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Google Checks Off "Add To-Do List to Gmail"

Google's free Gmail service is starting to do a lot more than just e-mail. Only weeks after adding video-chatting capability, Google has given Gmail users the option of plugging in a simple to-do list manager.

To activate this component, click the Labs link in your Gmail settings, then hit the "Enable" button next to the Tasks item atop that list. (If you're the tinkering type, check out the other options on that page; you might find some surprisingly useful.) Click the "Save Changes" button and you'll see a tiny "Tasks" item above your contacts list at the left of the Gmail window.

Clicking that link will pop up a small frame at the bottom right corner of the Gmail window, in which you can quickly type to-do items, then add due dates and notes to them (you can't assign levels of priority, although you can rearrange their order).


None of that is too exciting -- in general, Google is behind such competing online to-do list managers as Remember The Milk, and devotees of such hyper-organized to-do systems as David Allen's Getting Things Done ("GTD" for short) may find Gmail Tasks wildly inadequate.

But Tasks also hooks into your e-mail: Selecting "Add to Tasks" from the "More Actions" menu above the message list will add a new to-do item, labeled after the message's subject and with a link back to the original e-mail. This is a feature most mail programs don't even think to add (one of the few to offer it spent years in development hell), and yet it's a natural -- when you spend much of the day reacting to incoming e-mail, a large proportion of your tasks will emerge from your inbox.

That said, Google could make this feature smarter. For instance, although the site will offer to add events to your Google Calendar when it sees dates mentioned in a message, it can't seem to assign due dates to tasks in the same way. Less surprising, given this feature's quasi-experimental status: You can't view your tasks in Gmail's mobile-phone edition or in the calendar software on an Android phone.

But I won't be surprised if Google starts filling in those blanks soon.

What's your usual to-do list manager? And how does Gmail Tasks compare to that?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  December 9, 2008; 11:28 AM ET
Categories:  Productivity , The Web  
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Man, this Gmail program is going to be Something Else when they get it out of beta.

Posted by: Ronnie76 | December 9, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I can't find a Labs link in my GMail settings page.

Posted by: larrymac | December 9, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

For labs, click on the little green beaker on the top right side of your gmail screen (between your email address and settings).

I'm excited for a gmail to-do list, as I currently don't use one since I stopped using Microsoft Outlook. The limited functionality is fine by me - my organizational skills are limited.

I do wish, however, that it automatically put tasks that have due dates in the google calendar. That would be particularly helpful.

Posted by: sillyberry | December 9, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

So, does this integrate with apple mail to do list?

Posted by: ah___ | December 9, 2008 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I've been very happy with, despite its unlovely name. Free, very simple, blessedly clean-looking, can be emailed, texted, or sent to your feed reader daily, color-coding and several different lists possible. You never hear about it, and I can't think why. It's really quite nice, although of course it doesn't do automagic tricks like picking up a meeting from an email.

I used RTM for some time, but it's a bit complex to learn (although the shortcuts are nice) and--this was the deal-breaker--it mysteriously dropped things from my email version.

My ideal todo list would be hierarchical, which Gubb isn't. But I've never found a hierarchical method that's easy to use. Except, of course, paper and pen.

Posted by: tam3 | December 9, 2008 8:30 PM | Report abuse

This is fine if your only use of gmail is via the webapp. It's pretty useless if you IMAP your email to your iPhone/iPT/Desktop/laptop/laptop (ok, I have a machine problem). I'll stick with RTM and its ability to accept input via Quicksilver.

And, Ronnie, giggled m'self silly. Thanks.

Posted by: Bush--notrelated | December 10, 2008 5:59 AM | Report abuse

I find an excellent way to keep lists and notes. It uses the mind mapping format and very easy to use. It is free. Lots of alternative looks available. Also has desktop capability.

Posted by: wovose | December 10, 2008 6:54 AM | Report abuse

I can only assume that access to labs is being rolled out slowly, like many gmail features. There's no beaker, no link, no tab . . . I feel so left out.

Posted by: larrymac | December 10, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

pieces of paper to carry around and a new yorker desk calendar. interesting to look back after a few years and recalibrate what you think is important. sometimes the pieces of paper stay, sometimes they go away. everything i've ever done on a computer eventually goes away unless it's transferred to another medium.

Posted by: bnglfn | December 10, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Alas, Gmail Labs is still, a half year after the service was first announced, not available to those of us who do not happen to reside in the United States (possibly including Canada and the UK). Perhaps we are less valuable as Gmail/Google users ? Chi sa ?


