Good task management across your life is a nirvana that app makers the world over have tried to solve; you need it to be efficient, effective, and successful in today’s working world. There’s a reason there are thousands of results among the Google Play and Apple App stores for task apps.
Microsoft is no different. Microsoft 365 (M365) provides a lot of ways to track tasks—some would say too many! That leaves us with plenty of confusion when talking about lists and tasks in Microsoft 365. Should you be using To Do? Or maybe Planner? What about Microsoft Lists and Tasks in Microsoft Teams? And now Microsoft Loop supports tasks too? What are we supposed to do!?
This article will provide an overview of the capabilities of the different task management tools offered within M365 and guidance to point you in the right direction as you consider the appropriate task tool to meet your needs.
Table of Contents
Microsoft 365 provides a lot of ways to track tasks—some would say too many! Good task management across your life is a nirvana that app makers the world over have tried to solve the best way possible; there’s a reason there are thousands of results among the Google Play and Apple App stores for task apps.
With all the tools that Microsoft makes available, they’re trying to offer you choice and to compete in the marketplace with other task-tracking tools so you’re able to store your data in a single ecosystem: Microsoft 365.
But that leaves us with plenty of confusion when talking about lists and tasks in Microsoft 365. Should you be using To Do? Or maybe Planner? What about Microsoft Lists and Tasks in Microsoft Teams? And now Microsoft Loop supports tasks too? What are we supposed to do!?
There’s certainly some overlap to deal with and this guidance should get you pointed in the right direction as you consider the appropriate task tool for you in Microsoft 365. And that’s not even considering formal project management tools like Microsoft Project and Azure Boards, which aren’t covered in this resource. We hope you find this to be a good starting point, but it certainly won’t cover every situation; consider this inspiration, not prescription.
Microsoft Planner is an easy-to-use, team-based task management tool that organizes tasks using the Kanban project management methodology, organizing tasks in buckets and categories on boards. Tasks are easy to create and update and can interact with tools like Microsoft To Do and Tasks in Teams, and can integrate with the Power Platform, SharePoint, Teams, and other Microsoft 365 services.
Why use it
Planner is super easy to use and doesn’t require any sort of formal project management experience or training. Everyone can generally pick up Planner quickly thanks to its intuitive design, which means you can get up and running with a formalized task management process pretty quickly.
Open Planner from the app launcher on the Office 365 Hub to create a plan. Add members to provide access so you and your team can manage big and little tasks with drag-and-drop ease and a great mobile app. But if you’re already using Microsoft 365 Groups—including Outlook Groups, Teams in Microsoft Teams, and Yammer Communities—you get a plan with each Group and can create new ones if you need to. The members of the M365 Groups automatically get access to the plans.
- Create and organize tasks, track status, and add tags, assignees, due dates, notes, and comment histories to include rich information about each task.
- Open the Planner home page or mobile app to see a useful dashboard that displays your upcoming and late tasks, status of all your assigned tasks, and more.
- View your Planner tasks directly in Microsoft To Do.
Making the most of it
- Rather than discussing tasks via email or chat, add comments and file links directly to a task to track status updates and related content in a single source of truth.
- Take some time to set expectations on naming tasks, creating and using defined categories, and organizing the buckets you’re going to use.
- Power Automate and Power Apps have a Planner connector, which can help you automate task creation and updating via automated workflows and form submissions.
- When editing a task, there is no undo button or version history. If you mistakenly delete a task, you’ll have to recreate it from scratch. Unless you have a backup solution, that is.
- You can’t link tasks or create prerequisite or successive connections.
- You can’t customize fields in Planner tasks, but you can configure categories and buckets to help organize your tasks in a way that makes your team most productive.
- Planner can send email notifications when certain things change in a task, but the options may leave you wanting.
Planner competes with any tool that uses the Kanban board as its basis. That includes apps like Trello, Wrike, and Asana.
Microsoft Planner is included with most Microsoft 365 business and enterprise licenses.
Microsoft Lists is a table-based tool that lets you create items laid out in a row and column format, almost like a web-based spreadsheet. While Lists can be really useful for task tracking and project management, that’s not the only thing it’s good for. You can use Lists to create custom tables and columns that make the most sense for your need, perhaps to track inventory, build event schedules, manage travel plans, and more.
Why use it
Lists is an alternative to Planner that lets you create the fields and displays you want rather than being stuck with a defined structure that can’t be changed. From there, you can assign tasks to people, set due dates, include links to resources, and comment when statuses change.
Open Lists from the app launcher on the Office 365 Hub to view your lists or create a list. You most likely want to create your list in a Microsoft Team or SharePoint site so others have access to the information, but you can create personal lists too, which get stored in your OneDrive. Create a blank list or use an existing list or a provided template.
