Getting things done simply with Google

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a productivity nerd. I read some blogs on personal productivity and I like trying out the latest and greatest tools that claim to make me more productive. Over the last few years, I’ve tried out a number of different tools and techniques, but I’ve never managed to stick to anything for more than a few weeks.

My latest attempt involved using Google Calendar to keep track of events that I needed to attend and Todoist as a task manager. The setup worked pretty well for a while, but some it wasn’t quite right. For example, I liked to make a weekly plan at the start of the week. I used Todoist’s projects feature to set up a project for each week and added a bunch of tasks. I’d make a toplevel task for each major work area for the week and put eveything I needed to do under that. This worked well for a while, but problems started to crop up. If I couldn’t get things done in a certain week, I had to move them from one week-project to the next. While this was ok for one or two tasks, it would become a pain for anything more. Being the tech enthusiast that I am, I started looking around for other solutions. I tried Remember the Milk and the Things application for the Mac. I rejected Things because it costs a pretty penny and I can’t afford to be tied to my desktop. Remember the Milk looked like a good possibility, but I just couldn’t agree with the interface. I couldn’t find an easy way to see all the tasks and I was afraid that unless I meticulously tagged and timed them, I would quickly start losing things.

Then I realized…

That the only thing that I really needed to keep myself organized was… lists. So I needed a simple list tool. Something that would easily let me see all available tasks, group them, move them about and add new ones. I also wanted that was thin on ‘features’ so that I wouldn’t get tempted to be all fancy. What was the bare minimum task manager I could get that was still fairly usable?

The simplest app I could find was Tadalist. It lets you make multiple lists and reorder them. That was close to what I wanted. But I did want a grouping mechanism, so that wouldn’t work. The answer, it turned out, was right under my door. Google recently integrated a simple task management app into Gmail. It’s simple and smoothly integrated into the Gmail interface. It has simple lists. No tagging, or labels or projects or any other bells and whistles. However, it does have a simple indentation feature that lets you indent lists one level in from the task above it. That’s good enough to help me distinguish groups of tasks.

To efficiently use Tasks, I set up two separate lists. One is the ‘current’ list, which contains all the things that I will be doing within the week. It has toplevel tasks for homework, this blog, other work and other projects. Anything that needs to be done goes into one of these categories. If needed, I can quickly create another category and put things down under it. I check off things once they’re done and clear the list of completed items when it gets too full (and I don’t need to remember what I’ve done). Every morning, I look through this list and try to schedule things using Google calendar. Calendar is then set up to set me reminders at times if I feel I need them.

The second list is my ‘inbox’ (GTD style). This is for everything that I might need or want to do, but know that I won’t have time for in the near future. Once a week I’ll be going through this list and moving things to current if need be.

This setup seems to be working quite well for now. There are some distinct advantages to this: it’s right in my email and I’ve learned to look it up every time I log in. Anything that comes in by email can be turned into a task easily. There is also a simple scheduling feature though I don’t really use it that much.

In the near future…

I hope that Tasks doesn’t go the way of some other promising Google products (such as Notebook). I would certainly like to see just a few more features added. Moving tasks between lists would be appreciated, even if it’s not drag-and-drop. Indentation is nice, but folding indented items would be nice to have. I also hope that they let Tasks talk to Calendar. It would be awesome if I could take a task, set a time for it and have it show up in my Calendar automatically.

Google Tasks provides a very lightweight task management tool. If you already have a comfortable setup with another tool, there really isn’t a compelling reason to change. Most tools have much more features. In all fairness, I could probably use Todoist the same way I use Tasks now. Also if you spend most of your time on one machine, a desktop app would be a choice worth looking into. What Tasks has going for it most at the moment is integration with Gmail and the possibility of tying into Calendar at some point in the future. Though I quite enjoy the setup, it’s certainly a set up most suited to minimalists.


Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

6 thoughts on “Getting things done simply with Google”

  1. I hadn’t tried it before, but since reading this I check it out. It is pretty good. Your comment about Gcal syncing is good. They must be working on this since Google is all about the syncing. I don’t know about moving items between parent items, but I did see that you can create different lists with the list icon at the bottom and move items between those lists.

    I’m sure they’ll be coming out with updates relatively soon. If Gmail is still beta then they clearly are enough of perfectionists to not let Tasks stay as is.

  2. Keeping it simple with apps is definately the best way to go. How often did we get stuck in managing the productivity tools rather than actioning on something…

  3. Hello!! I like this post, which I found via @mindassistfeed ‘s Twitter stream (

    I just want to “update” it: I think Google Tasks already does “talk” with gCalendar. You can access your Google Tasks in gCalendar adding them as a new calendar, I think.

    Anyway, I would like to ask you: are you still keeping it simple and using Google Tasks, or did you change to another tool or solution?

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