3 tips for turning Gmail Tasks into a simple GTD tool

This morning I woke up to find that Gmail had enabled Tasks on my account. A task list has probably been one the biggest hole in the suite of Google apps and tools, and this new Gmail add-on looks like a pretty good start on remedying that

This is still a very lightweight app, and it doesn’t have half the features of some of the more mature task management apps out there, such as Remember the Milk and Todoist. While not specificallly designed for David Allen’s Getting Things Done time management methodology, with a few simple tricks it looks like it can be turned into a serviceable tool for GTD. Here are three tips to help.

1. Create a Next Actions list as well as Someday/Maybe lists and any other lists you might need.

Gmail allows you to create a series of lists. So I’ve created a series of lists to serve my purposes – Next Actions for actual task management, Someday/maybe for those things I might want to do someday, To read for books I’d like to read, etc. You can create and edit these lists using Tasks’ pop-up lists menu, in the lower right hand side of the Tasks box.

Screen shot of Gmail Tasks list menu

2. Use indentation to create GTD contexts within your Next Actions list.

Within my Next Actions, I’ve created a series of Tasks called @calls, @work, @home, @errands and so forth for the contexts that I typically use. When I want to add a next action within a particular context, I just put my cursor at the end of that @context line, hit return to get a new task and then tab to indent it. This creates sub-tasks for each context.

Since I’m using ‘@waiting for’ as a context, I can easily drag and drop next actions from one context to another by using the mouse to grab the ‘handle’ on the left side of the screen for each task. I can also re-order my contexts by dragging and dropping those context lists; the actions underneath each go with them.

GTD contexts within Gmail Tasks

3. Use the notes line to classify individual tasks by project.

Finally, I like to be able to see my tasks as part of the various projects they belong in. That’s easy. I just add a project title, in all caps, to the notes field for an individual Task. That shows up on the Tasks list, giving me a quick overview of what individual project a particular task belongs to.

Screen capture of Gmail Tasks with projects

I admit these ideas are, at best, work-arounds. It would be great if Google would add features such as tags and the ability to move tasks between lists. But until that happens, these ideas help.

Have some more thoughts about how to make better use of Gmail Tasks? Please share them in the comments.

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Comments

  1. says

    Excellent information about this new gmail add-on. I’m a keen RTM user but always on the outlook for quicker, faster, better ways of managing tasks and this sounds good, certainly worth a try out.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Cheers

    Tim

  2. Dan says

    Great tips.

    For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:

    http://www.Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

  3. says

    Great tips Mark and super functional for me because I use two apps for my Droid phone that work well with this system:
    1. Taskos – task list app with voice to text functionality.
    2. Gtasks – great GTD tool for android that creates a tab for each of your gmail task lists and pulls them through in real time.

    Taskos interracts with Gtasks so that after you speak a task, you can simple share it with Gtasks. Once in Gtasks, just choose the list you want to add it to. I break out calls into their own task list, the same with Errands, so that they are easily accessible from Gtasks (when I am on the go or when I have windshield time for calls)

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