These five techniques let you leverage Gmail as a reasonably full-featured and effective task management system.
Google lets you track your own tasks in Google Tasks or track tasks with a team in Google Spaces. Either of those are solid solutions for many individuals or teams. For example, Gmail on the web offers an icon — a circle with a checkmark in it — that, when you select it, creates a new Google Task with a link to the currently selected email. When you require a more robust set of features, third-party tools such as Asana and Trello also integrate with Google Workspace.
SEE: Feature comparison: Time tracking software and systems (TechRepublic Premium)
However, if you’re one of those people who opens Gmail in a browser tab when you start work and simply leave it open all day, you might be surprised to learn that Gmail itself can serve as a functional task management tool. Gmail lets you track status, schedule items and group content much as you might with any conventional list. When used together, the following features may just mean you never need to leave your email to manage tasks again.
How to use Gmail for task management
Star any email that requires action
A Gmail star may serve to track active tasks: Star any email (Figure A) that requires action, then unstar each email when you complete a task. Display all starred items to access all incomplete tasks.
Snooze an email until the date and time you intend to act on it
When you receive an email that requires action you plan to take at a later time, you might select snooze (Figure B), then choose a date and time for the email to return to your inbox.
The snooze email feature acts much like a scheduled reminder in a task app, since Gmail prompts you to deal with the deferred email at your chosen time. A short snooze period of a day or two lets you re-receive emails when you may have more time to deal with them, such as after a weekend, a conference, or a day or two of meetings. A long snooze period of weeks or months might be more appropriate for significant actions that are required, but by no means urgent at present, such as reviewing alternatives to a service or preparing a required report.
Schedule an email with a task to yourself
An email to yourself can be a quick way to preserve an idea, a link or image for future reference or action. However, if you access the Send menu and choose Schedule send (Figure C), you may select a future date and time to send your own note to yourself.
Much like the snooze feature, a scheduled send can serve as a scheduled reminder of almost anything. Of course, you can use scheduled send to email other people too, which can be handy to ensure that people are prompted on a specific date and time to take action.
Use a label to group tasks by people or projects
When you have any email open, you may select the label icon, a five-sided object that looks like a rectangle with two angled sides that come to a point on the right.
Once selected, check a box next to any existing label or add a new label. I suggest you consider labels associated with projects, people or status. Since you may apply multiple labels to an email, you could potentially apply three labels to an email that indicate all three.
For example, labels of “Backup data,” “Alice” and “Waiting for…” could allow you to retrieve a particular email by any one of those labels (Figure D). This gives you a useful way to review outstanding items — ”Waiting for…”” — related to a person or project.
Combined, labels and scheduled email emails can function much like scheduled reminders and category groupings in a conventional task management system.
Give a colleague access to Gmail for help
If you have a trusted colleague or assistant, you may choose to grant them access to your Gmail account. This sort of shared access not only allows them to read and reply to emails sent to you on your behalf but also lets them use the various tactics described above to help you stay on task. For example, with shared access to your email, a person could snooze email or apply labels as appropriate (Figure E).
Should you choose to share access, though, make sure you fully trust the person and discuss in detail exactly how the two of you will coordinate email and task management.
Note that this sort of shared access is different than the type of group access granted when you create a Google Group to be used as a collaborative inbox. For details on that, see Process email with help: Inbox, collaborative inbox and delegation.
What’s your experience?
If you manage a lot of tasks, many people will prefer a dedicated task app, but people who currently haphazardly handle tasks and use Gmail may benefit from the tactics described above. Even an occasional use of some of these techniques can ensure that a task moves from need-to-remember to in-process to done.
Do you use any of the above techniques to manage tasks in Gmail? How often do you star, schedule or snooze email items? To what extent do you leverage labels to help you find and group emails in Gmail? Message or mention me on Twitter (@awolber) to let me know how you use Gmail to manage tasks.