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Integrating Gmail and Toodledo: Bring Your Task Inbox to the Surface

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

As noted in an earlier blog post, when I used Outlook as my day-to-day email client, I relied heavily on the excellently conceived Netcentrix Outlook GTD plugin. Since migrating to Google Apps and Gmail, I’ve tried several different approaches to allow me to integrate my email inbox and a Getting Things Done (GTD) task management system. My currrent tool of choice for GTD and task/project management is Toodledo (TD). While it doesn’t specifically integrate with Gmail directly, the application has some special ways of accepting tasks sent to it from Gmail (or any other email client, or even Twitter).

The developers have created a clever means of using special syntax placed into the subject line of the email that will categorize an email for you automatically. For example, if I sent an email to my special Toodledo inbox, and created a subject line with “Pickup Dry Cleaning #Next thursday,” Toodledo would create a task for picking up the dry cleaning, along with next Thursday as the due date.

Email Subject Line Syntax‚ȆGood Usability
I keep a cheat sheet on my desktop with the special syntax (I have a Tomboy note for this), but I find it cumbersome to work this way in practice. Usability wise, it’s very easy to screw this up, and try as I might I often screw up the syntax. You have to think about it too much for my tastes.

Also, I often want to get the email into my “waiting” status (so I know to check on the receipients progress), and I hate the idea of the various TD syntax being exposed to the recipient of an email I’ve sent them.

Send Your Email to Toodledo, but Use Toodledo to Process
Using Toodledo, I’ve arrived at a system that works well for me now. It allows me to quickly track emails that need to be converted to tasks, and gives me the power/flexibility of Toodledo’s interface to process them. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I have a Gmail contact for my TD email address (the name field in the contact is TD), so I can just type “TD” in the “To:” field in Gmail.
  2. When I want to get an email into TD I either forward the email, or if I’m replying to someone, I BCC it to the TD address.
  3. In TD my default folder is something I’ve labeled “Inbox.” Any emails I forward from Gmail end up there to be processed GTD style. Then it’s really easy to quickly assign status, folder, context, due dates, etc…
  4. To make the “watched” inbox/gmail thing work for me, I run 4 tiled browsers (Chrome works well for this), each open to a different view on a secondary desktop, with the inbox in the lower right. I’ve set this up on a separate computer/monitor that I control via my main keyboard using an app called Synergy. This way my task dashboard is always in my face (and my task inbox is always visible). BTW, I use a really inexpensive Netop computer for this and an older/smaller LCD screen that I had lying around.
  5. I also utilize the Ultimate To-Do-List on my Android-based phone and keep my Inbox on a secondary home screen. I often end up doing mobile gmail to task conversion by forwarding mails from my Droid to Toodledo.

You can see this in action here (Inbox is in lower right):

TD Screenshot
Click on the image for a larger view

I consider this to be a work in progress. The second machine/synergy thing has really helped me, as has the Toodledo inbox folder as a means of processing.

There are several interesting Gmail/GTD tools out there that have caught my attention. GQueus and ActiveInbox look like they would be great GTD/task tools for Gmail users such as myself; however, to effectively evaluate them, I would have to reengineer my setup, which will require more time than I’m ready to spend right now (not ready to take the deep dive). Great as Toodledo is, the lack of a more direct Gmail/Google Calendar integration does have me keeping my eyes on other apps.

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