How to Make an Excel To Do List for Teams (free download)

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Sep 13, 2021 | Process | 0 comments

Work can be complicated, especially if you’re managing a team.

Not only do you need to keep track of your own work, but you need to know how current projects are progressing. Keeping yourself organized is the best way to counteract that chaos, but what’s the best way to do it?

The answer might be simpler than you think: having (and using!) a to-do list can solve most of these problems. You can track your progress, continuously assess how much time you have left compared to how many tasks you need to complete, and plan your day much more easily.

To-do lists put all your tasks in one place. That way, you never have to go searching through notes or programs for them; a quick glance at the empty checkboxes on your list will reveal everything. But given it’s so easy to lose a piece of paper, where should you keep this to-do list?

Excel is one common option, so let’s take a look at how to use Excel to create tasks. We’ve built a step-by-step guide on how to build your Excel task tracker.

If you just want to download the completed version – we have a link just for you below the guide.

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Key elements of a task you need to create in Excel

ID

Giving each task a unique ID makes it easier to talk about and refer to specific tasks. That’s especially useful when more than one person is involved, such as during group projects or whenever you’re working with a partner.

You might be tempted to use the row and column placement as an identifier, but this can easily go awry, especially if the sheet is regularly updated. A unique ID means you can easily refer to a task, without any misunderstandings or confusion.

Name

What does your task refer to? By giving it a name, you’ll make it easier to remember what the list item is meant to remind you to do.

It’s important to keep any task name short. Calling your tasks things like “Make sure to get in touch with my secretary to arrange onboarding with Client X on any day next week except Tuesday” is going to make the whole document look cluttered and hard to read. Instead, you might name that task “Arrange customer onboarding Client X” and then add a description field with the rest of the details, as necessary.

Owner

If you’re handling team task management, you’ll need to know who is in charge of what. Often, more than one person will be involved. If an item on your to-do list relies on working with your team members, you’ve got to keep track of who’s ‘got the ball’.

That’s when it becomes important to have a field indicating who ‘owns’ the task, and who’s working on it at any given moment.

Due date

Some tasks don’t need due dates. Still, many of your tasks will have one, and it’s always a good idea to keep track of them.

Deadlines should serve as guidelines throughout a project or multi-step task. In other words, knowing when something is due should tell you which parts you should work on – and have completed – by specific dates. 

You can use pivot tables to summarize this; we’ll get into those later.

Importance

Knowing the order of your priorities is absolutely vital. You’ve got to know your organization’s priorities and how your tasks rank against those, because confusion regarding priorities is one of the main reasons for projects to fail:

Image source

A firm grasp of priorities counteracts these opportunities for failure. It also gives you a clear starting point, ensuring important tasks get done before low priority ones.

Status

Every task needs an indicator of status. At minimum, you should have three options: ‘Not Started’, ‘In Progress’, and ‘Done’. It can also be helpful to include an option for ‘Couldn’t be done’, which happens sometimes, and is important to keep track of. Having an optional ‘notes’ column also allows you to expand on why it couldn’t be done, or any delays.

Notifications

While it’s difficult to make notifications work in an Excel spreadsheet, they can be incredibly helpful. Notifications let you avoid chasing colleagues about tasks so you can keep your spreadsheet up to date. We’ll cover some options later in this article.

Dependencies

When a single action is one step in a longer sequence, the sequence (or workflow) is a ‘task’, while the smaller actions are ‘steps’.

Sometimes you can’t complete a step until a different one has been finished. This needs to be clear in your spreadsheet – especially if that step needs to be undertaken by someone else.

… And others

An Excel to-do list can include many more fields. To keep things simple, we’re going to leave it with these basics. Different industries may have different requirements, so don’t be afraid to customize it to your needs.

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How to Make a To Do List on Excel

Now you’ve got an idea of what information you need to include, it’s time to make the actual list.

Adding to-do list items and tasks

The first step is to use the elements defined above as column headers, as per this screenshot:

As you can see, I’ve added a new task as an example. This will help me figure out how I want the formatting to look. Once you’re happy with the formatting rule you’ve set in row 2, you can click the small square in the bottom right of your selection, drag it downwards and select ‘Fill Formatting Only’ to make sure all cells will look the same.

Let’s go through some tips for each column to help you get started.

For Column A ‘ID’, I simply filled the first two rows as TSK0001 and TSK0002, selected them both and then dragged down the little square in the bottom right another 20 or so rows downwards. This quickly gave me a static reference for each task. 

Column B ‘Name’ is pretty straightforward. It’s the name you’ll call each task – the only real tip here is to keep that name short and to the point without being too generic to be helpful.

For Column C ‘Owner’, you’ll need validation, which will help with filtering later. By selecting a set of cells, going to  Data, then Data Validation, you’ll be able to complete the dialog like in the screenshot below with your own team members.

This is the simplest way to complete the process. You can also create a list on a separate sheet and then reference it as needed.

