It seems like Gmail is more and more becoming the online version of Microsoft Outlook. In mid-December they added Tasks to the list of features available in the Gmail labs. Tasks are a way to keep track of what you need to do and what you’ve already done.

To begin working with Gmail tasks, click on the little green bottle in the upper right. This is really just a shortcut to Settings> Labs. Next, click on the button labeled “Enable” and scroll to the bottom of the screen and click “Save Changes”.

Once back at the main Gmail screen, take a look on the left. Just under Contacts, you will see a link labeled “Tasks”. When you click it, an embedded window will pop up with your tasks. You can also get this window by using the keyboard shortcut “G” then “K” (short for Goto tasK). Be sure you have keyboard shortcuts turned on by going in to Settings> General and enable keyboard shortcuts.

The first time you bring up the tasks window, the list will be empty. If you have some tasks on your mind, you can simply type them in and hit enter after each task to enter the next one. On the right side of each task you will see a little chevron symbol. Clicking that will bring up additional details about the task, allowing you to put in a due date, or add additional notes. For example, I’ve got a trip coming up and I need to get a few things done. One of the tasks I’ll enter is to sign up for an ID card. I enter the task “Sign up for ID card”, then click the chevron to set a date. In the notes section, I’ll enter the web address where I need to go to enter the ID information.

Once I have completed a task I simply click on the checkbox to mark it complete.

There are lots of other options on the task list window. Like a chat window, you can minimize and maximize the window, and make the task list an independent browser window by clicking on the arrow icon in the upper right of the list. If you wanted it embedded again, click the link on the bottom of the new window labeled “Pop-in”.

On the bottom is a link called Actions. From here you can manage your tasks by moving them up down, or changing the indent level. Of course, I recommend using the keyboard shortcuts which are clearly labeled next to the action for fastest manipulation of your tasks. Indenting allows you to see your tasks in more of an outline format, but does not create any dependencies to the heirarchy that I’m aware of.

Also on the bottom of the window are icons to add and delete tasks and one of my favorites, the list menu. From here you can refresh a list, add, rename, select, or delete a list – giving you the power to keep your tasks for different projects or topics in separate lists. Just keep in mind that you can only view one list of tasks at a time.

I did find one bug in the embedded task window when used with “Labels on Right” labs feature enabled. When I click to the right of the Actions label, I can click “through” the tasks window and get whatever label is underneath. In my case it was all the email I had labeled for the upcoming trip.

Now for some real power. Let’s say you are reading an email and recognize you need to take some action on it. Previously, what I would do is label it with something like “@Actions”. It took a couple keystrokes and was fairly effective. Now, while reading the email, I can either use the “More actions” and select “Add to tasks” or type Shift-T to have it added to the task list. The subject is used as the task name. Shift-Enter will show me any details of the task, including a link back to the related email. Even if I archive the email, I can still find it quickly using the task list.

There is one thing I found lacking with the multiple lists. Shift-T will add the email to which ever task list was last selected. If I had a work project list selected when I added the task to get an ID card, I have no way to move it to the right list. This seems like a simple thing for Google to fix with a drop down list, much like using multiple calendars. If you are only using one task list, however, you have nothing to worry about.

Also lacking is a widget to see the tasks in a sidebar, much like Google Docs, or Calendar. That would seem to be a logical place for a quick glance. For a 1.0 product, it’s not bad for a simple list. Hopefully Google will adopt some of the early suggestions in ot their next release.


  • mmockus says:

    You mention to activate Tasks, you “click on the little green bottle…”. Note, if you do not currently have any Labs features turned on, there is not little green bottle. You have to select Setting –> Labs

  • Chuck Tomasi says:

    Right you are. Thanks for catching that detail. I always forget a baseline when I have so many things enabled.