In your list, click Add column to make more fields and click New item to add a new task or row. Filter, sort, and group content based on what you want to display then click the View menu in the top-right corner of the list to save the view for easy access later. Choose from standard rows, calendar, gallery, and board views.
- The configurability of views is the real selling point. For example, organize your information to show “my tasks due next week” in a calendar view, “vendor deliverables that are late, sorted by urgency” in a list view, and “equipment to deliver to new employees this week, grouped by office location” in a gallery view that includes images of the items.
- Because Lists is built on SharePoint, each item includes version history and can be deleted, permission-protected, shared with other people (including external users), and more.
- If you like the Kanban layout of Planner, but you want more field options and configurability, try creating a board view for easy drag-and-drop functionality with the specific info you want to see.
Making the most of it
- Make use of the native conditional formatting to add visual indicators such as color and icons to quickly identify items that meet a certain value, like highlighting late tasks in red.
- Add your lists as tabs in Teams, web parts in SharePoint pages, and access them on the Microsoft Lists mobile app for on-the-go status viewing and updating.
- Fully customize how your information is displayed using JSON formatting. Create beautiful and custom ways to display your data with colors, fonts, images, icons, and more. Check out the PNP List Formatting project for examples and template JSON.
- You can’t link tasks or create prerequisite or successive connections. You could perhaps create a Power Automate workflow to make this work.
- You can’t view list items through Microsoft To Do, Planner, or Tasks in Teams without doing some custom workflow building in Power Automate.
- Although a list can hold 30 million items, you can only display up to 5,000 at a time. Plan ahead if your list will contain a lot of data. Review Microsoft’s documentation on list view threshold.
Lists competes with any tool that uses a row-column model to store information and provides options for sorting, filtering, and grouping content into views. That includes apps like Airtable, monday.com, and Wrike. It’s also comparable to Excel, but Lists provides a better web and mobile experience for viewing and editing content than a spreadsheet, though it doesn’t really do calculations like a spreadsheet.
Microsoft Lists is included with any Microsoft 365 license that includes SharePoint, which is most business and enterprise licenses.
Microsoft To Do
Microsoft To Do replaced Wunderlist—an app that Microsoft acquired—and has worked its way in to replacing the tasks section of Outlook, which is notable considering Outlook Tasks has been around for decades. To Do tracks personal tasks in lists and list groups managed by you, the user. But the big connection To Do has with the other apps is it will show you your Planner tasks and any flagged emails from Outlook right in the app. And given its Power Automate connector, you can also add tasks from other apps or workflows. To Do can centralize your tasks across your Microsoft 365 account.
Why use it
To Do offers you a one-stop shop for personal tasks, Planner tasks, and flagged emails in Outlook. It acts as your entry point for your ongoing work and makes To Do a versatile tool in day-to-day business. Use the personal lists to manage your own tasks and plans, while keeping an eye on the tasks from shared projects or departments. In To Do, you can also plan the tasks for your day and create a to-do list for each day, as well as share your To Do lists with family and friends outside of work.
Install the To Do app from the app store of your choice on both desktop and mobile. You can log into it with your work or school account (even your personal account). Create your own lists and organize them in groups or use the Microsoft-provided default lists.
In most standard lists and in all custom lists you will be able to add new tasks using the Add task line at the bottom of each list. Open a task to access further information or change it.
Depending on whether you used tasks in Outlook before there may be some synced tasks in your tasks list. To access your Planner tasks, you have to enable the synchronization between Planner and To Do in the app’s settings.
- One single point of entry for all tasks from Outlook emails, Planner boards, and personal task lists.
- Bring your tasks in a structure that works for you personally, without impacting the source Planner board or email.
- Set due dates, reminder notifications, and organize your day by adding tasks to your My Day list.
Making the most of it
- Install the iOS or Android app to take your tasks wherever you go.
- Enable the Planner and Outlook integration within the To Do settings.
- Use the Outlook Web App to block off time for each task via drag and drop.
- Using Tasks in Teams brings parts of your To Do app into Teams.
- OneNote 2016 “tasks” can be imported into the Outlook Tasks view, which also makes them visible within To Do. However, this capability is not available for OneNote for Windows or the cloud version of Outlook.
- Microsoft Lists tasks are not synced to To Do.
- To Do lists can be shared with colleagues, but Planner may be the better choice.
To Do competes with any other task managing apps. That includes Todoist, Google Calendar tasks, Apple Reminders, and others.
Microsoft To Do is included with most Microsoft 365 business and enterprise licenses.
Tasks in Microsoft Teams
Tasks in Microsoft Teams is an app that brings together your tasks from Planner and tasks from To Do and Outlook to provide a central listing of your Planner and To Do tasks in a Teams-friendly way. It doesn’t really do any work so much as it centralizes your existing tasks in Teams, which is the app that Microsoft is putting the most emphasis on for their modern workplace vision.
