Here is how I have used Microsoft To-Do to keep track of my tasks and make it easier to figure out what to do next.
We’re using Microsoft To-Do for this, but most of these tips will work for other to-do list apps. To-Do can be used with an Office 365 account or as a free standalone app.
1. Take advantage of the My Day feature
My Day is one of my favorite features in To-Do, primarily because it’s a better version of what I did with pen and paper. Every morning, I used to re-write my to-do list, then put stars next to the items I needed to get done that day.
“My Day” is a built-in list in To-Do to help you focus on the items you need to get done today. You can add items to this list directly or pull them in from another list (right click on the item you want to add and select “Add to My Day” – it’ll copy it over to your My Day list and keep it on the list you pulled it from).
When you open To-Do list, you’ll have the option to review any incomplete to-do from yesterday’s today. To-Do will also give you suggestions for things you may want to add to your day.
If the app or method you are using doesn’t have a My Day type feature, make a version yourself (some offer a “starred” list or some other way to signify importance). It may require a little extra effort but having a separate list for just the items you need to get done today can help you focus.
2. Use multiple lists to break up to do items by priority.
One of the disadvantages of using pen and paper for me was that everything was on the same list—regardless of whether it was something I needed to get done that or was a lower priority project I just didn’t want to forget about. The problem was keeping those lower priority projects on there made for a long list. The longer the list, the harder it can be to figure out what to prioritize next.
The solution for me was to create multiple lists in To-Do. I now have a list specifically for those lower priority projects that I want to get done someday (but maybe not today).
How you organize your lists is up to you, but we recommend creating lists that will help you prioritize what you need to do next.
For example, consider the impact and effort of each item and create lists for each category:
- High impact, low effort—Quick Wins
- High impact, high effort—Major Projects
- Low impact, low effort—Fill-Ins
- Low impact, high effort—Thankless Tasks
Using this organization, in conjunction with due dates, will make it easy to figure out what you need to work on next. From these lists, you can pull your to-dos to add them to My Day list.
3. Break up bigger to do items into smaller tasks.
Not all to-dos are created equal. If you have a daunting to-do list item (like a major project), breaking it up into a list of smaller tasks can make it more manageable and help keep you organized.
There are a couple of ways you can do this in Microsoft To-Do. You can create a new list from your task (right click on the task and select “Create a new list from this To-Do”), or you can use steps.
Steps are subtasks inside an existing task. To set them up, double-click on a task to bring up the sidebar with more options. Towards the top, click “+ Add step” and add your subtasks. When you’re done with a step, mark it off like you would any other task.
You can combine these two methods for particularly complex tasks, but at that point, you’re probably better off using a project management tracking system like Microsoft Planner.
4. Automate parts of your to-do list.
One of the most significant advantages apps have over a pen and paper to-do list is automation. Automating to-do tasks like recurring activities and tasks based on specific actions can help you save a little bit of time and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
This blog explains how to set up recurring tasks and create tasks based on actions. While it uses Microsoft To-Do and Microsoft Flow, you can you can most other to-do list apps and IFTTT to achieve the same results.
5. Use it across all your devices.
If I don’t write something down, there is a non-zero chance I am going to forget it. When using a pen and paper to-do list, I didn’t carry around with me all the time—especially if I am just doing something like getting water. So, if a coworker asked me for something then, I’d have to tell them to email me, so I didn’t forget it.
You know what I do carry with me everywhere (even just to get water)? My phone. I have the To-Do app installed on my phone, so I can add tasks to it no matter where I am. Microsoft To-Do, like most other to do apps, is available on multiple devices. To-do can be used in the browser, as a Windows desktop app, or on mobile (iOS and Android).