618 – Listing

clip_image002Lists form a big part of lots of peoples’ lives – whether it’s a to-do list for productivity afficionados, shopping lists for remembering the essentials or compiling top-five lists of favourite things, just, well, because.

A while back, Microsoft released a new app for Microsoft 365 users called Lists, which was essentially a front-end to SharePoint, itself a staple of the Office 365/Microsoft 365 offering since the beginning, and providing much more functionality than simply a place to stuff documents. The original SharePoint Portal Server 2001 (codenamed “Tahoe”) is nearly old enough to buy itself a beer in its homeland, and relatively advanced logic and custom data validation & handling has been a major part of its appeal for a lot of that time.

clip_image004Lists brings a lot of that functionality to the fore, while being extensible through Power Apps and integrated into Teams. There are mobile Lists apps available and in beta too.

Recently, the Lists experience was made available – in preview – for non-M365 users who could sign in with their Microsoft Account. A “lightweight” version of the app, it’s still pretty functional and pitched at individuals, families or small businesses who need to keep lists of things.

Taking a slightly different tack, the To Do application is a good way of making other sorts of lists – that could be Tasks or flagged emails as well as simple tick-lists to mark off what needs to be done. In something of an overlap with Lists, To Do can share its lists with other people – think of To Do as primarily for personal use that you might share, whereas Lists is for managing shared endeavours first and foremost.

clip_image008If you’re a user of both Amazon’s Alexa services and Microsoft To Do, you might want to integrate them together; using the Tasks In The Hand skill. Once enabled and correctly configured, you can use Alexa to manage that service’s built-in To-Do and Shopping lists, and these are then synchronized to the Microsoft To Do app.

clip_image010You can rename the lists which are subsequently created in To Do and which sync with Alexa, though you can’t yet manage additional ones. You could simply use the Alexa app to manage the lists rather than synching them with To Do, but setting up synch gives you more flexibility – To Do integrates with other software and services, like being able to show lists in the Microsoft Launcher app on an Android phone.

612 – New Year, New You (someday/maybe)

clip_image002The years go by so fast, let’s hope the next beats the last”– a sentiment that rings so true over the last couple of new year celebrations. Whether setting resolutions to do new things, read more, lose weight, be a better human etc, we all tend to reflect, even if just trying to do the same things as before but a bit better. Steve Clayton’s Friday Thing for the end of December had some great tips on things to do and try in the coming year.

If we can’t reduce volume of professional communications (be that emails, Teams messages, whatever – just look at Steve cleaning his mailbox and removing >100,000 Sent Items from a single year), then maybe we could do a better job of managing the stuff that we have to deal with. Much ink has been spilled on how to be more effective and how to get things done, but one useful time/focus management principle to revisit is sometimes known as Eisenhower’s Matrix, of which a variety of depictions exist:

clip_image003

The premise is that any task has separate degrees of importance and urgency; we tend to prioritize urgent and overdue things versus things that are actually important. Discipline in task management can give us the clarity to not worry about seemingly urgent yet non-important tasks, and to stay focussed on things which are important, regardless of their urgency.

Carve out 75 minutes if you can – because this stuff is important – to watch Randy Pausch’s lecture on Time Management, with the context that when it was recorded, he knew he only had weeks left to live: talk about prioritizing important vs urgent.

How you put time and focus management into practice will differ depending on your own style and what tools you want to use. For the Windows / Microsoft 365 user, there are a few quick wins to consider:

  • clip_image005If you use flags in Outlook to mark messages needing your attention, think about setting a “Follow Up” search folder as the top of your list of Favorites. You can even make the Follow Up folder the default one so Outlook always opens that instead of your Inbox. You could try setting up a scheduled task to open your Follow Up folder every day (since most of us don’t restart our PCs very often, Outlook will typically stay running; this way will make sure you’ve got Follow Up open first thing every day)

  • Take better notes – remember that you can quickly create a OneNote notes page from an Outlook appointment; we’ll see some improvements coming to the original OneNote client in 2022, so if you’ve switched to using the Metro Modern Store app “OneNote for Windows 10”, then it’s worth revisiting the original. Do check out the fantastic OneCalendar addin to desktop OneNote, which helps you look back on notes you took.
  • Remember that Outlook Tasks and Microsoft To Do integrate with each other; see the Ignite session for how to use them more effectively. You can also highlight action items (from your meeting notes?) in OneNote, and quickly create Outlook tasks. While Tasks and To Do items don’t quite have full interop, there are 3rd party solutions out there and there are lots of templates in PowerAutomate which can do groovy things with Tasks, notifications and so on.
  • The Windows 11 Clock app has a nice new “Focus sessions” time management feature, to help you concentrate on important tasks, and it now supports signing in with Microsoft 365 credentials so you can see your corporate Tasks / To Do items in the list.


    clip_image007

    clip_image009To help maintain focus, you can quickly set your Teams status to Do Not Disturb by hovering over the application icon on your Taskbar and clicking the appropriate status.

