The complicated world of Tasks and To Do

The complicated world of Tasks and To Do

We all have different ways to remind ourselves (and others) of things we (and they) need to do. In Outlook, we could create a task, something we needed to do.

In the Microsoft 365 world, personal tasks are now things we need to assign in the To Do app. In Groups or Teams, tasks are Tasks.

This post describes the difference between To Do and Tasks, and how and why Tasks has become a bit confusing.

Outlook tasks become (things) To Do

For a long time, it was possible to create and assign tasks in the calendar part of email. You could assign tasks to others.

Image source: Turn Emails into Tasks in Outlook- Instructions – TeachUcomp, Inc

In mid 2015, Microsoft acquired 6Wunderkinder. That company’s primary offering was the ‘to do’ app called Wunderlist.

In early 2020, Microsoft released the ‘To Do’ app, built on Wunderlist. This CNET article that describes alternatives to Wunderlist includes information about the new Microsoft ‘To Do’ app.

Unlike Tasks, To Do items are essentially a personal list of things to do that is accessed from the separate To Do section of Outlook. They are not included in the calendar.

The ‘To Do’ option is on the far right of the Outlook options

There are two ways to create a new item in the To Do list. The first is to click on the ‘My Day’ option in Outlook and then add a task in the To Do section.

The second is to click on the ‘To Do’ option at the bottom left of the Outlook app, which will open the ‘My Day’ section and allow a new (To Do) task to be created.

A bit confusingly, the Planned section of ‘To Do’ displays tasks that are:

  • Personal tasks, created as an Outlook calendar tasks but which don’t appear in the individual’s Outlook calendar, only in the To Do calendar.
  • Assigned to the individual from a Microsoft 365 Group or Team (including ‘Tasks by Planner’).

The difference between the two can be seen below; the first two are personal tasks from To Do, the second two are Group/Team-based tasks. The ‘Assigned to you’ items are the second two under ‘Later’. Note that the Planned section does not include any simple, non-calendar-based, ‘To Do’ items.


Microsoft announced the Office 365 service called Planner in September 2015.

The Microsoft 365 Planner app on 1 April 2021

Planner is a task-based service originally linked directly with Office 365 Groups (announced in 2014 ‘Delivering the first chapter of Office 365 Groups‘). It was described as ‘a simple and highly visual way to organize teamwork’ within a team – which meant initially an Office 365 Group. It seemed that Microsoft’s vision was to move the creation of Tasks away from Outlook to Planner.

Initially, when a new Office 365 Group was created (including when a new Team was created in MS Teams), it created a Plan. This connection was later removed and so a new Group or Team no longer creates a new Plan.

The following is an example of an empty plan for an Office 365 Group called ‘SharePoint Admin Group’. All the members of the Group (or Team if one exists) would have access to the plan. Plans contain ‘buckets’ or groupings of tasks. The default bucket is ‘To do’ which, in the example below contains a single task ‘Create two new tasks’ (which is outstanding) A separate bucket was created named ‘New Sites’, and it has one completed task.

Example plan in Planner

Changes to Planner

Several changes happened with Planner since 2018:

  • New Office 365 Groups and Teams did not automatically create a Plan.
  • Multiple plans could be created for every Office 365 Group or Team.
  • Tasks by Planner was introduced to Teams (see below) so that every channel can use either the ‘parent’ Office 365 Group Plan or create a new one.

These changes have created some confusing content in the Planner app.

Tasks by Planner in Teams

Microsoft announced in April 2020 that Planner would be renamed Tasks (it is still named Planner a year later).

As noted in the link (by, ‘… the change means that Teams users will soon be able to see their individual tasks and team tasks in a single app from across Teams channels, Planner and Outlook. For mobile users, the change also means that both a list view and a new mobile tasks experience will soon be available in within the Teams app.’

The new Tasks by Planner and To Do was visible from Teams in early 2021 but the relationship between Outlook To Do tasks and Planner Tasks via Teams remained a bit confusing.

Tasks by Planner and To Do in Teams

When a Team channel is opened, the ‘Tasks by Planner and To Do’ can be added as a tab.

Tasks by Planner and To Do can be added as a tab in any ‘public’ channel (not private channels)

When ‘Tasks by Planner and To Do’ is selected, two options are visible and this is where some of the confusion starts.

Most people are likely to simply click ‘Save’, which creates a ‘Tasks’ tab in the channel and a new Plan. Ideally, they should use an existing plan, if it exists (which it probably won’t – as a result, multiple Plans may be created for each Team and channel.

This is how the new Tasks tab looks like in the Team:

Perhaps it doesn’t matter (for some organisations) how many Plans or Tasks that are set up.

We can now see there are three Plans for the SharePoint Admin Group Team, two in the same (General) channel. The end user can also see tasks that were assigned to him/her. If they click on the ‘Tasks’ option they will see the list of personal calendar- and To Do-based tasks as we saw above in Outlook:

Behind the scenes, in Planner, we can see four plans for the SharePoint Admin Group. Three of these map to the three above, but not the one titled ‘Tasks – SharePoint Admin Group’ which has two completed tasks. But where is it?

Here are the two completed tasks in SharePoint Admin Group ‘Tasks’ plan that don’t exist in the main SharePoint Admin Group Plan, or the other two.

Where are these two completed tasks?

Or, more specifically, why do they not appear in many of the Teams Tasks tabs? There are no private channels in this Team, so I know it’s not hidden in one – and, in any case, you cannot create a new Task list in a private channel.

Just to try to work this out, I created a new Task in that list of Tasks, assigned it to myself. The only place I could find it was in both Teams and Outlook in the ‘Assigned to you’ area.