Posted by: mhenriday | December 10, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I use Novell Groupwise at work. At home, I just use stickies...

Posted by: futbolclif | December 10, 2008 9:41 AM | Report abuse


While I don't use it daily, I have played around with 37 Signal's Ta-Da Lists ( I was very impressed with it.

I was wondering when Google would get around to coming up with one of their own.

Posted by: vjackson2 | December 10, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Been using Labs for a good long while here in the UK so that's not the problem.
Check you don't see "Newer Version" as a link top right - if you do, click it then the green Labs link should appear (if your browser supports the functionality).
If not, click Settings and try selecting either English(US) or English(UK) as the language and see if that makes a difference.

Posted by: johnnyl | December 10, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

This feature is not yet ready for primetime. I tried it out but I had a hard time deleting tasks. I guess it's still "experimental".

Posted by: hoos3014 | December 10, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I had Gmail a while back, but I dropped because of the difficulty in forwardin an email to multiple email addresses.
With I click on "To" in the message window and a complete list of my contacts appears. Then all I have to do is click on each one that I wish to send to.
If I remember correctly, with Gmail, I had to create groups with people who had common interests or opinions. However, any group that I created would not necessarily fit my criteria for sending a particular email.
So my question is: Does Gmail now have such a feature which seems so basic. Not having it always seemed strange to me since it's one of the most useful features I have in Yahoo. And, like I said, it's the reason I dropped Gmail.

Posted by: eddieferro | December 10, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Johnnyl, that was precisely the nature of my complaint - if one's «Gmail display language» is set to something other than English (in either its US or UK variety), one doesn't have access to Gmail Labs. My Gmail display language is set to Swedish, which, so far at least, puts me beyond the pale....


Posted by: mhenriday | December 10, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Gmail labs aren't yet compatible with all of our supported browsers. Labs are available only in Internet Explorer 7.0+, Firefox 2.0+, Safari 3.0+, and Google Chrome. You won't see a 'Labs' tab in your Settings if you're not using the newer version of Gmail on the browsers listed above. Please note that if you're using Internet Explorer 6.0, you will not have Gmail Labs.

Posted by: Ngader | December 11, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Uhh, so now not only will Google be caching and saving our emails for all time sake, but now it will also save a copy of our to-do list. Don't be afraid they don't intend to do anything with this info. But this endless database on everything we plan to do is merely one subpoena away from being very embarrassing...

I guess Illinois Governor Blogo. (and Google for that matter) is glad they didn't roll this out sooner. Otherwise we'd probably see in court US Attorney Fitzgerald:

"We give you exhibit 48: The Governor's Google To-Do-List:
November 5: Call and congratulate Obama for his victory, try to strong arm him for concessions.

November 6: Call Obama's office again, and try to see if I can loosen them up... and actually get to speak to Obama. Who’s he think he is. I’m the [expletive] Governor!

November 7: Call Candidate 1 to see if she wants to play ball cause I’m getting [expletive] out of the Obama office.

November 20: Candidate 1 is unwilling to play ball and has joined the administration. I still have [expletive] nothing to show since those [expletive] staffers at Obama's office still won't give me anything but [expletive]-ing “Appreciation“.... So, try calling Candidate 5’s booster , and see if I can get $1 mil in contributions.

December 3: Call SBC and find out what that odd click I've been hearing on my line is. Oh, yeah, and check to see if our Home owners association allows white vans to be parked on the street for longer than 20 days. My new neighbor might be in violation.

December 10: Send Governor Ryan a X-Mas card.... we might be roomies soon.


Your honor, we rest our case."

Posted by: Ultramarine | December 11, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I tend to avoid beta whenever possible. I signed up for both the original, tabbed to-do list and the beta (both designed by Teo) some time ago through google gadgets. I had never found the google labs feature easily accessible before today.

The primary advantage of the google to-do list is that you can copy to a google doc, where you can rearrange things to your heart's content. Spreadsheets work better for long to-do lists. But I will check out some of the list apps recommended by other folks here, as this to-do list is not very flexible.

I have seen privacy concerns voiced elsewhere about google gadgets being a gateway to infection, so Gov. B isn't the only one who should be cautious about using this gadget.

Posted by: befuddled86 | December 11, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

excel spreadsheet, TODOIST- try it out- pretty nice. And, frankly, what always works the best for me-- handwriting a list from day to day...

Posted by: pinto1 | December 12, 2008 11:42 PM | Report abuse

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