While Google rightly gets a lot of flack for its scattered approach to messaging, its to-do list offerings have been a close second for sprawling, scrambled efforts. There’s Google Keep, a note-taking app; Google Reminders, which nag you about Calendar events, email follow-ups, or Keep notes; and Google Tasks, which originated in Gmail nearly a decade ago as a stripped-down to-do list feature. None of these services have historically played particularly nice together. But along with a revamped Gmail interface, Google Wednesday launched a dedicated Tasks app for iOS and Android—and may have not only cleaned up its mess, but given you a viable way to wrangle your to-dos.
Google Tasks is not, to be clear, a full-featured To Do app. Tasks is about as stripped down as it gets, in both form and function. In some ways that’s a relief; you won’t be tempted to dither. Open it up, and you’re greeted with a list of tasks. From there, you can either look at an existing task in a little more depth, or create a new one. In terms of visible options, that’s it.
Digging deeper doesn’t reveal much more. A hamburger icon in the lower-left corner lets you switch accounts, look at tasks you’ve organized under a separate list, or create a new list altogether. On the lower right, another tap lets you sort your items either by date or your own order. You can also rename or delete your list, or delete all completed tasks.
Even within specific tasks, your options are limited. You can add subtasks—think of them as related bullet points, like specific grocery items underneath a “Go to Publix” task—and assign a date. And that’s about it.
No, really, that’s all there is. You can’t narrow down tasks to a certain time, or share them with others. You can’t add tags for easy sorting. And Tasks doesn’t automatically recognize that “today” and “tomorrow” mean, well, today and tomorrow, which more sophisticated to-do apps can, automatically placing them in the appropriate slot on your calendar.
In some ways, the absence of features provides a sort of roundabout benefit. The more time you spend in your to-do app, the less time you’re actually doing. You don’t gussy up a zen garden with autumn ferns.
“We believe in the strength of a simple-to-use and straightforward tasks app,” says Tasks project manager Florian Goerisch. “A tasks app shouldn’t be complicated but should help you focus on getting your work done.”
There’s a balance, though, one that Tasks hasn’t quite met. Sometimes less is more, but it can also simply be less, particularly in instances when automation saves you the trouble of typing a whole word, or clicking a date on a calendar, or remembering what hour, specifically, you were supposed to get something done by.
If you haven’t found a to-do list that works for you—particularly a free one—it’s worth giving Tasks a shot.
Fortunately, Goerisch has a few items left on his Tasks to-do list. “We’re of course looking into bringing additional features to enhance the product,” he says, though he declined to say if that included Google Assistant integration, another currently absentee feature.
Even with its austere offerings, though, Tasks has plenty of appeal, especially since Google’s newly unveiled Gmail redesign gives it top billing. Well, side billing, technically; rather than having to dig for it, Tasks lives as an icon in a right-hand panel, along with icons for Calendar and Keep. One click, and your to-do list springs to life inside your email. It’ll do the same soon in Docs, Sheets, Slides and Calendar, as the refresh seeps into other G Suite products.
And while Keep and Tasks may still share some overlapping functions, they deviate enough that it makes sense for them to live as distinct options. At least, for now. “Tasks is for to-do management. It is designed to help users manage lists of tasks and subtasks related to work, for example—emails to reply to, meetings to prepare for, and documents to review,” says Goerisch. “Keep is for note taking and quick capturing of ideas.”
So no, it’s not as beautiful as Things. It’s not as feature-full as Todoist. It doesn’t use a smart assistant like Any.do (although lord knows Google’s capable). But if you haven’t found a to-do list that works for you—particularly a free one—it’s worth giving Tasks a shot. It may not do it all, but it does the basics well. And if you’re already heavy into Google’s ecosystem, it’s going to do them the places you need them most.
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