Scott Huffman Blog

March 13, 2007

HowTo: Using Gmail For Todo List Management

Filed under: Email, Gmail, Google, Productivity — Scott Huffman @ 12:09 pm

gmail vs gcal

For the past 3 months or so, I’ve been using Google Calendar as an informal way of managing my todo list. I would create an appointment for the time when I need to be reminded of the task, and I would get an SMS reminding me of the task. This was nice, I just didn’t have a very good way of pushing back tasks, or hitting a “snooze”, or even showing that the task was complete.

I decided to experiment using Gmail for todo list management. I created a “_todo” label (to keep the label near the top of my list of labels). I created a filter so that all emails coming into my gmail account with a subject starting with “todo – ” would be automatically added to the todo label, archived, and starred. This worked pretty good, but I ran into an almost random dilemma. I received an email from a friend with a subject starting with “todo – “, and it got added to my todo list. That isn’t so good. I added the incoming email address to be my work email address which is where most of my todo list items originate.

After using this system for a few days, I realized that using a special email address for adding todo entries would work well. On my personal website domain, I have Google Apps enabled, so that I can create custom email addresses and using Gmail forwarding for those email addresses. I created a new “todo” email account, that forwards all the email it gets to my Gmail account. On the Gmail side, I have a filter that takes all email sent to the todo account and places it in the todo label, stars and archives it. That way, only someone who knows about the account can send me a todo, and I can send myself a todo through any email account and using SMS on phone. When the todo item is created, it is starred and unread. I then read the todo item, showing that it has been processed. When the item is complete, I unstar the item. I now have a list of completed tasks as well. The included picture shows how it looks.

Now for the HowTo:

Gmail todo list

  1. Create a new email address with a service that allows for email forwarding.
  2. Forward all the email from the new address to your current main Gmail address.
  3. Create a new label for todo items.
  4. Create a filter for all items sent to your “todo account” to be added to the todo label; star & archive the new item as well.
  5. You can now send a new todo item to your “todo account” and have todo items automatically added to your Gmail account.

I like managing my todo list in the same place that I manage my email, although sometimes a reminder is needed when the task has a definite deadline. I still use Google Calendar for reminders to bring something to work in the morning, or perhaps to check a certain website at a certain time during the day.



  1. That’s a great idea – I too would like to integrate my to do list with gmail, since they’re both open all the time. I’d really hope that someday somebody at Google might develop a little sidebar todo widget though, like the Talk window. For now, good idea.

    Comment by pastorcox — August 11, 2008 @ 8:52 am

  2. I was thinking of exactly the same thing. I just bought a G1 from T-Mobile and I love Google, Gmail, and the Android phone. I even got a password manager program for the G1. The only thing I didn’t seem to find right away was a good to-do list. It struck me today that Gmail itself could be a great place to send to-do items and then be able to access them from anywhere in the world, free of charge, an from my G1 as well. Plus, I can add attached files to the to-dos for free, up to 7GB. Reminders and the like have to go through Google Calendar.

    Great idea! I’m sure there are some tricks needed to make it really useful, but this issue is one I’ve been working on for a long time, and this idea could really work!

    Comment by Tom Taranto — November 27, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  3. I’ve adopted this system with some tweaks. Apart from the todo label, I have one for each class I’m taking (I’m in high-school and so use it to keep track of assignments) and a set of labels with statuses.
    The todo label is preceded by three periods “…Todo” to keep it near the top.
    Next each class is named with two periods “..Class” to keep them after the todo label.
    Each status has only one period “.Not Started”

    I use a complex series of filters to make sure everything goes where it needs to go, but it works perfectly, proof of the extensibility of Gmail as a todo list.

    Comment by Mary J — January 2, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

  4. You, my friend, are a genius. Nice gmail hack

    Comment by Best To-Do List — June 9, 2012 @ 6:46 am

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