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Using Gmail as your task manager

If email is still the center of your work communications and there is a lot of important stuff in your Gmail that you need to keep track of and act on, it makes sense to manage those emails as tasks.

The good news? You can keep it all inside Gmail so you can start prioritising work in up to date lists, making sure you keep track of everything you need to do, setting reminders, adding notes and keeping all your work in sync with your calendar.

Having your task list right in front of you in the place you check all day anyway, means that your tasks won't be just another place you have to remember to update and check. Your tasks can be updated as you communicate about them in email in the same step, so you don't have to copy and paste things to your separate task manager and remember to keep it updated as things change and priorities shift.

Find out how you can treat emails like tasks and keep track of them in Gmail using ActiveInbox.

The Pros & Cons of using Gmail for task management

Pros

  • Gmail is accessible everywhere - laptop, mobile, libraries, internet cafes, etc.
  • Email is already the source, and means of delegation, of many of your tasks.
  • Email is where tasks are updated and moved forward so t makes sense to track them right there.
  • You can send "new tasks" to Gmail from anywhere (see below).
  • Gmail has a lot of storage (15GB+) so you can keep all your old tasks on record.
  • With ActiveInbox, you can sort "tasks" (emails)
  • With ActiveInbox, even though you cannot technically edit subject lines, you can add a Next Step just below the subject line which is almost the same

Cons

  • Some things, like your sort order and next-steps/notes are only available when ActiveInbox is installed.
  • While emails are social, the email client is primarily a "single user" experience - you cannot share and edit a task between several collaborators (like you could with a Web-based project management tool)
  • You cannot store information around project labels, or set deadlines for project labels

Adding a new task

Not every new task comes or goes through email, so there is a simple way to add it to your new Gmail based task manager - just email yourself with the task! It is as quick and simple as adding a task to any other tool. The only extra step is adding your address in the To section which should auto-complete to save you a few seconds.

Use the subject line as your To-do summary and add any notes, attachments or lists in the body section. If you are using ActiveInbox you can use our notes and To-do list to add details to your task - the benefit is that it becomes scan-able from your list view of emails.

Scan-able list view of tasks and notes below subject line.

With ActiveInbox installed, you can just click "New Task" next to the regular "Compose" button in Gmail to send an email to yourself.

Advanced Tips to Save Time

Automatic organisation

You can save time and keep things organised with no effort by getting your New Task emails to label themselves just by adding something to your To: email address. Gmail lets you add anything you want to your email address after a plus sign. You can use that to hook into a filter and auto-label emails you send to yourself. For instance, send a new task to yourself (bob@gmail.com) but this time send it to bob+urgent@gmail.com (for instance). Don't worry - it will still arrive in your inbox!

Next step is setting up a Gmail filter to detect any emails sent to bob+urgent@gmail.com and choosing a label to add it to. You can use ActiveInbox's To-do or Waiting On status labels or create a new status label for 'Urgent' tasks. Maybe you want to seperate out work tasks from personal tasks like a grocery list - just use +personal and filter those emails into a Personal' Project or Admin label.

You can ask the filter to also remove it from your Inbox immediately so you don't clog up your Inbox with emails you have sent yourself - useful if you try to keep a clear inbox and archive things you've read.

Categorizing Tasks into Projects & Contexts

ActiveInbox comes with Project folders by default. But a 'Project' is just a Label Type in ActiveInbox's Preferences, and you can add Label Types by going into your Preferences, clicking 'Configure Label Types', and adding one by entering a name and a label prefix (e.g. 'Projects' and 'P/').

Task Reminders and Deadlines

You can add a deadline or reminder to any email so that it appears in your 'Today' list above the Inbox when you want to be reminded to deal with it.

Deadlined tasks (emails) can then be automatically synced over to your Google Calendar so that you can keep a birds eye overview of your work for the week and month ahead in a calendar view. Notes

Adding Notes to Tasks

Add notes to your tasks to summarise the email conversation or add extra detail to help you move forwards quickly next time you check the task to do something with it. You can even show your notes below each subject line when viewing multiple emails in a label - just go to ActiveInbox preferences to turn on the option.

See your notes below each subject line.

Completing Tasks & Projects

To complete a task, just remove all Status and Deadline labels, a one click process in ActiveInbox with our finish button.

To complete a project, just rename the project label with the "Old/" prefix. For example, P/MyProject becomes Old/P/MyProject. This effectively 'archives' the project so you can still see the old project if you need to.

Using Tasks When Away from ActiveInbox (e.g. on a mobile device)

Because all "tasks" in Gmail are just emails grouped by Gmail labels, you can use them even when you're on a mobile device (or away from your regular computer). You just have to manually search on Status labels (e.g. search for Waiting On items with label:!waiting-on).