

  1. Aaron says:

    Hi Michael,

    First, thanks for everything–your system, your books, your videos, your posts. They’ve all helped me so much though I still struggle with consistency.

    I have tried out Microsoft To-Do. It’s a great app. You can even integrate MYN. But, you have to use due dates (and pretend they are start dates), use the My Day feature for Critical Now tasks, use the Important feature for Opportunity Now tasks, and put everything else in various lists which becomes your master task list. The big draw back is you see everything present and future (you can hide completed tasks).

    That said, I’ve switched back to Outlook Tasks. But, here is a nice discovery. For each project I’m working on, I have created a list in Microsoft To-Do. This puts a corresponding list in Outlook. Now, when I create a new task in Outlook, it puts the list in the Tasks folder. I drag it from there to the appropriate list (created in To-Do), which in turn puts in Outlook’s To-Do list.

    When I’m away from my computer, I put new tasks in Microsoft To-Do (either in the default Tasks list or in one of my custom lists). When I’m back at my computer, I use Outlook. (If needed I move any tasks I created in Microsoft To-Do into their respective lists.)

    One thing to note, for this to work, in Outlook, I had to stop using the Start Date field and pretend the Due Date field is the Start Date field. I reset up the MYN system to use the Due Date file (again I pretend due date = start date).

    Everything seems to be working fine. I get the best of Outlook with some advantages, namely custom lists and mobility, that Microsoft To-Do affords. Hope this helps.

    Best to you.

  2. Aaron says:

    Corrections: “it puts the task in the Tasks folder” and “I reset up the MYN system to use the Due Date field”

  3. Ed V says:

    Hi Michael,

    I did a quick check of the new To-Do app on my iPhone. The trial ended quickly after a conversation with Microsoft. To-Do will not migrate/sync tasks unless the default posting form is IPM.Task in Desktop Outlook. It does not recognize custom forms. I had created custom forms for tasks that incorporated context, deadline, etc. custom fields so I could easily enter/edit my MYN data.

    Thanks for MYN, it really helped me manage my work. I’m sticking with Outlook Desktop as long as possible…

  4. Thomas M says:

    Hi Michael,

    I too am concerned about Microsoft’s future plans with Outlook’s Tasks and To-Do’s. I appreciate your MYN method, which I follow with my own crazy tweaks. I only hope that enough serious MYN users and users of other methods get Microsoft’s attention…somehow…to increase functionality in the To-Do app. Otherwise, a lot of what we all accomplish today with the MYN method may eventually disappear as Microsoft attempts to move their Office Suite completely in the cloud. It is a fact; some functionality is simply not going to make the transition from Microsoft’s Office client to the cloud app. That is not good.

    I met the gentleman you spoke of in your article above, Simon Chan, at a Microsoft Ignite event in Florida a couple of years and found him to be engaging, humble, and enthusiastically open to ideas about To-Do. However, the challenge he faces in attempting to “reduce” Outlook’s Task/To-Do function to a more simple form while maintaining the functionality we enjoy in Outlook today may be impossible. I sincerely hope Simon Chan and his team will have the mandate and resources from Microsoft to address the concerns serious MYN and other To-Do method users have about Outlook’s future.

    Your concerns about “Eventual Desktop Changes” are spot on as far as I am concerned.

    I know that Microsoft uses User Voice to gauge the importance of features they’ll develop. If users don’t vote for key functionality, Microsoft will likely not develop it, which is a shame given all of the insight that methods such as MYN and GTD have documented over the years.

    Michael, I hope you can somehow encourage serious users to post their thoughts on UserVoice and “vote” for ideas they find useful. We all can impact Microsoft with our input if enough of us vote.

    Provided below is my own posting at Microsoft’s UserVoice for Outlook with a link to the posting. I would ask that you and others vote for my idea, which currently only has 15 votes. I also want to encourage people to vote for other’s ideas as well — even if the ideas are a bit different. Microsoft needs to hear from all of us that “simple functionality” is not good enough. If they don’t hear from us, Microsoft will only support the simplest ideas.

    Again, please vote for my UserVoice posting below (and others) at:

    https://outlook.uservoice.com/forums/322590-outlook-2016-for-windows/suggestions/34873234-tasks-flagging-tagging

    =======================================================
    -Microsoft UserVoice Posting-
    Tasks: Flagging & Tagging

    Outlook’s To-Do feature (flagging) affects Tasks, Mail, Contacts, Calendar…everything in Outlook. TO-DO’s FLAGGING feature needs further development in Outlook.
    Each item in Outlook be it a Message, Task, Contact, Calendar entry, etc. could be managed more effectively were the following Tags more easily applied to any item:

    1.) Flagging
    2.) Categorizing
    3.) Prioritizing
    4.) Dating (start and/or due dates)
    5.) Add a “My Today” field/button (not a date)

    Again, the above five “Tags” should be more easily accessed on each item in Outlook.
    Finally, the Task Subject field in Outlook should be more fully utilized. The “Task Subject” is an amazing Outlook field having unique capabilities that most users and even Outlook developers do not understand.

    It is difficult to speak in detail here, but I do wish that the Outlook development team would take a hard look at the above ideas. Outlook’s standard “Views” need refinement. This refinement combined with improvement in the aforementioned “Tags” and “Task Subject” field would make for far better visibility and more effective management of Outlook items possible for users.
    ================================================

    Thanks!

  5. Jessica says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve been having the same concerned regarding the replacement of the Task Module in Outlook Desktop by To-Do. My concerned grew greater this Monday when I received the Roadmap update that To-Do was rolling out on the Web version of Outlook. It included this note :
    (…)
    Why To-Do and not Outlook tasks?
    We are integrating with To-Do because Outlook tasks is being replaced with the To-Do app. This experience has already shipped for Outlook Web users, and the To-Do team is working on bringing this to Outlook Desktop apps as well.
    (…)

    “Bringing this to the Outlook Desktop apps as well”.. do you have any info on what to expect?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      No, I don’t have a line into Microsoft anymore. But I think they would be crazy to eliminate the old Tasks interface in desktop Outlook. My guess is they will make it optional. But who knows?! Michael

  6. Michael Linenberger says:

    This is Michael. Just want to reiterate that you should not use this app on your existing email/tasks account because it can really mess your tasks up if you don’t take care. I got this note from a user today:

    “This to do app (iPhone is what I have) like you mentioned makes a real mess of your task list.
    • You cannot change the date of a task anymore, the date simply jumps back to the original dates while you watch the screen.
    the to-do app sets it back (one way sync ..?) to the original dates within seconds.
    • There are still 2 dates on the flagged email messages and tasks even if there is no start date in to-do
    • You it is not broken and you can set it back to normal behavior
    o Just uncheck show flagged email messages in the app on the phone …;))
    • This all did NOT work
    o removing the app had no effect, you must uncheck the option above
    o I did not find a solution by disabling to-do in the office365 admin center, this had no effect either
    o No solution by removing the desktop To-Do app either
    My guess is that many of your MYN readers are pulling their hair out by now, the problem can be solved. Who could guess that an app on your Phone has so much effect on your task list in Outlook. Change the setting in the app and decide if you still want to use it without this option. “

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