    If you’re easily distracted, you could also switch Outlook to Offline mode so you don’t get any new email whilst you focus – a good alternative to closing Outlook down altogether, since you may need it for whatever work you’re doing.

    clip_image011
    clip_image013Go into Outlook, under the Send / Receive menu, click the Offline button on the taskbar and you won’t get any more email until you click the Offline button again to reverse the process and re-emerge later.

529 – To Do: Switch off Wunderlist

clip_image002

Nearly 5 years ago, Microsoft acquired a German developer called 6wunderkinder, who built a cool, cross-platform task management tool, Wunderlist. Over the half-decade since, the back-end of Wunderlist was basically rebuilt so it could run on Azure (instead of its previous cloud platform), and many of the team who had developed Wunderlist moved to working on the Microsoft To Do app suite.

The To-Do To Do apps have evolved hugely over the last couple of years, and collectively are being positioned as the natural successor to Wunderlist.

clip_image004This week, Wunderlist was finally closed down. If you still have the app, you can carry on using it but the data won’t be backed up or synced and you won’t be able to migrate it. You can export the data from the service, and To Do has built-in Wunderlist migration tools that bring more-or-less everything across. Other task managers are also available.

The Microsoft To Do service has clip_image006integration with PowerAutomate (previously known as Flow).

The To Do team also updated the mobile apps (as announced on their blog), with a collection of new features and views of tasks, and the Windows app has also been tweaked lately too. New features include new Smart Lists, such as “All”, which shows everything in one huge list, grouped by category.

“Tasks” across different apps are being integrated more and more – To Do now lets you create tasks from flagged emails, or integrate tasks from Planner. Teams is going to rationalise tasks into a single UI too.

See here for more tips on using To Do.

512 – Sticky Notes and Glancing

clip_image002

Happy New Year! Whether it’s a way of keeping up with the NY resolutions you haven’t broken yet, or just a casual way to remind yourself to do stuff, Post-It Notes or the more generic “sticky notes” can be a useful tool. ToW # 446 talked about a handy Windows app that is now installed by default on Windows 10.

Sticky Notes has been through a number of iterations, and now in v3.7 it’s looking pared back yet really functional. Sure, you can use Outlook Tasks and To Do to track significant actions, long-term projects and the like, but sometimes you just want a simple list to get you through the morning or to take shopping.

If you open Sticky Notes, and click on the body of a note itself (to set focus to that window and start editing the text), then you’ll see the menu and close controls; clicking the menu lets you quickly change the colour of your note (so if you have several open, you can clip_image004tell them apart, clip_image006maybe) or jump to the Notes list that shows a summary of all the stickies you have lying around.

clip_image008Another quick way of getting to the notes you have is to right-click the Sticky Notes icon on your taskbar.

You can type, write (with your finger, or a stylus), or grab pictures from camera or existing files, all into a note, then share and make sense of it later.

You can sync your sticky notes to other devices: just go to the settings icon (from the taskbar context view or within the Notes list) to configure syncing using either an Office 365 or Microsoft Account.

clip_image010

Sticky Notes has even replaced the venerable “Notes” function in Outlook, which has been around since 1997 – go to the Wunderbar in Outlook and you may need to click the ellipsis to see the Notes pages; it’s very old-school looking and not everything is carried over quite the same, but it’s a welcome integration that replaces another duplicate way of doing the same thing. It’s part of a long-term plan, so it seems.

Multi-device

clip_image012Sticky Notes show up on the web and are also accessible on iOS and Android devices via the OneNote app…

clip_image014

If you set up sync between devices, it’s quite amusing to open the web client, the PC app, and then on your phone, add a new note… and see the other two update within seconds. Technology #ftw – far more useful than the kind of toot being peddled at CES in Las Vegas this week.

On an Android phone, though, the best way to use Sticky Notes is through the integration with the Microsoft Launcher – if you’re not a phone tech geek, you might not realise that with Android, you can supplant the entire home screen UI of the phone with any number of variants.