Assigned to me in Teams
Assigned to me in Outlook

Summing up

Tasks, either to remind yourself of things you need to do, or what others need to do, are probably good for specific purposes or Teams. But the ability to create multiple Task lists in Teams channels is just going to create more and more confusion.

But it’s confusing and will likely result in multiple random Tasks/Plans in Planner, even for the same channel.


12 thoughts on “The complicated world of Tasks and To Do

  1. Is there a way to understand the difference between tasks and to do’s in Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE and whether either would integrate with Outlook tasks or MS Teams tasks? Which one would?

  2. Thanks Andrew, Great summary overall and you point out some of the areas that obviously Microsoft still has a lot of work “to do” ! Pun intended. I guess there still is a market for 3rd parties like Monday.conm

  3. I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks this is super confusing. Now, to be fair, I’m one of the most disorganized/scattered/ADHD people in the world, but I occasionally come back to tasks/to-do to see if I can make it work for me. Each time I run across a stumbling block. 1st – if I can’t see a to-do or task on my phone (iphone), or more importantly add it from there on the fly, it isn’t much good to have a digital list. 2nd – if I’ve got different versions of lists in different places that, depending on how I create it, will show up here and there in different ways – I might as well keep going with those random pieces of paper, paper notebooks, and ‘stars’ in my (paper) meeting journal.

    I tried again thinking, surely I’m just not doing it right. To log-in on my phone to To-Do app, I get “your account isn’t on Exchange Online, so MS To Do doesn’t support it…” I have Microsoft 365 (enterprise) (a government account). Clicking through on the “error” message I find “please note that this release does not include governmental organizations….”

    I was looking through to-do on my Outlook trying to figure out if the error messages were accurate (IT told me a couple of years ago it was accurate but I HAVE To Do on my computer… what’s the point?)… I noticed Tasks…. Never really used that so I looked deeper and I’ll be damned if the Reminders in my Iphone app are actually in my Tasks list. Not in To Do items…. but in tasks.

    Tasks are so much harder to create. For me anyways. To Dos get created if I flag something – quick and easy. I guess I need to drop items from email into Tasks and add deadlines. Maybe that will help me get organized.

    Anyways, I’m glad I found your blog. I’ll look through to see if there is any help for this whacky brain of mine. It’s astounding I’ve accomplished as much as I have in my life given my complete incompetence with organization. I’d like to use the tools available to me to get better before I retire.

  4. Hi Andrew, I love the article ! I would like to get your perspective which option would you go for tasks that are only for you and for tasks that are for you and a team? Currently I use Outlook Taks for tasks only for myself (Access with Ctrl+4) , however I am doubting what to use while sharing tasks with other team members! Appreciated your perspective on this! Cheers .

    1. Thanks John. The answer may depend on what version of Outlook you are using. If you are using the older versions, you may still see ‘Tasks’. In the M365-account linked Outlook, you will see ‘To Do’ (the blue ‘tick’ icon). You can ‘add a task’ for yourself here. If you want to create tasks for both yourself and your Team, use Planner, keeping in mind that every Planner is based on a Microsoft 365 Group that may also have a Team and will always have a SharePoint site. So, everyone in the M365 Group has access to that Plan (in Planner), they are not ‘personal’. The good thing is you can see both personal tasks created via To Do and tasks created via Planner in the ‘To Do’ area – Planner tasks appear under ‘Planned’ and ‘Assigned to me’ (if they are assigned to you). Key thing to remember – To Do is personal, Planner is for the Group, but both can be seen via your Outlook.

  5. This is such a comprehensive article on all the task-tracking options, thank you Andrew! I use M365 at my org, and my team are set up with Planner, where I assign tasks based on projects. We also use To-Do, with a shared list, where I assign simple one-off tasks. Now for the hard part – trying to report on any of the task activity, primarily when tasks are completed and by whom! I’m able to see this information when viewing individual tasks in both Planner and To-Do, but there’s no reporting available. I thought I would try using Tasks view from Outlook desktop, but the assignment is blank. Any ideas? Would love not to have to switch task management but without a way to report on productivity, seems like that’s my only option.

    1. Hello, I *think* I understand but not entirely sure. From ‘To-Do’, you create a list and then share that with others, but there is no reporting? In your reply you didn’t mention Planner (or the Planner app in Teams). This provides a reporting capability, but not for To-Do, which is personal to you (and whoever else you share a list with). Planner can be accessed from the ‘waffle’ menu on the top left. Let me know if that is what you were looking for? Alternatives to reporting would be to export the content to Excel and report from there?

      1. The process is a bit of a mess, and my explanation is as well!
        We use Planner to organize projects, break those up into tasks, and assign tasks to those on our team. The Planner dashboard has limited reporting, but thanks to your notes I have now found better data available via export to Excel, which gets me the Completed Date and Completed By information the org would like reported on.
        We also use To-Do for both our own and shared tasks, primarily desktop or web app, but do utilize the “Tasks by Planner” integration to view both Planner and To-Do tasks at the same time. We’ve created a To-Do list from the desktop app, shared the list with our team, and assign simple tasks in that shared list with those on our team. This is where we also need Completed Date and Completed By information. I can see this data when I open the task itself, but am struggling to find it anywhere else. I can “Email” or “Print” my list, but none of that seems Excel-friendly, and I so far haven’t found an Excel export :/

  6. Correct, looking to export To-Do content to Excel – found the same Microsoft guidance, but also do not have the same options shown when logged into Outlook! Still looking for some way..

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