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Do You To Do?

by Erik Mazzone |

I was mad at Microsoft for a pretty long time. I am finally over it (mostly). 

To understand why, you must first know that I spent an absurd amount of time and energy looking for the perfect task management program. I tried, almost literally, everything I could find. No kidding, I probably cycled through fifty or more different programs over a decade or so. 

And then, I found Wunderlist. Wunderlist (RIP) was proof that my Grail quest for the perfect task manager was not in vain. (I mean, it may have been a profound waste of time, but it wasn’t technically in vain.) Wunderlist did everything I wanted it to do, exactly the way my brain said a task manager should work. It was perfect. We were incredibly happy together, Wunderlist and I, for years.

And then it happened.

Microsoft purchased Wunderlist in 2015 for $150 million. And then, they did what Microsoft mostly did in those days. They slowly, methodically, killed it. Wunderlist was a shell of its former self. It looked the same on the outside, but the inside was all wrong. It was like a to do list version of Get Out. Don’t believe me? It went so poorly, the founder of Wunderlist tried to buy it back from Microsoft four years later.

But then something surprising started to happen in Redmond. Microsoft started to make something good out of the bones of Wunderlist. They called it Microsoft To Do (nobody ever accused them of being the world’s greatest company at naming stuff, cf: OneNote, OneDrive, etc.) To Do was terrible at first, confirming all the Wunderlist devotees’ worst fears about the acquisition. But over the next few years it started to get pretty good. It recaptured some of that Wunderlist magic.

To Do is still kind of a weird beast in the Microsoft Office realm. It obviously needs to eventually live in Outlook alongside the Calendar and Email (and there is a highly confusing remnant of Microsoft Tasks still sitting in Outlook), but they haven’t quite gotten there yet. For Mac users, you still must go download Microsoft To Do separately from the rest of the Office software suite. That used to be true for Windows users, but as of this writing I am not sure if that has been solved.

All that means, even if you have bought everything from Microsoft through one of their excellent 365 subscriptions, and downloaded Word, Outlook, and Excel and all the programs to your computer, you may still have to go download Microsoft To Do separately. Which, while pretty janky for a $2 trillion company, is worth it. 

Once you do download To Do, it plays very nicely with the rest of your Microsoft suite. You sign in using the same Microsoft log in and it instantly syncs with the rest of your account. There are a lot of things To Do does as a task manager that are smart: syncing with your flagged email in Outlook so you can see those items as tasks, pulling tasks into the My Day list automatically based on due date, automatically hiding empty to do lists… there are lots of smart and well thought out features. 

And all of this is before the killer app… when Microsoft starts pulling in AI functionality into the list, it is going to get supercharged. I would guess we are less than 18 months away from seeing AI start to make an impact in Microsoft To Do. Google is, of course, also busy pulling their AI into Google Docs and Sheets, but the key difference here is that Google doesn’t have a meaningful task manager as part of its software suite. Google Tasks is an afterthought and reminds me of Microsoft To Do, circa 2015.

Of all the places where I expect AI to make a dramatic impact in the lives and practices of lawyers, to do lists are third (behind research and writing). Imagine having a setting in Outlook that scans your calendar, email and tasks and looks for deadlines in danger of being blown and then auto-prioritizes your tasks to keep you working on the highest importance things first. It is going to be like having an amazing assistant to help you get organized.

We are still a bit away from that, but Microsoft To Do (along with Word for writing) is going to be one of the places where you are going to have top opportunities to interact with their AI and have it improve your life and practice. Now is the time to get familiar with the current, manual version of Microsoft To Do so that you are ready to take advantage of the opportunities when they come around. And it is an excellent task manager in its own right, today, as is.

If you haven’t yet given To Do a try, download it this weekend and check it out. And if you happen to be someone, like me, who harbored a grudge against Microsoft for killing your beloved Wunderlist, this is your official signal to look again. There are big things on the horizon.

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