Microsoft To Do review

Screenshot of Microsoft To Do

As many may know, I am a big fan of Todoist and have written a few blog posts about Todoist. But a few weeks ago I installed Microsoft To Do and used it exclusively for a few days to see how it compared.

Within two days I returned to Todoist. I wanted to capture a few thoughts about why.

(Note: it would appear that either there was a significant update to Microsoft To Do in the last two weeks or my laptop was only able to install an older version because a few of the niggles I had with it appear to have been resolved in the latest version, which I installed on my desktop PC.)

Installation

Installing Microsoft To Do was simple.

  1. Open the Microsoft Store.
  2. Search for ‘Microsoft To Do’.
  3. Install.
  4. Done.

First impressions

My initial thoughts about To Do were that it felt very much like a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app. There is a nice consistency to the design. It feels comfortable and responsive, there is a lot of space which means that the user interface doesn’t feel crowded.

Clicking on a task opens a right-hand panel with the details.

Creating a new task is as simple as clicking onto the “+ Add a task” bar at the bottom of the application and typing. I tried to add a due date by simply typing the day but it stored that as part of the task name.

The background for each task list can be different, chosen from a very limited list of themes. Unfortunately, I didn’t really like any of them. It is a shame the colour palette isn’t wider.

Clicking into an existing task opens a side panel on the right with more details:

  • Sub-tasks
  • Add the task to the “My Day” smart section.
  • Set a reminder
  • Set a due date
  • Set a repetition
  • Upload a file
  • Add a note

To Do has the ability to create groups within which you can organise lists. For example, if you were following a Getting Things Done (GTD) kind of setup, you could group your GTD contexts within a group.

An example of GTD contexts arranged together within a Microsoft To Do group

So far, so good… kind of.

Digging deeper

I started to make notes of the niggles I had using the application. The order here is as my observations came to me.

I started by trying to recreate my Todoist project/group structure. It reflects my workflow: how my use of an electronic task management application has evolved over the years. The lists in Microsoft To Do take up a lot of vertical space in the left-hand panel. There is no way to quickly distinguish between multiple folders without reading the group name. (In Todoist you can assign different colours to group lists or distinguish them.)

There is a My Day smart list, but it doesn’t automatically include tasks that have been scheduled for today. You have to add them to My Day manually from a ‘Suggestions’ sidebar. This seems completely counter to how I want to use a task list. I want it to be opinionated: tell me what I have set deadlines for today. Don’t hide these away and offer them as mere ‘suggestions’.

When you add a new item to a list (and the list is at the bottom of the page which I find quite inconvenient—why not position it beneath the last task? I’ll tell you why…) it always adds that item to the top of the list at the top of the page. What?! If I am brainstorming something, surely I want a list running from top to bottom.

I’ve discovered that on the version installed on my desktop PC you can switch this off and new items appear at the bottom of a list. But why is this not the default? That seems to be a very strange design decision.

You can associate an emoji with a list name but from the drop-down you cannot select from the entire emoji catalogue, just a select few and the list is mad — who needs a list with an icon of trousers more than, say, a clipboard emoji?!

There is actually a workaround: you need to ignore the drop-down list and simply prefix the name with an emoji inserted using the Win + fullstop shortcut to bring up the emoji input. But it’s not intuitive.

When you open the task, it appears on the right in a narrow sidebar. Wow! What a complete waste of screen real estate. The details of my task are important to me. I want to be able to add notes and upload files. But not if you are only going to allow me to read them again in a tiny window.

You can add notes but this is just a single notes field. It ends up as a stream of consciousness rather than a thread of dated entries like Todoist. This I found distracting. In Todoist, I use notes a lot to capture the progress of my tasks and having them date stamped automatically is really helpful.

Lists can have different themes but the options are terrible — the default blue/purple literally hurts my eyes. In the version I had on my laptop there weren’t any dark themes; there are on my desktop (go figure!). The photo backgrounds are distracting.

By far, however, the worst thing was the audible “DING!” each and every time I completed an action. In the version I installed on my laptop, there was no way to switch this off, Thankfully, on my desktop PC it does have a setting to disable the completion sound.

Conclusion

I really wanted to like Microsoft To Do. I liked that it can integrate with Outlook and add flagged emails to To Do, to be triaged and managed like any other tasks. But in my personal life I don’t use Outlook any more; I use Gmail.

The biggest deal breaker for me was the lack of real support for due dates. I rely on my To Do list to remind me about a lot of tasks, and a lot of repetitive tasks. I use my Today list in Todoist; I use the Upcoming lists; I use filters and labels to show me what is coming up for various things, such as: show me when all my domain names are due to be renewed. I can’t do any of that in Microsoft To Do.

If all I was looking for was a very simple task list application that could sync with my Android phone, this could work. But I have a more complex use case and this absolutely doesn’t meet my requirements.

For now, I’ll stick to Todoist Pro.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 49 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master. Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and former warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

One thought on “Microsoft To Do review”

  1. Thanks for your helpful review Gareth – I initially tried Microsoft Todo when it was first released, after switching from Wunderlist to Todoist Pro. Sounds like it’s not improved significantly, so I’ll stick with Todoist too.

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