Flagged Messages Might Make To-Do a Great App

Microsoft To-Do is available through the Windows Store

Microsoft bought Wunderlist in 2015 to add a personal task tracking app to its portfolio. In 2017, they launched a replacement app called To-Do. The app is available to both personal and Office 365 users with versions available for Windows desktop, iOS, Android, and via a browser. Like many others, I tried To-Do out for a while before reverting to my tried and trusted approach of using either Outlook tasks (when I was feeling structured) or writing reminders down on scraps of paper (yes, I am a dinosaur at times).

One attraction about To-Do is that it stores its items in Exchange mailboxes. Items end up in the Tasks folder or, if you create Lists in To-Do, in a sub-folder of Tasks. The app then presents different views of your tasks depending on their due date, importance, and list.

Flagging Messages for Follow-Up

For many years, Outlook users have been able to flag messages for follow-up. If you set a date to follow up an item as a reminder that future action is due, you can also create a reminder so that Outlook tells you when that time comes. Flagged messages remain in the folder where they’re stored (often the Inbox or Sent Items). Outlook’s To-Do view for Tasks shows the folders where flagged messages are stored.

A recent change (tweeted by Microsoft on March 12) introduced the ability for To-Do to display messages flagged in Outlook. To enable the feature, open To-Do using the Windows desktop or browser client and accept the prompt to include flagged messages as tasks.

When you flag a message, To-Do notes the fact (because some MAPI properties are updated) and can then display them in its Flagged Email view. Some synchronization has to happen before flagged items turn up, but it’s usually pretty quick.

To-Do's Flagged Email View
To-Do’s Flagged Email View

You can then click an item to read details (including the message text), set a due date and reminder, open in Outlook mobile or OWA (to reply to the message), mark the message as important, or add it to To-Do’s “My Day” view. Tasks are named after the subjects given to flagged messages, but you can edit the names to make the task more understandable. Not everyone uses precise, concise, and understandable message subjects.

Changes made on a mobile client must synchronize back to the cloud service before they appear in the Windows or browser clients. Sometimes items did not synchronize as quickly as I expected. This is a small complaint, but I’m used to changes made in mobile email clients showing up in the cloud very quickly afterwards.


All of this is very nice, but the best thing is the ability to add a checklist of items (called steps) to a flagged email. Steps are not unique to flagged messages as To Do supports them for other tasks, but as it turns out, steps are very useful when it comes to tracking complex tasks, like those often assigned to people through email.

As you can see from the screenshot, I often receive invitations to speak at conferences. Accepting an invitation usually involves some logistics, such as booking flights and hotel, submitting presentations, and updating speaker information like your biography and photo. Each action can be added to a flagged email (without interfering with the original message) and marked off as it is accomplished. It’s a really nice and simple way of tracking everything that needs to be done to accomplish complex tasks.

Moving from Outlook Tasks

Office 365 users have a range of tools available to track tasks from Outlook to Planner. To-Do fits in the middle as it includes the option to share lists. If you’re embedded in Outlook, you might continue to use Tasks as before. But maybe, just maybe, the new capability in To-Do to handle flagged messages in a pretty nice way might be enough for you to embrace To-Do. Or at least, give the app another chance.

We cover To-Do in passing in Chapter 15 of the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. That’s because we need to cover Planner and To-Do has always seemed like a personal app. Maybe we’re wrong…

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