Microsoft offers a couple of tools that allow you to schedule your activities. The tools are

  • Microsoft Planner
  • Microsoft To Do
  • Outlook Tasks
  • Outlook Calendar

The multiplicity of tools leads to confusion as to which tool must be used for what purpose. This article aims to help to make scheduling less complicated.

The purpose of each of these tools can be defined according to two factors, Scope and Level of Complexity

Scope for the purpose of this article is

  • Personal
  • Team-level
  • Organization-level

The below diagram simplifies what tool is to be used in which circumstances

Note: While Microsoft Project and Microsoft Project Online as shown in the graph these tools are not within the scope of this article as these tools are not available by default in the Office 365 package and must be purchased separately

As we can see from the graph, that Calendar is not included as the graph is identifying the apps that can be used for task management and Calendar can not be used for task management, however Calendar is critical for the scheduling of meetings and appointments. Calendar is the only tool available for the scheduling of meetings and appointments in the Office 365 suite and should be used aggressively for scheduling meetings with individuals and groups.

For personal level task management, currently Outlook Tasks and Microsoft To Do are the platforms that are available. The two platforms are synced and actively talk with each other in a near-real time basis. That means that a task you create in To Do gets reflected in the Tasks section of Outlook within 2 – 3 seconds of creation and vice versa. Changes such as marking a task as completed, made to an item in one platform are also reflected fairly quickly in the other platform.

To Do is to be used only for personal level planning and can not be used to assign a task to somebody else. To Do also allows you to get one more level of granularity on your tasks with a functionality that allows you to add the steps involved in your task and the ability to mark these tasks as completed.  However currently the steps do not get synced to Tasks in Outlook along with the task.

Outlook Tasks can be used to assign a task to somebody else and get updates from the person about the status of the task, however it is recommended that the assigning task feature be used only in the rare case where the task that is to be assigned is of a sensitive nature as the right place for assigning tasks to a team is Planner which is a collaborative work management platform.

The reminder feature in Tasks is more persistent and ‘in your face’ as compared to To Do which is more subtle.

Both these tools are available on the Android and iOS platforms. In the new Outlook experience on the browser, when you click on tasks you are led to To Do instead suggesting that To Do could become the default app for personal level task management.

Microsoft Planner is the go-to app for Work Management and is a collaborative platform for teams to plan their schedules with respect to when a task is due, who is going to do the task. Planner allows you to create a checklist for each task and track the progress of the task. If there is a file that is the end result of the task, it can be attached, or a link can be given for the task. A communication chain with regard to the task can be maintained using the comments section of the task. Tasks are organized into groups called buckets which are umbrella clusters that contain related tasks. The buckets can be phases of a Project Lifecycle or can be independent projects. When a task is assigned to you, you get notified of the same by email. You also get emails reminding you of upcoming tasks as the deadline comes closer.

Microsoft Planner allows you to copy tasks from one bucket to another bucket and from one plan to another plan. This is particularly helpful and helps you save time involved in planning and scheduling when you are doing a project that is similar to a project that you have already done as well as when a project or activity repeats itself periodically with very little change in the steps involved like filing of taxes.

Microsoft Planner also presents a chart view where the overall status of all the tasks in the plan are visually represented enabling you to take decisions.

Overall Microsoft Planner is an excellent tool for scheduling and assigning tasks to teams when the activity has mid-level complexity. It is not meant to be used as a project management tool

The biggest disadvantage of Microsoft Planner is that it does not allow for recurring tasks. This prevents you from using it as a platform to schedule recurring tasks like payment of utility bills that happen on a periodic basis. To work around this situation, you can use the Office 365 group calendar and schedule recurring appointments for the task.

To conclude, Microsoft To Do is the app to be used for Personal level task management and could become Microsoft’s default app for the same. Microsoft Planner is the app to be used for team level scheduling of medium complexity and can be used to plan and track work that gets done on small projects. If there are team level tasks that are short duration and high frequency (occurring every month or week) then the place to schedule them and get reminders is the Office 365 group calendar of that team.

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