tech Microsoft 365

Microsoft Lists vs To-Do vs Microsoft Planner vs Tasks: What to Use When

David Francoeur August 25, 2020


With the release of Microsoft Lists, many digital workers are left wondering why another list/task management tool is needed to complete the Microsoft 365 product suite. We asked the same thing and investigated to provide these simple guidelines on which practical list/task management application is best to use for which business scenarios.

What does the dawn of Microsoft Lists mean?

With the launch of Microsoft Lists, users have a new way to manage projects, lists, and tasks right in Microsoft 365. While it’s presented as a brand-new app, Microsoft Lists is actually a revamped and modernized version of Sharepoint Lists. It enables users to track issues, assets, routines, contacts, inventory and more using customizable views and smart rules, and alerts to keep everyone on your team on the same page. The new Microsoft Lists app adds a new way for Microsoft 365 project management apps to compete with task management apps like Wrike and Asana. This means users may no longer see a need to pay for these third-party apps. However, you may be wondering how Microsoft Lists fits in with the existing Microsoft 365 tools that already exist to handle task and project management: To Do, Tasks in Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft Planner. And how exactly should we be using it?

microsoft lists uses
Image: Microsoft Lists across Microsoft Teams and Microsoft SharePoint

What is the difference between Microsoft Lists and Microsoft To Do?

Microsoft introduced To Do to replace Wunderlist, a third-party app they acquired. Since then, To-Do has become the replacement for the long-standing tasks section of Outlook. To-Do allows the user to list and track their own personal tasks in lists and groups. You can see your Microsoft Planner Tasks and any flagged Outlook emails in the To-Do app, and you can add tasks from other apps (like OneNote). To-Do gives you a good snapshot of your upcoming tasks across all Microsoft 365 apps, without a lot of context to the larger projects they may be a part of.

example of list in Microsoft To Do
Image: Microsoft To Do task list example

Where To Do is all about your individual tasks, Microsoft Lists exists on the Team or Group level. Microsoft Lists provides a more holistic and intensive view of a project and all its components. It allows you to build out a project and assign tasks to other users, and lets you see where individual tasks or list items fit into a project. To put it simply, To Do is for granular, day-to-day, personal task management, whereas Microsoft Lists is better for larger-scale team project, process, or workflow management.

What about Tasks in Microsoft Teams?

In Microsoft Lists, you can create, manage, assign, and track Lists tasks. Tasks in Teams – another recent addition rolling out until the end of September 2020 – allows you to view all your tasks within Microsoft Teams. It is essentially a way to centralize all the tasks assigned to you in Microsoft Planner and your personal To Do list in one place in Microsoft Teams. For most users, Microsoft Teams is the nucleus of the workday, so while Tasks in Teams doesn’t actually do any work itself, it is performing a valuable function by centralizing tasks in an easy-to-digest format.

Screenshot of tasks in Microsoft Teams
Image: Tasks in Microsoft Teams

Right now, Microsoft Lists is not integrated with To Do and Tasks in Teams so you are not able to see any Lists tasks assigned to you in those apps. However, you can add Lists as a tab to any Team.

How about Microsoft Planner vs Microsoft Lists?

Microsoft Planner is Microsoft 365’s built-in team-based project management tool. It consists of Kanban boards to track and provide information about each task in the project (or plan) and integrates with To Do and Tasks in Teams making it simple to see whole projects at a glance, and for users to see their own tasks from the different projects they are a part of. Microsoft Planner provides set fields to create your plans and tasks, making it easy to use and easy to understand.

Microsoft Planner overview screenshot
Image: Microsoft Planner overview

On the surface, Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Lists seem like they have a lot of overlap. Both do function as project management tools, but while Planner is a project management tool that focuses on tasks that need to be done to complete a project using a Kanban board, Microsoft Lists is a lot more flexible and customizable.

What is the ideal scenario for Microsoft Lists?

Microsoft Lists is perfect for scenarios where you need more flexibility and customization than Microsoft Planner allows. Use Lists when you want a customized experience where you can control the fields, options, layout, views, and more. You can certainly use it to replicate the functionality available in Microsoft Planner (although it would be more work that just using Planner), but the real value in Lists is that it can handle projects that are not strictly made up of tasks.