Microsoft has a mature and highly regarded launcher, that clip_image016has an average review score of 4.6 across over 1 million reviews – how many apps in the Windows store can beat that…? See more tips on using Launcher.

clip_image018When you have the Launcher installed, the “Glance” screen is only a swipe away – on the home screen, swipe from clip_image020left to right to flick over to this summary that lets you see a customisable list (click the stack on the top right) of important or interesting info.

clip_image022The Calendar summary lets you jump straight into a Teams meeting, you can show “screen time” stats, or scroll to the bottom to add more widgets from any number of apps you have installed on your phone.

Cortana integration featured in the Launcher at one point, though it’s planned to disappear for many of us.

In a “for your comfort and safety” type announcement, news came that Cortana will disappear from the phone in favour of being part of other M365 apps in time. More to follow, no doubt…

Tip o’ the Week 498 – Go do, To Do (you do so well)

clip_image002The Microsoft To Do desktop and mobile applications and services (all available from https://todo.microsoft.com/) had a major update recently, which included being slightly renamed. Instead of “Microsoft To-Do”, the core app is now simply clip_image004Microsoft To Do”, and it has a new logo (well done if you noticed)… instead of a blocky light-blue and white tick on a blue background, it’s a slightly rounded and shaded blue tick on white background.

clip_image006Still, To[-]Do’s functionality has stepped forward greatly since its first release a couple of years back, taking more than a few leaves from the Wunderlist app that preceded it. The new v2 of the To Do app includes background images that can be shown behind task lists, including one of the Berlin Television Tower which was synonymous with Wunderlist.

After Microsoft’s acquisition of 6wunderkinder (the company that made Wunderlist), it was announced that, at some stage, the Wunderlist application would be retired but still there’s no confirmed date or anything, with back-end engineering apparently taking a good bit longer than was first expected.

When the To-Do app was launched, it was a somewhat poorer cousin. Now, the story is that To Do v2 has enough of the functionality of Wunderlist, and lots of new capabilities (such as Cortana integration), that it’s time for Wunderlist users to transition.

See more of the detail here. See what’s new in versions of To[-]Do. For further To Do tips, check the help center.

The founder of 6wunderkinder has taken to Twitter to offer to buy back Wunderlist before Microsoft shuts the service down. It remains to be seen if the offer is being considered or not…

Tip o’ the Week 469 – To-Do Files and Accounts

clip_image002ToW has featured Wunderlist and To-Do on a number of occasions; it’s good to see new functionality being added to the To-Do app & service, and the hits just keep on coming. If you haven’t tried it out yet, get To-Do from the Store, or just play with it online. Install it on your phone, too – fruit | robot.

clip_image004Recently, the Windows To-Do app was updated with a couple of key features, including the ability to add files (up to 25Mb in size) to items – though not yet if your list is shared.

It’s also now possible to add multiple accounts to the Windows To-Do app; so you can have several Office 365 or personal Microsoft Accounts – and switch between them without needing to sign out and in again. Maybe something that Teams could aspire to

To keep up with further news, check out the To-Do blog, or the Twitter account.

Tip o’ the Week 465 – Cortana, remind me To-Do sync

clip_image002The ongoing post-Wunderlist improvements to To-Do, continue apace. The app has clip_image004been updated again recently, to include a bunch of additional functionality, like Cortana integration.

In fact, the Store listing name for To-Do is now appended with some additional context of what it can now do, at least if your language is English and you’re in US, UK, India or Australia.

clip_image006By asking Cortana to remind you of something, she’ll add it to your Outlook Tasks and To-Do reminders – if you’re set up that way – and you can manage lists within the To-Do app itself, or access the same To-Do Lists or Reminders from within the Cortana Notebook.

clip_image008You don’t even need to go into the Cortana UI (or say “Hey Cortana”) to add things to be reminded – any app that implements Share functionality, like the Edge browser’s Share page toolbar command – will let you target Cortana Reminders.

clip_image010clip_image012You can set a reminder time, which will then sync to Outlook Tasks and on to To-Do, if you’ve set up Office 365 or Outlook.com integration, and will trigger a reminder using those mechanisms (get ready for toast overload…) Alternatively, get Cortana to ping you when you arrive at a place or next talk with a known contact.

Cortana’s past tells a good story, and her future is changing somewhat – after deciding to stop positioning her as a potential competitor to Amazon Alexa or Google assistants, a forthcoming release of Windows 10 will break the bond between Windows Search & Cortana, and the voice prompts from Cortana during Windows Setup will be silenced when installing a non-Home version of Windows too.