Why use it
Tasks in Teams is useful for you if you use Teams primarily and don’t care to have to jump around to different apps to view your tasks separately from your Teams conversations, chats, files, and meetings. Basically, if you use Teams a lot, Tasks is a way to keep you from having to leave Teams to manage your tasks.
Open Teams on desktop and install the Tasks by Planner and To Do app from the Teams app store. Click the app store icon at the bottom of the app bar on the left. Search for Tasks and select Tasks by Planner and To Do. Click Add and follow any install process. Once complete, you should see the app in the app bar on the left. For quick access, right-click the app name and select Pin so it always displays in the app bar.
Open the app to show your tasks and task lists from To Do and any Planner plans you’re in. All tasks assigned to you in Planner will display alongside your To Do tasks. Create a task, list, or plan directly from the app to store in either To Do or Planner. The toolbar along the top of your tasks lists lets you change your view (if viewing a Planner plan) or filter your tasks.
- Create a task and store it where you want to, from a central entry point.
- Manage To Do and Planner tasks in your everyday hub for work, Microsoft Teams.
- It acts as a single source of truth for all your task engagements.
Making the most of it
- Plans from Teams will display automatically in your list. Plans from hidden Teams will also be hidden, so if you want them displayed in Tasks, unhide the Team in Teams first.
- You can use it as a pop-out-App to stay within conversations and keeping track of your tasks.
- Task list groups from To Do don’t display in Tasks for Teams.
- You’re limited to Planner plans that are stored in a Team, not separately as their own plans.
- There is no personal Planner dashboard view to show your tasks across plans. Use Planner for that.
- The My Day list from To Do is not available. Use To Do for that.
This experience is unique to Teams and an effort by Microsoft to consolidate disparate task experiences into their modern workplace tool of choice. There’s not really a comparable tool out there.
Tasks in Teams is available from the Teams app store and is accessible to anyone with any license that comes with Teams, which is most Microsoft 365 business and enterprise licenses.
Microsoft Loop is a new tool that, among other things, adds more task management functions to the Microsoft 365 portfolio. Microsoft Loop is already on the rise, and the integration in chat and the video material from Microsoft already give an idea of how extensively Loop can impact our everyday work. The Loop component for tasks is available now and promises a new and different form of task management.
Why use it
Microsoft Loop is fast, collaborative, and deeply integrated with the world of Office. With Loop, future projects will no longer be thought of in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint but in different Loop components, which can all be stored in one place, on one page, but surfaced in those Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other experiences.
You will start seeing Loop task lists in Microsoft Teams meetings, where the built-in agenda, task list, and meeting notes are Loop components. The meeting task list specifically is a Loop task list and will be unavoidable for anyone who uses the included features in Teams meetings.
Eventually, Loop task lists will connect to To Do, but that feature has not been rolled out yet. However, that means Loop tasks that you create now will be accessible via To Do and Tasks in Teams upon rollout of this integration.
In a Microsoft Teams chat or Outlook email, click the Loop icon and select Task list. Enter the information in the Loop component or send the empty component. Everyone you send it to in your organization will be able to add and update tasks in the list. Assign tasks to individuals, set due dates, and more. Because the Loop is saved to the sender’s OneDrive, you can access the Loop either through the message or directly from OneDrive.
- Fast-paced, well-integrated environment for collaboration with task management features.
- Ease of use will potentially make this a better option compared to the stringent setup of a Planner plan or need to build a Microsoft List.
- Investment in the future where you should see any tasks assigned to you in To Do and Tasks for Teams.
Making the most of it
- Microsoft Loop will deeply integrate in the meeting experience, thus tasks from meetings will play a role.
- Loop isn’t just about tasks. Fully editable components include agendas, checklists, paragraphs, tables, and more. Don’t limit yourself to tasks.
- Microsoft Loop is still nascent and has only rolled out to Teams private chats and Outlook emails. Eventually, it should be available across more apps and in its own app, so it has yet to achieve its full potential.
- The philosophy and concept of Microsoft Loop is an intangible one and can be difficult to explain and train on. However, once someone gets it, they get it, and Loop will likely prove to be a major tool in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.
Microsoft Loop is creating a somewhat new experience in the classic office environment, it may be comparable to products like Notion, but with a natural integration in the Microsoft 365 world.
Microsoft Loop licensing is currently based on SharePoint and Teams licensing, but will likely have more nuanced access requirements in the future.
Which tool when?
This question basically comes down to whether the app stores and manages your tasks or presents your tasks into a single frame.
Planner and Lists are great for adding and managing team-based tasks and task lists. To Do is great for adding and managing personal tasks and task lists. Tasks in Teams is essentially a view port to see all of your tasks in Planner and To Do, right in Microsoft Teams. At this time, there is no integration to view any list tasks that are assigned to you in To Do and Tasks in Teams; that said, it’s easy to add a Microsoft List as a tab to any Team using its connector, so you have easy access to the list and your other tasks via Teams.
