To-Do: 4 minutes to a productive day

In 2015, Microsoft bought Wunderlist, a flagship mobile phone app to manage to-do lists. Wunderlist continues to exist and evolve, while Microsoft has launched another task management application: Microsoft To-Do.

The strategy behind these choices is simple: use Wunderlist’s technology to deliver a robust application, while allowing Wunderlist to evolve in parallel. Both tools offer pros and cons. The main advantage of Microsoft To-Do is its seamless and direct integration with Office 365, and therefore the tasks within Exchange and Outlook. We will look into Wunderlist in a future post, but for the moment let’s focus on Microsoft To-Do.

Support and setup

Microsoft To-Do is completely free, which is good news for users looking for a simple, cheap and effective tool to organize their days. Just go to todo.microsoft.com to get the link you need to download the version you want, or to your system store (iOS, Android, MacOS or Windows). There is also a web version for browser aficionados.

Two important things to consider once the installation is done:

  1. You need a Microsoft account (this is Micro$oft, so you have to accept this reality of turning your email address into a Microsoft account)
  2. You can add as many accounts as you want, which is great for managing your business and personal calendars in one single location. If you have more calendars, you can also add them, now I advise you to think about simplifying your life to make it more productive. You are one person. I say that but I did not say anything, it’s your choice and I respect it, Microsoft To-Do too, great!

The beauty, whether you’re using Outlok.com or just the Outlook client, is that your Outlook and Microsoft To-Do tasks will sync on their own on all your devices! Tada ! Nothing magical here, Microsoft To-Do was designed for this and that’s exactly what you want when you want to organize everything and not lose anything of these myriad of things you need to do in one day!

Note If Microsoft To-Do has an API that allows developers to interface with their products, the integrations provided are only for Microsoft products. If you want to integrate your tasks with non-Microsoft products, then Wunderlist will be better suited.

Never forget anything

To get started with Microsoft To-Do, I advise you to use Outlook on your computer (Mac or PC) and To-Do on your mobile devices. This way, you’ll centralize your planned activities around Outlook, its calendar and your email messages, while always having your tasks at your fingertips, right in your mobile.

Why not use To-Do directly on your computer? Simply because Outlook will allow you to do a very powerful extra action in terms of task management: turn a task into an appointment. In other words, you’ll plan your tasks in your calendar, which will organize your day around appointments. This simple and quick action will allow you to do more in less time!

All you must do is create new tasks, and most importantly (essential point) to set a deadline. Indeed, a task without a deadline is like those “stuff” that we have to do and for which we never find time, and which haunt us. A little trick to make sure a task is done, assign it a due date.

Note I also use To-Do to create lists of ideas. For example, I have a gift list for each of the people I wish birthday and Christmas. When during a conversation, I realize that a certain object event or would please them, I write it down in To-Do. There is no deadline, but these lists are synchronized and can be viewed at any time. I also always have a list of websites to consult, book to read or movies to see.

If you receive emails with an flag, they will appear in To-Do, reminding you that you have items with a deadline to process them.

One of the questions often asked in time management, is what to do when a task has to take place over several days, while taking only a few minutes or hours each day. Simply by giving it a due date and planning it every day until completed.

To make your organization readable, Microsoft To-Do creates four default lists:

  • My day that contains everything you have to do today
  • Planned that contains all tasks that have a due date
  • Mail with flag that contains all e-mail messages received with an indicator
  • Tasks that include all the tasks of the day, scheduled tasks and tasks that don’t have deadlines.

Planning your day

If you take care to record what you have to do, as you go through your day, in the form of simple tasks, planning your day should take you only a few minutes each day. This is my personal organization, which you can adapt as you please.

Every morning, I have a quick look, on my phone or computer, to my tasks list. I add to My day all the ones I want to deal today. Just click on the task and then choose Add to my day. This only takes me a minute or two. Tasks that were not marked as completed the day before may be rescheduled. As a general rule, 80 to 100% of the tasks in my list are assigned to my day.

Some tasks are not dealt with during the day when I feel I would not have time to process them. However, during the day, they can be moved and processed. You have to keep some flexibility!

When my day starts off on a high note, I don’t go any further. On the other hand, and as a rule, I finish planning my day on my PC from Outlook. I then open the Outlook calendar. My Outlook always presents my to-do list in the right-hand panel. I have a view on all the tasks I assigned. I click-and-drop each of them on my calendar at the time I wish. By default Outlook assigns it 30 minutes. I then choose to keep this duration or to assign it the one I consider appropriate.

Note Parkinson’s Law (named after Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British essayist and historian) defines that “work is spread out in such a way ast o occupy the time available for completion.” So if you assign 30 minutes to a task that can be completed in 15, you will tend to use the 30 minutes. Force yourself to decrease the expected time and make in so that your focus allows you to do the job in the planned period. Sometimes I can save more than two hours a day, just by planning a shorter duration of 15 or 20 minutes for each task.

All of this planning takes only a few extra minutes and allows me to structure my entire day and focus on what I have to do. Sixa dditional tips:

  1. I plan 5 to 10-minute break every hour (I leave a hole of 5 or 10 minutes between tasks and appointments every 55 or 60 minutes).
  2. I schedule 30-minute break every two hours.
  3. If I need to travel between two tasks or two appointments, I enter the time it will take into my calendar.
  4. I mark the task as finished on my mobile (rarely in Outlook) as soon as it is completed, which takes 2 seconds since Microsoft To-Do is still running.
  5. I plan twice 30 minutes every day to read and process emails. The new emails don’t interrupt me, having deleted all notifications.
  6. I only plan 90% of the day, leaving between 30 and 60 minutes free. These moments will be filled to chat with a colleague, respond to an urgent solicitation or just read an article I had planned to read but not planned. Productivity is for robots; we are human beings and freedom is essential!

And that’s how I manage to make my days very productive by realizing every day what I planned in the morning. For this, To-Do is a valuable and simple tool. I hope these tips will have been helpful and feel free to share yours with me in the comments below.

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