In the fast-paced world of modern business, maximizing your time is not just a goal—it’s a necessity.
Navigating the ever-evolving landscape of Microsoft 365 and choosing the right tools at the right time can be daunting.
With an array of productivity tools at your fingertips, including Microsoft Lists, Teams and Groups, and Planner Plans, it’s often challenging to decide which to use for different tasks or how to view all relevant information in a single, accessible location.
During last week’s Microsoft Community Day in Miami, we hosted a breakout session titled ‘Lists, Calendars, or Plans,’ aimed at busy professionals like you.
This session focused on how to choose the most appropriate tool from Microsoft 365’s productivity suite for managing tasks, deadlines, meetings, and other organizational events effectively.
We focused on Microsoft Lists (SharePoint), Outlook Calendars (M365 Groups, Teams, Shared Calendars, and Users), and Planner Plans, and how to effectively choose the right tool for various scenarios to streamline work and enhance productivity.
So, whether you’re managing complex projects, keeping track of individual tasks, or organizing large-scale events, understanding each tool’s strengths is crucial for maximizing productivity.
Let’s dive in.
What to use when
Microsoft Lists (SharePoint)
Microsoft Lists seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Teams and other Microsoft 365 applications, allowing users to collaborate on lists directly within their team’s workspace. This integration enables real-time updates and enhancing team coordination.
These lists can range from simple to-dos to more complex inventories, issue tracking logs, and event itineraries, among others.
It offers customizable templates, integration with other Microsoft 365 applications, and features to collaborate on lists in real-time, set reminders, and automate workflows.
Microsoft Lists at-a-glance
- Track work, relay information, and visualize data together with your team in one place.
- Create from a variety of templates, convert an existing Excel file, or start from blank.
- Create rules to automate processes based on your list data. Notify yourself or others when something changes.
- Visualize and interact with data in different ways. Show info in a gallery or track work in a calendar. Customize as needed.
When to Use: Use Microsoft Lists when you need to organize information collaboratively, track issues or tasks, manage inventories, plan events, or need a customizable database for various projects within your organization.
It’s especially useful in project management for team coordination, and when you require a structured way to store and access data across your team or organization.
However, the main challenge with using Microsoft Lists is it doesn’t give you the capability to create recurring events.
M365 Group Calendars, integral to Microsoft 365 Groups, facilitate shared scheduling visible to all group members. These calendars integrate with Outlook and Teams, offering a unified view of meetings and events across personal and group spaces, allowing users to view, add, and edit events directly from their personal calendar interface.
Group Calendars at-a-glance
- View shared calendars, shared-mailboxes, and group calendars.
- Overlay calendars from Teams or other users but must be set up on a per-user basis.
- Supports categories for color coding events, but categories only exist on per-user basis.
When to Use: Use M365 Group Calendars when you need to coordinate schedules, plan meetings, or set deadlines within a team or project group.
It’s ideal for ensuring all members are aware of important dates and events, reducing scheduling conflicts, and improving team organization and communication.
Microsoft Planner is a task management tool within Microsoft 365 that helps teams create, assign, and organize tasks.
It features a visual task board (Kanban style) where tasks can be categorized by status, assigned to team members, and tracked through completion stages.
It integrates with other Microsoft 365 tools, offering features like file attachments, comments, and due dates, facilitating collaboration and project management.
Planner Plans at-a-glance
- Used primarily for tasks related to project management.
- Create from templates such as Project Management and Software Development.
- Native app in Microsoft Teams.
- Support for recurring events.
- Simple interface, supports labels for color coding and multiple views (not customizable).
When to Use: Use Planner Plans when managing projects or coordinating team tasks, requiring a visual representation of task progress.
It’s particularly useful for project managers and teams looking for an easy way to distribute work, monitor progress, and collaborate on tasks.
It suits various project sizes and types, from simple team tasks to more complex projects requiring detailed task management.
The integration challenge
One of the most significant challenges in leveraging Microsoft 365 tools is the difficulty of consolidating data from various sources, making it hard to visualize and access information in one place.
This fragmentation can hinder productivity and efficiency, especially when time is a critical factor in decision-making and task management.
Each Microsoft 365 tool is designed with specific functionalities and strengths, leading to a scenario where data related to a single project or workflow is spread across multiple platforms.
This dispersion requires users to switch between multiple applications to get a comprehensive view of their projects, reducing efficiency and increasing the likelihood of oversight.
Without a centralized dashboard or interface that aggregates information from these various tools, getting an overview of project statuses, upcoming deadlines, and pending tasks can be cumbersome.
This lack of unified visibility makes it challenging for teams to prioritize work, manage deadlines, and collaborate effectively, as critical information is not readily accessible in one place.
The difficulty in consolidating data affects timely decision-making. When you and your team cannot easily access or visualize comprehensive data, making informed decisions becomes slower, which can impact project timelines and overall business agility.
Introducing Calendar Overlay
To address this challenge, we created Calendar Overlay for SharePoint and Microsoft Teams, a revolutionary app that integrates various data sources into a unified interface.
This tool is a game-changer for professionals seeking to streamline their work within Microsoft 365.
It allows for the aggregation of tasks, projects, meetings, and events from Lists, SharePoint, Teams, and Planner Plans into a single, cohesive calendar view.
This integration not only enhances visibility but also significantly improves the management of time-sensitive data, making it easier to plan, prioritize, and execute tasks efficiently.
Track, organize, and customize
- Track work, relay information, and visualize data together with your team in one place.
- Overlay multiple types of data sources including SharePoint, Exchange, Planner and iCalendar Feeds.
- Color code calendars so people can easily see which events are coming from various data sources.
- Filter data sources so users do not see events that are not relevant.
Real-World Applications of Calendar Overlay
Consider the scenario of a marketing team planning a product launch. The team uses Microsoft Lists to track tasks, SharePoint for document management, Teams for communication, and Planner for project milestones. Traditionally, managing these separate tools could lead to oversight and inefficiency. However, with Calendar Overlay, the team can view all tasks, meetings, and deadlines in one place, ensuring that nothing is missed and that the project progresses smoothly.
Another example is an HR department organizing a company-wide training program. By using Calendar Overlay, they can easily coordinate schedules, manage registrations, and update sessions in real-time, providing attendees with an up-to-date agenda across all Microsoft 365 platforms.
Case study: West Gate School, UK
West Gate School is a special education school in the UK that uses Calendar Overlay to manage its events, resources, and facilities.
Calendar Overlay allows staff to create and view multiple SharePoint and Outlook calendars in one place, with more customization and color options than the native SharePoint calendar.
West Gate School staff can easily access and update the school’s calendars, avoid double bookings, and plan activities more efficiently and effectively.
Staff can make entries, add events, or make bookings via their own calendars and the information is dynamically pulled into Calendar Overlay for everyone to use as a reference point.
How to use Calendar Overlay with Microsoft 365 tools
To use Calendar Overlay with Microsoft 365 tools, follow these four easy steps:
- Install the Calendar Overlay app from the Microsoft AppSource.
- Once installed, add the app to your SharePoint site or Microsoft Teams channel.
- After adding the app, you can overlay your Microsoft 365 calendars with other calendars such as SharePoint lists and libraries, Planner plans, and iCalendar feeds.
- Configure the app to overlay multiple calendars in SharePoint and Teams, and view events in a monthly, weekly, daily, list, or agenda view.