For as long as I’ve had a Gmail account, I’ve used it as a to-do list, mocking people who argued it was a horrible idea. However, while managing one or two messages a day was simple, I began to struggle as I progressed in my job, received more messages, and took on longer-term obligations. Was it time to call it quits? Never, ever. There had to be an answer.
There were also Google Tasks. Even though this tool has been around since 2008, it is often overlooked. When you click on the Google applications symbol (a three-by-three grid) at the top of your Gmail inbox in a browser, it doesn’t display.
What is the best way to move emails to Google Tasks?
One of the most difficult aspects of keeping track of my inbox to-do list was remembering what each communication meant to me. Even though I’d labeled them with color-coded stars, I still had to go through the list and consciously remind myself what each star represented and what exact action each message demanded. With a single click or press, I can now send essential threads to Tasks.
Select or open any email on your browser, and you’ll see the Add to tasks icon among the options for trashing or marking a letter as unread at the top of the screen. It’s the one with a circle, a checkmark, and a small plus sign on it. When you click it, your thread (or threads) will be moved to a task list on the right side of the screen. I prefer to work with this list open, but you can close it by clicking the Tasks icon on the right (a blue circle with a stylized yellow-and-white checkmark).
Add to Tasks may be found in the Gmail app under the three dots in the upper right corner of the screen. To utilize this app on your phone, you’ll need to utilize the Tasks app, which is included with Android or available as a free download for iOS.
How to Make Changes to Google Tasks
But you’re not finished yet. If you don’t want tasks that duplicate the subject line of an email, right-click the task and change it to something memorable. For instance, I have no idea why I saved a task titled “Re: Fwd: Re: June pitches for PopSci DIY & May invoice + receipts for projects 1 & 2.” No, that’ll be filed under “Assess Andy’s Pitches.”
Other editing options are available when you select a task in your browser or app. You can choose a deadline and time for the work, as well as whether it will be a recurring assignment that repeats every day, week, month, or year. However, you can’t make irregular occurrences, so if you have something that happens every Monday and Friday (as a staff meeting), you’ll have to create two tasks. Change the Details section to include any notes to include extra information.
Whatever you do, an oval button with the subject line and an envelope icon will keep the job connected to the original email thread. When you click this, your inbox will be filled with relevant messages.
However, a word of caution: Tasks should only be used for emails in which you are completely responsible for what happens next. There’s nothing on the thread itself that indicates when you attached it to a task if you have a lot of tasks and set a reminder to “follow up if Jess doesn’t respond” for the next week. If Jess responds and the thread continues without you maintaining track, you can become disoriented and write an unwanted follow-up email.
How to Keep Your Google Tasks List Organized
Unless you’ve modified Tasks, each new entry will display at the top of your list, regardless of whether you add it from an email, the Add a task button on the Tasks list, or the + button in the Tasks app. This is what Google refers to as an organizing scheme. My order allows you to drag and drop each job on your list by selecting it, clicking the six dots to its left, and dragging it to the desired location. Press and hold a task in the app, then drag it. If you like to keep your duties in order of importance, this technique may be handy for you.
The other option is to select Date under Sort by from the main menu button (three vertical dots next to “Add a task” in the browser, or three horizontal dots in the bottom right corner of the Tasks mobile app). When you give a task due date or time, the tasks with the earliest deadlines rise to the top of your list, while those without a due date—including new tasks—fall to the bottom.
Subtasks can be created in your browser by selecting the three vertical dots, then adding a subtask next to a selected task. Open a task in the mobile app and hit Add subtasks. You can also hold and drag things under each other to form a subtask, then indent it. This is great if you need to accomplish various things in an email thread, but it works much better in the app in my experience.
You can further organize your chores by making multiple lists if you have a lot of them. Simply select Create a new list from the drop-down menu at the top of the Tasks sidebar in the browser or the three horizontal lines in the bottom left corner of the app. You can rename any list by clicking Rename list from the main menu. Use this to keep track of tasks that need to be completed at home or work, or that are related to different projects.
As you work your way through your to-do list, clicking the circle to the left of each activity to mark it as completed, completed items will appear in a list at the bottom of your list. You can view them by hitting the checkmark to designate them as unfinished, or you can restore them to your list by hitting the checkmark to label them as completed. Go to the main menu and select Delete all completed tasks to delete the whole stockpile.
Tips for Advanced Google Tasks
You may wish to delve deeper into Tasks as you get to experience them. Keyboard shortcuts are one method to make your to-do list even more efficient. Google lists them under the main menu button in your browser, but you can get to them faster by hitting Ctrl + / on Windows or Cmd + / on Mac.
However, here are a few good to-do list ideas:
- Mark task as complete or incomplete: Space
- Enter edit mode: Enter
- Exit edit mode: Esc
- Delete task: Backspace
You can also make your list bigger if it grows too big to handle inside Gmail. TasksBoard is a Google Tasks desktop program that lets you manage all of your lists in one place, share them with others, and export them to Google Sheets (among other abilities).
Full Screen for Google Tasks is a Google Chrome plugin that runs in a new browser tab or window like desktop software. But, if you’re anything like me, you might be content with the plain Tasks sidebar in your Gmail inbox for the time being.