ticking off tasks

Transforming Your Work Flow with OneNote’s To-Do Lists

In the hustle of our live keeping track of tasks is a challenge. Whether meeting work deadlines, studying for exams, or managing personal tasks, chores or projects, a organised to-do list can be a game-changer. Microsoft OneNote, with its range of task management features, offers a solid solution for creating and managing one off to-do lists through to larger multi-phase projects. Today we’ll learn to effectively use OneNote’s to-do list feature to sort out your workflow.

Understanding OneNote’s To-Do Lists

OneNote’s to-do list feature allows you to create interactive checklists within your notes. Each item in the list is accompanied by a checkbox that you can tick off when the task is completed. This is a simple tool, but when coupled with headings on a page to create separate lists, or use of pages to make separate projects can become a powerful tool. As we learn here to search for tasks in OneNote and make collated pages of outstanding tasks you will see how versatile and strong this tool can be.

Creating To-Do Lists in OneNote

Creating a task list or a list of to-do’s is very straightforward in OneNote. Just click on the ‘To Do’ tag in the ‘Home’ tab, or press Ctrl+1 on a PC or Cmd+1 on a Mac, to create a new to-do item. That’s it! You can then type your task next to the checkbox.

Click ‘To Do’ to create a check box and ‘Enter’ to make a new task.

To add further task items, just press Enter to create a new line with a new checkbox. Clicking in the checkbox will mark the task complete, and clicking it again will untick it again. You can use those keyboard shortcuts to cycle through New Task > Completed Task > Remove Checkbox, and then start over again.

There are many use cases for this. You can create to-do lists within any note, making it easy to keep tasks with related information. As an example, if you’re taking notes during a meeting, lesson or workshop, you can create a to-do list within the meeting notes to track follow up tasks. Or, if you’re studying for an exam, you can create a to-do list within your study notes for each module to track subtopics and related material you need to review or research more deeply.

Organizing To-Do Lists

OneNote provides multiple ways to help you organize your to-do lists:

  1. Tags can be used to categorize tasks
  2. Sub-tasks can be created by indenting to-do items
  3. It is possible to move tasks around by dragging and dropping them.
  4. Tables work very well with check boxes to create task-based notes organisation.


Tags can be particularly useful for prioritising tasks. For example, you can tag by level of importance, so important tasks can be tagged with the ‘Important’ tag, urgent tasks with the ‘Critical’ tag, and questions or issues with the ‘Question’ tag. This makes it easy to visually prioritise your tasks and focus on what’s most important. In this way the range of tagging icons is really powerful. You can use the telephone icon, email icon, as well as many others, to define clearly the types of tasks you are creating. This all makes later task review much easier and more swift.


Indenting to-do items allows you to create sub-tasks, which can be useful for breaking down larger tasks into manageable parts. For example, if you have a task to ‘Prepare a presentation’, you might have sub-tasks like ‘Research topic’, ‘Create slides’, and ‘Practice presentation’.

Indenting tasks to create sub-lists for related tasks.


Using tables with checkboxes is another great way to organise your tasks. You can add a checkbox to the side of a whole table, or to cells within the tables, offering a superb level of flexibility to how the two can be used together. I use this every day to add details relating to tasks in cells near the task checkbox itself. You can also reorder rows in a OneNote table just as easily as tasks.

Check boxes in a table to organise task content.

Tracking Progress with To-Do Lists and Search

The highly visual nature of check boxes is a real benefit of managing tasks within OneNote. This also generates a real sense of accomplishment and helps to build momentum on a project.

Once you have a few tasks on a few pages you may wish to get an overview of what tasks in total remain outstanding. This is easily done in OneNote and a great way to get a handle on your entire commitments, or the breadth of a project that is spread across different pages or sections.

To find your check box tasks:

  1. Go to Home > Find Tags.
  2. A search pane will open. You can click any listed task to go to that page and task.
  3. Note you can also rearrange the results using the ‘Group Tags By’ feature.
  4. If you wish to see a page of all incomplete tasks, chose the ‘Create Summary Page’ button below the results.

Collaborating in OneNote

Don’t forget you can share notebooks with other OneNote users, either via Microsoft OneDrive or Microsoft Teams, whichever way you are storing the notebooks (or both!). That means you can create shared task lists that you and anyone you share the notebook with can both tick off and add new tasks to – a whole new dimension to your task management, study management, college projects, business report production, second brain… You get the idea. 🙂


‘Why in OneNote when there are so many task management apps?’ you ask. That’s fair. I find this approach to managing some tasks is an excellent way to keep everything to do with a project in one place. There are times I need a tasks app, or a shopping list app, but I find being able to keep notes, meeting notes, project information, handouts and scanned documents in the same place as the associated tasks lists can be a great way to avoid disconnection between tools or missing remaining tasks. And as everything in OneNote this type of content will be synchronised between devices or viewable on the web just like anything else I keep in my notebooks.

ticking off tasks




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