Getting Things Done with Gmail Tasks


While my search for the perfect Windows Getting Things Done (GTD) app continues, I’m resorting to using Gmail Tasks as an interim measure. While it’s not perfect — it’s nowhere near fully-featured enough for me — Google’s addition, last week, of the ability to move tasks between lists was definitely a step in the right direction for GTDers. You could use Tasks for GTD before, but moving actions between lists was painful, as you had to manually copy and paste the tasks: not fun.

Here’s how you can set up and use Gmail Tasks for GTD.

Rename your current list to Inbox


Renaming a list in Gmail Tasks

Rename your current list by clicking the lists icon and selecting “Rename list” (or alternatively, set up a brand new list). This is the list to use as your collection bucket, where where you’ll add new tasks, either from email or as you think of them.

Add more lists

You’ll need to add some more lists to help sort and prioritize your tasks. Do this by clicking the lists icon and then “New list…”


Adding a new list in Gmail Tasks

You need to add at least four more lists: “Next actions,” “Deferred,” “Delegated,” and “Someday/maybe.” I also set up lists for other contexts (“Home”). Because I only use GTD for work stuff (I know, I’m terrible), I don’t need anything more complex than this, but if I did use GTD for everything, the inability to handle contexts properly would probably be too limiting. Then again, if you’re a real GTD nut you probably have a more fully-featured task management app anyway.

Gmail Tasks lists set up for GTD

Gmail Tasks lists set up for GTD

Use notes to add information about your tasks

Unfortunately, Gmail Tasks doesn’t have the kind of task metadata that you take for granted in more fully-featured task management apps: tags, the ability to assign tasks to people, etc. But each task can be set a due date and you can add notes, so you can use the Notes field to add information about the action, such as the project that it belongs to or the person you’ve delegated a task to. Add the required information to any outstanding tasks in your inbox.


Once you have your lists set up and you’ve added the required metadata to your existing tasks, you’re ready to rock. Collect tasks in your inbox: I do this whenever a thought strikes without worrying too much about whether it really is something for me to do. Remember that you can use Gmail’s handy “Add to Tasks” feature (available through the “More actions” button on each email) to automatically create tasks from emails, together with a link back to the original email.

When you conduct your GTD review — I do mine daily — clear out the inbox and move the tasks to the appropriate list. You can move an item to another list by clicking the little arrow to the right of the task name and selecting the appropriate list to move it to (note: when I first did this I was somewhat confused as there is no “OK” button: rest assured the task is moved into the appropriate list when you click “Back to list”). That’s all there is to it.

Moving tasks between lists in Gmail Tasks

Moving tasks between lists in Gmail Tasks

Advanced usage: indentation to organize tasks by project

Tasks has quite a neat indentation feature. You could use it to organize tasks in your lists by project. Create a new list for “Projects”. Then create a top-level task with the name of each project, then indent the tasks under each project.

A projjects list in Gmail Tasks

A projects list in Gmail Tasks

If you move a top-level task between lists, it will move all of the indented tasks, too, which is quite handy.

I’m not worrying about projects too much at the moment though. I’m going to keep my Gmail Tasks GTD implementation pretty simple, as this is just an interim solution and, personally, I think if you are using Tasks to that degree it might be time to think about migrating to a more fully-featured task management app.

What tips do you have for using Gmail Tasks for GTD?


Gainesville Marketing Coach

the biggest problem I have with GTD and gmail tasks is adding context… anyone solve that? How are you segregating actions in your deferred list based on whether they are errands, or office related or phone related?
Right now I am simply creating separate lists for each and the advantage to that is that I use gtasks, a free android app and it’s slick interface gives you a tab view for each list so I can tab over to errands and see my grocery list or the other errands I need to run, right from my phone.


Wow, thanks. I feel like a weight lifted. I really wanted to stick to Google for ‘everything’ which is a little worrisome I may add, but it’s easy. Thanks for the idea of creating new lists….duh, i had total tunnel vision.


I recommend using It allows you to manage and share tasks/lists for free. I use it all the time . . .


I wonder how come I didn’t find this before! Thank you very much for the tip!