With Microsoft Lists, you are not tied to the Kanban board format of Microsoft Planner, so you can use it for different kinds of projects. You can use Microsoft Lists to create custom columns and tables, meaning you can use it to do things like track inventory, manage assets, make travel plans, and manage event itineraries.  You can think of Microsoft Lists as a replacement for apps like Asana and Wrike from a list and table standpoint.

Microsoft Lists asset manager overview
Image: Microsoft Lists custom board example

As an IT Admin, Should I Turn On All List/Task Management Apps?

With all the different list and task management apps available in Microsoft 365, it’s can be easy for users to get confused and be unsure which they should be using.

Want to get the scoop on ALL the tools in Microsoft/Office 365 and which ones are right for what jobs? We have compiled the ultimate guide to all the tools and what they do in our blog.

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While Microsoft Lists, Tasks in Teams, To-Do, and Microsoft Planner are all enabled by default, as an IT admin you have the option to disable them for some or all users. So how do you decide which apps to turn on and which (if any) to turn off? This, of course, depends on your specific organization’s needs and priorities. For example, if you’re a small business and your team only needs to do basic project management, it’s possible that Microsoft Planner can meet all your needs, and having Microsoft Lists enabled will only lead to confusion.

However, if most of your planning needs are non-task based you may choose to disable Microsoft Planner. And if you’re not using Microsoft Planner, chances are To Do will serve you better than Tasks in Teams, as it allows users to create personal and Teams tasks. As you can see, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration!

If you are looking to drive the adoption of Microsoft 365 in your organization and eliminate the neverending “What to use when” questions, read our blog on Microsoft 365 adoption tips and tricks for IT teams.

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How do I Avoid the Confusion?

If you’re still not sure which Microsoft 365 task/list management apps will best serve your organization, Orchestry is here to help! There’s no denying the technology landscape for digital workers and organizations has become overcomplicated. This means Microsoft 365 is often reduced to a wasteland of unused and underperforming tools.

The truth is it’s hard to unlock all the best Microsoft features. Microsoft 365 offers a lot of options for managing projects, and simply knowing which tool to use isn’t the same as implementing it.  There are many ways to manage tasks, documents, communication, and content, which means YOU need to choose what is best for your organization.

We’ve gathered the best tips, tricks, and practices from Microsoft 365 MVPs who’ve managed projects at scale using Microsoft Teams and packed them into a free 30-page eBook, so you could elevate your project management game and further your investment in Microsoft Office 365.

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Before your projects suffer from content and collaboration sprawl, see what Orchestry can do for you.

Become every department and team’s IT superhero without the super effort or extra hours with the help of Orchestry.  

  • Meet the unique needs of different departments and teams by leveraging a comprehensive library of Orchestry’s business scenario templates for Teams, SharePoint, and Communication sites created by M365 MVPs and validated by 1000s of real users.  
  • Standardize common business processes including employee onboarding and offboarding, inter-departmental communication & collaboration, project management, and more with the help of Orchestry’s Workspace templates.  
  • Save hours and even days of coding and configuration of templates with Orchestry’s custom web parts that fill common M365 gaps, including advanced tasks and the People web part. 

Orchestry users save on average 2 hours setting up each Team or SharePoint site by leveraging pre-built business-first scenario templates. 

Want more insights like this one?

For more Microsoft 365, SharePoint Online, and Teams insights, tips and tricks, best practices, and exclusive events delivered straight to your inbox, join our mailing list today and level up your Microsoft 365 game!


About the Author

David Francoeur Image

David Francoeur

Orchestry Director of Product Delivery

As a speaker, author, and consultant operating across industries, David brings to Orchestry a diversified perspective on solving problems in the Digital Workplace. Working cross-functionally to guide products from conception to launch, he carefully connects the technical and business worlds. Passionate about user experience and design, David thrives on outcomes that are not only successful from a technological perspective but more critically; adopted, championed, and valued by the business.

Beyond his passion for the digital workplace, David enjoys spending time with his spouse and daughter, playing soccer, or reading a good book.


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