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?


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