You can also add multiple Task gadgets to your Google homepage, and change the displayed List to view multiple lists on the same page without the need to switch between lists to view or edit list items.



How are you able to display multiple lists on the same page? I can’t find the option to do that. Thanks!


To add multiple Google Tasks windows to your Google homepage you simply need to add it multiple times.

1) Click “Add Stuff” in the upper-right corner
2) Search for “tasks”
3) The first result will be “The Official Tasks Gadget by Google”. Click the “Add it Now” button!
4) Go back to your Google homepage. You should see an additional “tasks” widget.
5) Repeat.


Just curious if you’ve updated your system. I’m trying to implement one using tasks, but it seems a little light.


Sorry if this is a dumb question. But aren’t you concerned about the safety of your data? I need to educate myself more and that’s they type of answer that I am looking for. My tasks contain passwords, financial information, and other sensitive data. Right now these tasks are on Outlook, and I back these up remotely – and that makes me nervous. I am not sure if online backups are any more or less safe than, say Gmail Tasks. How does that work? Is my concern overboard here?


Simon Mackie

Mario, I don’t think you should be storing sensitive information with your tasks. Store passwords in a secure password manager (e.g Passpack. Tasks should contain stuff for you to do, not passwords etc.


Thanks for sharing your system! Google Tasks has worked better for me than a lot of more complicated task management apps including RTM, Nozbe, Bonsai, Lifebalance, Outlook, and numerous others. My favorite features are availability anywhere with web access (including my phone), quick adding of tasks, being able to hide completed tasks, linking emails to tasks, easily managing lists, integration with Gmail and Google calendar without any complicated syncing, and hierarchical outlining, which allows me to easily manage projects. I also love that it’s super lightweight – no extra program running on my computer. You can pop out the tasks into a new window if you want to manage them without being distracted by your inbox.


what does everyone think of I am just getting into it and quite like it.

Simon Mackie

@Dan True, and that’s why I would prefer a dedicated app. I still haven’t found the perfect one for Windows yet, though. Maybe I should just buy a Macbook so I can have Things again!


Nice update, however it still doesn’t beat apps like Gtdagenda and Nozbe. Beside missing features, what I think it’s wrong with Gmail approach is that you cannot be productive with your eyes in your inbox.


It seems you don’t *have* to have your eyes in your inbox to use this approach. On the Tasks application in Gmail, click the ‘Popout’ button. Tasks now appears in its own browser window. Gmail still needs to run in its own browser window/tab (if you try to close it, it will warn that popout windows will also be closed).


Sorry, I just saw that the popout feature was mentioned at the end of Amara’s post.

You can also avoid being distracted by your inbox by adding Google Tasks gadget to your Google homepage, as Wasim mentions and, if you happen to have a Gmail gadget on the homepage, minimize it or move the Tasks and Gmail gadget to separate homepage tabs.

Steen Seo Öhman

Great post,

I just beginning to use all the gmail tools, and I must say most of them work great.

I just like the Google tools, they are often very simple to use


Hey! Thanks for this post! I never knew any of this stuff about GM. Maybe I can make some sense of my mail now! LOL!


This is a great article, I’ve just started using GTasks (since I lost Outlook connectivity I’ve been wandering around with crumpled paper to-do lists).

I took a look at Remember the Milk and Nozbe too. I’m going to take a look a now.

I’ll post the reviews on my site and on

Simon Mackie

@micah thanks – yep, a little organization can really help.

@AndrewNim – I’ll add it to my list of apps to check out, thanks!


I am using GTDInbox, A firefox plugin, I have found that with imap in my apple mail, if I copy emails to the folders (not move) they show up as labeled items in my sorted inbox’s in gmail. Its fairly robust and can be project as well as action orientated.


Hey, this is great! Thanks for the great tips on gmail tasks. I’ve just been throwing my stuff in there, not really paying much attention to organization. This really helps out quite a bit.

Kevin Cooper

I use Gmail Tasks everyday. I use to exclusively use Outlook for all of my email, calendar, tasks, etc. But about 7 months ago I moved to using exclusively Gmail for all of those tasks. I’m now way more organized and way more efficient in my daily web work.

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