Tip o’ the Week 434 – To Do: update To-Do

clip_image002Lots of people like to-do lists – from Post-it notes stuck on the side of your monitor (or the digital equivalent on your PC’s desktop), to the Tasks you might have in Outlook, up to dedicated list-management apps that run on your PC and on your phone; such delights have been covered in ToW’s passim, (the Wunder of lists, or what a right To-Do we’re in… see #various).

Well, the seemingly unloved Microsoft To-Do app has been updated recently, with a few new clip_image004capabilities – notably steps (sub-tasks, in other words) and the ability to share lists.

The Windows Weekly video from MJF and Paul Thurrott talked a little about To-Do recently, too.

See here for more details on the updates. List sharing sounds a lot like the existing Wunderlist capability, to collaborate on tasks with someone you work or live with; for now at least it’s most likely one or the other.

You can share a list with someone else only within the same organisation, if you’re signed in with Office 365 credentials – so you can’t share with parties outside of your own O365 org. if you choose to mix work and home, then you’d need to sign in with your Microsoft Account to be able to share tasks with your SO, unless they also happen to be a co-worker.

clip_image006Steps are simply a way of breaking things down – handy if your method of task management starts with “Sort my life out” / “Get a new job” / “become a millionaire”,  rather than going in at the level where action is obvious… (“Tidy my bedroom” / “re-write my CV” / “buy a lottery ticket”).

There are so many time management tools and techniques out there; like diets, maybe one day we’ll find a single one that can’t be improved on, and put an end to the industry peddling new ideas. Some people love to work on task management, some people just don’t do it. We think we work one way, but when stressed, do it the other…

Before you do any more thinking on Time Management, go and watch the lecture by the late Randy Pausch – a brilliant professor and speaker, had terminal pancreatic cancer when he delivered “The Last Lecture” and then, later (wha?), gave an extremely practical session on time management: someone with hardly any time left (he died 8 months later) knows more about managing time than any corporate productivity jockey.

If you haven’t watched both of these, go and carve out 3 hours of your life, and do so. You won’t regret it. Srsly.

Tip o’ the Week 415 – Another right To-Do

clip_image002It’s been 9 months since the unveiling of Microsoft To-Do, the task manager app that will someday replace the much loved Wunderlist (see ToWs passim317, 376, et al); the celebrations were muted in the halls of Wunderlist superfans, though, as To-Do has a much reduced feature set, albeit with a mission to be clear and easy to use. “Maybe it’ll catch up quickly”, some said.

There has been very little noticeable progress on the features front, though there have been lots of minor upgrades and fixes to the Windows 10, iOS and AndroidMicrosoft To-Do” apps (note the hyphen and the design of the icon; the respective app stores are awash with inferior “todo” apps with a variety of tick logos).

Since publishing this tip internally at Microsoft (where some early builds of new functionality are available in test versions), Thurrott.com highlighted the quiet announcement that we’re working on shared lists and subtasks, as well as deeper integration to Outlook. Watch that space, basically.

Recently, though, the To-Do web app has been released in clip_image004the Office365 Portal (after a few months of opt-in preview), and a tantalizing teaser shows up on the “Your apps” page… though doesn’t really tell you a whole lot that isn’t immediately obvious.

To-Do can import tasks from your existing Wunderlist task list if you have one, and automatically syncs with Outlook Tasks, therein exposing a rub – most people will have signed in to Wunderlist with their Microsoft Account, but for To-Do and Outlook to get along well, you’ll need to be using Office365 and therefore a different set of creds.

There are various solutions, the practicality of which will depend on how many active items you have in Wunderlist – you could share your MSA-homed lists with your O365 credentials, then log in with the latter and copy the contents across. Laborious, maybe.

You could make a clean break, or else use the Outlook addin for Wunderlist to sync the list items into Outlook as Tasks, then install To-Do and sync them back out again.

clip_image006The To-Do / Outlook task sync is pretty quick – just add an item to your To-Do app and it will quickly appear in your Outlook tasks view, reminders, notes and all. See more here.

The reverse is also true, though if you add Outlook tasks without putting them directly in the folders created to mimic the To-Do structure, (such as Tasks that were created in OneNote), the new item will just be lumped in the general “To-Do” list at the top.

Dragging and dropping the item, either within Outlook (from the clip_image008“Tasks” list into on a suitable corresponding folder to your To-Do lists) or by doing the same within the To-Do app or web app itself, and you’ll keep things nicely arranged.

If you like the idea of being more task organised, find Outlook Tasks too cumbersome, then To-Do could be a great way of simplifying the junction. It may not be as functionally rich as Wunderlist, but the latter is still available for those who want it.