Now that we’ve covered the separation between storing tasks and viewing them, the real question of “Planner, To Do, Tasks in Teams, or Lists” breaks up into two questions:
- Planner or Lists?
- To Do or Tasks in Teams?
As with most tech solutions, the answer is: it depends.
Planner or Lists?
While it might look like there’s a lot of overlap between Planner and Lists, it’s not as much as you might think. Yes, you can essentially recreate a Planner experience with a List, but why would you if you don’t need the customizability?
Use Planner if you want quick, easy, and simple-to-understand project management. It works. It provides a bunch of fields for your tasks, it integrates with To Do and Tasks in Teams, and it works great for both agile and waterfall project management, especially for small teams (that is to say, not enterprise portfolio management). You can view tasks in a board or calendar view and there is a nice dashboard overview included.
Use Lists if you want a customized experience where you can control the task fields, their options, their layout, their views, and more. You also want a list if you’re trying to manage things that aren’t really tasks. That brings us to examples like inventory tracking, asset management, event itineraries, and travel planning. You can view list items (including tasks) in a list or calendar view. You should always keep in mind that you won’t have a central view of all your Lists tasks and this can be frustrating.
But remember, if you’re really banking on having To Do and Task in Teams integration, you need to use Planner for team-based tasks.
To Do or Tasks in Teams?
The choice between To Do and Tasks in Teams is a bit harder to make. It’s really a judgment call. Tasks in Teams is simply a way of viewing your existing tasks in To Do and Planner. Which is to say, it’s really only showing your existing tasks in To Do (since Planner tasks can be viewed in To Do). But the way you view them is different.
Use To Do if you want a listing of your tasks in a central spot, especially one that has a great mobile app and is easy to set due dates and reminders. Those push notifications really help! To Do is great for managing your tasks on a day-to-day basis, to help you build your personal schedule. So, To Do is good for granular task management.
Use Tasks in Teams if you prefer a larger view of your tasks, perhaps in a list with columns. Tasks in Teams also separates your tasks out by Plan and Team, which means you can home in on tasks by project and deliverable, not just look at an endless list of tasks that were assigned to you to be done today. Also, if you never leave Microsoft Teams and it’s your central hub for work, use Tasks in Teams. Tasks in Teams is good for big-picture task management.
Right now, Loop is a bit of an outlier because it’s still so new and it doesn’t yet integrate with other task apps in the ecosystem. Use Loop when it seems to make sense, especially if you want to display the same task list in multiple chats or emails without having to make copies of it. Loop will have more influence—if not better-defined use cases—as it matures and we see a better aggregate of best practices from the Loop community.
What about …?
What about Microsoft Project, Azure Boards, and other project-management apps Microsoft offers? Well, they’re more project management apps that really require some professional project management experience, whereas the point of this e-book is to cover how you can manage everyday personal and team tasking.
One thing you won’t see in any of the tools covered in this e-book is Gantt chart functionality. This is likely because Microsoft Project— Microsoft’s premium project management tool—promotes this as a core functionality and they don’t want to cannibalize their own premium app.
You can find Gantt chart functionality in the “legacy” tasks lists in SharePoint Online. They’re not great, but they do work. And you can sync one Project file to a SharePoint task list to save on license cost and permission-protect various tasks. But they are not part of the modern SharePoint experience and there’s no telling when Microsoft will stop supporting them.
The point is, if you’re hoping one of these apps will fill this need, you need to start looking at other tools because it’s unlikely Microsoft will provide fully featured Gantt charts into Planner or Lists. This is a major separation point from many of the competing list and task apps out there, especially Asana, Wrike, and monday.com, which all include Gantt views as part of their product offering (though, like Project, these apps come at an added cost).
If you want to stay within the Microsoft 365 ecosystem and maximize your investment, you might want to take a look at Project Online, which can be seen as a crossover of Planner and the legacy Project version. It has a lot more functionalities but is still somewhat user-friendly and well-integrated.
There are so many task management apps out there because task management is a huge aspect of everyday professional life. Having the right tool for the job makes a big difference, but you need to figure out what you want and which app meets your needs the best.
On the one hand, Microsoft is doing its best to offer apps that have similar functionality to popular third-party tasks tools so you get the most bang for your buck all while keeping your task and list information protected by world-class data protection and security.
On the other hand, many of these new apps are evolutions of others and need to please the longtime users of those apps (Wunderlist, Outlook tasks, SharePoint lists). So when it comes to deciding what you want to use, consider what we’ve covered here and remember that if what you choose doesn’t seem to be working, it’s smart to sit down with your team, discuss what you want to see, and play with each app to figure out which one can get you closest to your goal.