Next up is Column D ‘Due’. First, we’re going to format the column for ‘Short Date’ to make it neat and easy to scan at a glance. Next, we’re going to add some conditional formatting to highlight items that are due today, as well as ones that are overdue.

Select the cells you want this to apply to – let’s say cells D2 to D51 – click on ‘Conditional Formatting’, then choose ‘New Rule’, followed by ‘Use a formula to determine which cells to format’. In the formula bar, enter exactly this: =AND(D2<>””,D2<TODAY()). Under ‘Format’, give the background an eye-catching red color.

The formula above tells the Cells that if they have a date, and if the value of that date is less than today, then the item is overdue – which triggers the red highlight. Excel will run checks in real-time, meaning no overdue item will escape your notice.

You can take the same approach for items due today. If you format them to a yellow color, you’ll easily know which items are overdue versus due today. The dialog box looks like this:

In Column E ‘Importance’, you can choose your own categories. A suggested set is listed below:

  1. ‘Critical’ – must be done, affects revenue
  2. ‘High’ – really needs to be done, affects colleagues
  3. ‘Low’ – needs doing, but there are no major impacts if not done
  4. ‘None’ – remember to do this, but it’s not important if missed 

Using the same validation method we used for Column C ‘Owner’, you’ll create these (or any categories you want to use) as drop-down lists for each cell.

We’ll take an additional step for Column E by including conditional formatting, which will show which tasks are most important. Select cells E2:E51, click on ‘Conditional Formatting’, then ‘New Rule’. In the formula section type ‘=E2=”Critical”’, and for the formatting change the cell background to light red.

You should use the same approach for the other three values, choosing a colour each time. Once complete, select E2:E51 and click ‘Manage Rules’ to check, and you should have something that looks like this:

Next, we’re going to use the same validation approach to format Column F ‘Status’. We’re going to use the values below, which you can also set to specific colors using conditional values:

  1. Not Started
  2. In Progress
  3. Done
  4. Couldn’t be done
  5. Waiting (we’ll come back to this)

Column G ‘Dependences’ is next. Here, you can enter a task reference from anywhere in your spreadsheet tracker.

Column H ‘OK?’ is a quick-check column for whether the dependency in Column G has been completed. You’ll want to enter this formula in Cell H2:

=IF(G2=””,”OK”,IF(INDEX($A$2:$F$51,MATCH(G2,$A$2:$A$51,0),6)=”Done”,”OK”,”No”))

This formula searches to check if there’s a task reference, and if there is, whether it’s been completed. You can drag the formula downwards to copy it into each cell down to H51. You can also choose to add some conditional formatting (like we did before) to highlight tasks that are OK or not OK to be done.

You can use Column I ‘Description/Notes’ to add more relevant information you may need for any given task.

To finish things off, select the column headers of your task tracker and click ‘Data’, ‘Filter’. This will make each column in your tracker something you can sort and filter by – for example to sort by due date, or filter by Critical. Here’s how the Filter function looks:

Next, we’re going to use the same validation approach to format Column F ‘Status’. We’re going to use the values below, which you can also set to specific colors using conditional values:

  1. Not Started
  2. In Progress
  3. Done
  4. Couldn’t be done
  5. Waiting (we’ll come back to this)

Column G ‘Dependences’ is next. Here, you can enter a task reference from anywhere in your spreadsheet tracker.

Column H ‘OK?’ is a quick-check column for whether the dependency in Column G has been completed. You’ll want to enter this formula in Cell H2:

=IF(G2=””,”OK”,IF(INDEX($A$2:$F$51,MATCH(G2,$A$2:$A$51,0),6)=”Done”,”OK”,”No”))

This formula searches to check if there’s a task reference, and if there is, whether it’s been completed. You can drag the formula downwards to copy it into each cell down to H51. You can also choose to add some conditional formatting (like we did before) to highlight tasks that are OK or not OK to be done.

You can use Column I ‘Description/Notes’ to add more relevant information you may need for any given task.

To finish things off, select the column headers of your task tracker and click ‘Data’, ‘Filter’. This will make each column in your tracker something you can sort and filter by – for example to sort by due date, or filter by Critical. Here’s how the Filter function looks:

Bonus things you can do to your spreadsheet tracker

Reporting on your tasks is important. You will want to know how many have been done, how many are overdue, who has the most tasks in the team, and many other questions. You can achieve this by using pivot tables.

In the completed spreadsheet tracker which you can download here, there is a new worksheet added that has some example pivot tables included that you can make use of.

You can also customize your to do list template. An Excel template might have everything you need, but when it comes to getting things done, having a task list that’s tailored to your individual needs is going to boost your productivity much more. The goal of customization should be to make the worksheet work for you, as much as possible, by adjusting the list template features you’ll use.

What can this excel spreadsheet tracker not do?

While Excel can be a great tool for starting out, it’s not always the best solution long-term. There is some key functionality that it simply doesn’t provide, unlike dedicated task and project management software. Some of the main features you’ll find yourself missing include: 

1. Notifications. Excel can’t send email notifications, unless you’re using VBA or macros (which is quite complicated). You’d also need to have your spreadsheet open for this to happen.

