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All Things Google: Tasks

As ProfHacker readers are well aware, there are many different tools available for managing your to do lists.  Given this array of existing tools, why would one choose to use Google Tasks? 

In this post I give a brief overview  of the features and productivity mindset of Google Tasks.

Convenience

If you are already using Gmail or Google calendar,  then Tasks is right there, already available to you.  Simply click on the Tasks link  (below  Contacts) and get started.   You can build a simple list of to do items very quickly: type an item, hit Enter, and type another one.   Tasks supports nesting of two sub-levels of tasks (hit Tab to create those).  Other keyboard shortcuts are also available.

Tasks first appears to the lower right of your screen. You can minimize the window and pull it up again as needed.  You can also click on the arrow to pop it out as a separate window that you can move around as you like.

You can directly create a Task item from within Gmail, by clicking on the More Actions pulldown and selecting “Add to Tasks.”  This creates a task item in whichever list you currently have open, with a link to the related email.

You can access Tasks from your phone or other mobile device, which makes those lists of errands much more useful as you’re out and about.

Features

  • you can create multiple task lists
  • you can easily move items from one list to another (very handy for moving items from Someday to This Week, or from Project lists to Action lists)
  • you can assign a due date to a task
  • a notes field lets you attach additional information to a task
  • when you click on the box to mark a task as completed, it appears in lighter text with strikethrough.  You can choose to view completed tasks or delete them from your Task view.
  • you can sort tasks by due dates
  • you can move tasks within your lists if you want to rearrange them
  • you can print a task list

Limitations

Google Tasks is a simple task management system without some of the bells and whistles found in other tools.  For instance, it does not offer a method for ranking your tasks by priority or percentage bars to display the number of subtasks completed on a given project.   For some users, this is a serious limitation; for others, like myself, it’s a blessing. (more on this below)

As of now, the integration of Tasks with Google Calendar will only display items from one of your Task lists, and these items will not print if you print the calendar view.  (A workaround for this is to create these tasks as “all day” events in your calendar, rather than as tasks.)

Philosophy (and my personal take)

With Tasks, Google has created a very simple, easy to use tool for keeping track of action items or other lists of information.   I don’t know whether the designers of Tasks were influenced by Getting Things Done in any way, but I like the way it fits with the GTD approach.  I’ve been using Tasks for 2-3 months now, after using a variety of other tools and systems, and for the most part I’m very happy with it.   If a tool has a lot of extra features, like priority rankings or color codings, I can spend a lot of time using them without much additional productivity payoff.  If those priority rankings are there to be filled in, it’s hard to resist them.   But according to David Allen, either an action item is one you intend to do (and should be on your lists) or it isn’t.  Labelling some of them priority #1 and some #2 (or all the way to #5) just creates a fuzzy set of intentions.  Do I really intend to do all the #5 tasks, or not?  Apparently not if I’m only going to keep doing the ones labelled #1.  Keeping my task management system simple helps me keep in touch with my true goals and priorities — which, after all, is really the point.

I also really appreciate the way that Tasks and Calendar are still clearly separate in how they function within the Googleverse.  One of the fundamental concepts in GTD methodology is that your calendar should only be used for scheduled events or firm deadlines — not for things you hope to do on a certain day.  Action or task lists are for keeping track of all the various things you have to or want to do.     If I am truly committed to doing a certain task on a specific day (like paying a bill) then I put it in my Calendar.  If I intend to do this task sometime in the next few days, it goes in one of my lists in Tasks, which I have subdivided according to context.

For me, using Tasks has helped me keep track of the actions I intend to do in a much more simple and intuitive way.  Having Tasks right there as I process my inbox and review my calendar helps me be more efficient in managing my action lists and also encourages me to review them more frequently.   If you’re already satisfied with your task management system, or  if you’re committed to Covey-style priority ranking of tasks, then Google Tasks might not be for you.  But if you use Gmail and Google Calendar and need a simple way to get more stuff done — it’s worth a try.

(cc licensed image adapted from flickr user Brett L.)

Do you use Google Tasks? Have questions? let us know in the comments!

 
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