Posted by: Frank | February 3, 2009

Tracking Tasks on Android

A significant omission from the Android PIM applications is Tasks. In a way that was not a surprise because the Google Calendar application didn’t include task tracking, nor was there a stand alone Tasks application. About a month ago Google added a Tasks applet in Google Labs, which you can add to Gmail. The applet is really a small outliner that allows you to indent and unindent items to organize tasks, but doesn’t provide collapse or expand. You can move tasks, including associated indented tasks, up and down the list to do some level of prioritization, but there really is no prioritization ability either simplistic like Outlooks High, Medium, and Low, or more complicated like Getting Things Done. A work around could be to create multiple lists, one for each priority type or in GTD terms, context, but that might be too complicated.

Today I have learned that there is now a corresponding Android version of the Gmail tasks that you can access via Of course, it accesses the same information that you have in the desktop version, but it is a web application, so unlike the full Gmail, Contacts, and Calendar applications in Android, you must have an Internet connection to get to see your tasks. While this may be an adequate short-term solution, I think there really needs to be a standalone Android Tasks application that synchronizes with the Google Tasks application and provides more functionality to make task management useful.

When I first got my G1 I immediately noticed the lack of a Tasks application, and since I use lists for task tracking I thought of work-arounds because at that time there weren’t many, if any, Tasks applications in the Android Market. My work-around is simple and in some ways more powerful than the new Google Tasks or most of the tasks applications in the Market. The work-around uses Gmail for storage and Gmail’s Labels and email address aliases and filters to separate my “tasks” from all other email.

First, I created a “ToDo” label in Gmail. The idea is that I can add any email that I receive to my Task list by assigning it the ToDo label. To simplify the process of creating a task item, I use an email alias. Aliases are a version of your normal Gmail email address that looks like the following: The “+foo” part of the address is the alias. Gmail basically ignores that part of the address and sends the email to your inbox. Many people use aliases to create unique addresses when registering on web sites to help identify the source of spam. If you only ever used to register at site X, and never any where else, and all of sudden you are receiving email for, you know the source of the spam.

Another good thing about aliases is that you can create Gmail filters that look for the address and do something with them. For my gmail tasks, I created a filter so that whenever I receive an email sent to the alias the filter assigns the “ToDo” label to it, stars it, and then archives it so that the task email doesn’t appear in my Inbox list. Gmail’s stars is the only form of prioritization that I can think of for this work-around, but admittedly this prioritization is not optimal.

The final piece of my work-around is to add a shortcut to the Gmail “ToDo” label on the home screen of my G1. Press and hold on the home screen to display a pop-up menu, expand the Shortcut option, and select Gmail label. You will then see a list of all your Gmail labels, and I selected my “ToDo” label, which then added a ToDo shortcut on the home screen. When I tap the shortcut, Gmail starts and only displays the email items with the “ToDo” label, which is basically my tasks list. As I complete a task I simply delete the email. If I want to save it for some reason I could remove the ToDo label, perhaps assigning a “Complete” label instead. I could also unstar an item to indicate it’s complete, but the star functionality isn’t too useful in Android and I think it would be great if I could sort the email by whether not they are starred.

Because my task items are simply email, adding a task is pretty simple: I just send an email to the email alias that I use for the filter. On my G1 I have a contact card with the email address assigned so if I just start typing the name of the contact, the contact pops up, I select the email address, and compose the email. The subject line is the task item and in the body of the email I write any notes about the task. One final trick, is that I also add the email alias to the CC field of the original email so that if I want to annotate that task item with any notes, I do a “Reply To All” to that task/email item and a new email with the subject line is sent as a reply, where Gmail’s threading feature associates the new email with the original email and the filter that I created is applied.

My solution is simple, and provides synchronization of my tasks list so that I can access it whether or not the G1 is connected to the Internet. However, it is basically a single, flat list of items so while this works for the moderate size of my personal task list, I don’t think it would work with the multitude of work tasks I have where I need stronger prioritization and filtering to change the views of my tasks list. As Google adds more features to their Tasks application, it may replace my work-around, particularly if Google provides a simple way to turn an email item into a Task. Because I am only using my G1 for personal data, I have not explored the variety of Tasks applications now in the Android Market. The advantage of my approach is that it doesn’t require another application to be installed on my G1, which would occupy more of the ever decreasing storage space on my G1.


  1. Good idea – I’ve been wondering about this – even in Sept 2009 there still doesn’t seem to be a didedicated Android app for this.. strange. Thanks!

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