In other words, you’d need to spend a lot of time and attention on managing your spreadsheet – when task management software could take care of that for you. Process Bliss, for example, offers a fast and easy way to get your team working on the same page that doesn’t rely on spreadsheets.

2. Comments & Collaboration. When performing a task, people may need to discuss an item, or provide updates. While you can add comments to a cell, realistically it’s very hard to do this in a workable manner using a spreadsheet – especially when combined with the lack of notifications!

In order to make better use of team collaboration, you’ll need to implement team task management software, such as Process Bliss. Collaboration is only becoming more relevant in today’s work environment, as shown by the fact that businesses are increasing their spending in that area:

Image source

3. Workflow templates. People tend to repeat the same activity many times in their role. These activities often consist of multiple tasks. If you’re using process or workflow software like Process Bliss, you’ll be able to create (and even automatically schedule) these tasks so you can automatically create, notify and track progress. This approach saves a lot of time!

4. Reporting. In this example, we’ve used pivot tables and filters on a table in an attempt to make it useful. While it works, we know it’s not quite as helpful as it needs to be. After all, it’s not what a spreadsheet was designed to do. 

If you’d like to be able to better track how your team is working, then you should look at task or workflow management software – again, we are a little biased, but Process Bliss handles this brilliantly.

5. Multi-user access. It can get tricky when you need to see tasks or progress in your spreadsheet, and you only have your phone or a tablet available. It’s made even trickier when many of you need to access it at the same time – it might be impossible, or it might give someone the opportunity to accidentally overwrite some information.

Using software that is designed for the job will save you time and a lot of effort, and allow access from any device at any time. You can even set permissions so that people don’t accidentally break something they shouldn’t be able to.

Things you might need to track in an excel spreadsheet

The kinds of tasks you might want to track in Excel (or similar software like Google Sheets) vary widely. The short of it is that if you’ve got items you want to add to a list and eventually put a checkmark next to, you probably want to them in your spreadsheet.

Some examples of things to track include:

  • Daily tasks that need to be repeated every time you come to work
  • Projects, which can be mapped using a suitable project task list template
  • Presentations, including the date(s) when they happen
  • Team work, which often needs a specialized checklist template to turn the average workbook into a valuable tool.
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What are your other options to manage team tasks?

Now that you’ve seen that using a spreadsheet to track team tasks is very difficult, the good news is that there is software available that makes this much easier, and your team more productive. Let’s remind ourselves of the key features you need;

  • Due date: by when does the item need to be completed? This is a basic feature you absolutely can’t do without.
  • Templates: For repetitive tasks, this is really important and can save you a lot of time. If you do a task often, you’ve got to be able to copy from a template or schedule a repeating reminder to do it.
  • Importance: A simple 1-4 numbering system ranking the importance of each task is very effective. You can also choose to use your own categories.
  • Assigning an owner: This is key when it comes to managing a team.
  • Dependency: What needs to happen before the task can be completed?
  • Reminders: These should notify you when a task becomes urgent.
  • Defer: This is more a function than a description. Deferring a task is one of the most frequent things you’ll do, and easily handling it without missing things is incredibly important.
  • Reporting: Managing your own tasks is important, but being able to manage your teams so you can see what needs support is vital.

Here’s a quick visual summary of the most common tools used to manage and prioritize team tasks that shows you what each one can and can’t do:

Let’s break that down and look at each tool more closely.

  • Process Bliss – We may be a little biased, it’s true, but the facts speak for themselves. Process Bliss is an excellent tool to manage and prioritize your team’s tasks, with multi-device access, reporting, templates, reminders, reassigning and quick deferring of activity.
  • Paper – Quick, easy, always to hand – but it does tend to get lost, and it can’t manage a team!
  • Outlook To Do – While it can handle the basics, it can’t handle dependencies, has limited team task reporting, and doesn’t let you manage repeatable task activity.
  • Google Tasks – More features than Outlook, but not as easy to use – and you can’t create task templates.
  • Remember The Milk – Wonderful personal task manager, and has a free download available. Limited in features, and impossible to manage a team.
  • Trello – A common tool that is great for a quick visual overview, but actually really hard to manage tasks in. You could certainly try!
  • Todoist – A very common tool, but only useful for the most basic of task management activities. You can, however, perform team management using it.

Conclusion

There are lots of ways to use to-do lists.

Some people mark off completed tasks with a checkmark, while others use strikethrough. You might prefer to use a digital list, and your coworker might need their list to be printable. Whether you want additional information to get its own column or to show up when you right-click a task is also up to personal preference.

What all to-do lists have in common is that they’re hugely helpful to work productivity. They make it easier to keep organized, and to ensure that you’re completing all the tasks you need to within a suitable time frame.

Process Bliss takes all the best parts of Excel’s to-do lists and improves on them, all while offering bonus features (such as the ability to easily access your list from any device). If you need a task list, Process Bliss is the way to go. 

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