Google has spent the last half decade cruelly taunting me with its to-do list app. Google Tasks was first released as a standalone app back in 2018, and Google seemed to have big plans for its task management tool. And then… nothing. Actually, worse than nothing: Google released and developed so many disconnected reminder setting products that it became almost impossible to figure out where your tasks were, what they were, and how you were supposed to do something.
But in the last few months, something miraculous happened: Google actually fixed it. The company spent this spring combining all of its Tasks and Reminders products into a single tool that can be accessed almost everywhere and through almost any Google product. There are still some holes in the system and many task management features are still missing. But Google Tasks also has some unique advantages, and for the first time, I’m using it and enjoying it.
The big change Google made was funneling all reminders to Google Tasks. So if you say to the Google Assistant, “Remind me to change my clothes in an hour,” that goes to Google Tasks. Add a task from your Nest Hub Max and it will appear under Tasks. If someone assigns you a task in a Google document, it will appear in your task list with a link to that document. Create a task in Google Calendar? It also appears in Google Tasks. Where before there were multiple back-ends, now there is only Google Tasks.
This is an unequivocally better idea than any chaos Google has ever had before, not to mention the obviously correct answer: It’s almost strange that it took Google so long to make such a simple change. It never made sense that “Remind me to bring the garbage cans tonight” would go anywhere but Homework. But hey! Now go to Tasks.
Google Tasks isn’t even remotely close to being a powerful project management tool on par with Todoist or some of the other apps out there. Even Apple’s Reminders app can do more. It’s much closer in spirit to a paper to-do list: just a bunch of written things you need to do.
But Google has one crucial thing going for it: ubiquity. Unlike the piece of paper where I write my lists on and then lose them or the apps I set up and then forget to check for days, Google Tasks is effectively unavoidable if you use Google products. It’s in the sidebar of Gmail, Docs, and other Google products, tasks appear right in Google Calendar, the mobile app is simple but works well, and I love being able to open the Google Assistant and just say, “What are my homework? for today?”
Google has one crucial thing going for it: ubiquity.
That kind of integration helps make sure you don’t miss things on your list, but more importantly, it makes it easier to put things in the list. I’m constantly scrolling between ultra-powerful to-do list apps that turn out to be too complicated and tools that don’t do much but at least make it easy to add them to my list. Google Tasks is at the far end of that spectrum. Also, opening the Assistant and saying “Remind me to pick up my dry cleaning in three days” is the best capture tool I’ve found. A second later, that task is on my list and on my calendar, right next to my inbox. I might even remember to do it now.
The only remaining hurdle is Google Keep, which is still very strange: You can add a reminder to a Keep note, but it doesn’t show up in Tasks. This integration could be cool – tasks could even take all the checklist items in your Keep notes, add due dates etc, but at least I can live with the idea that I have a notes app and a to-do app , and they are separate things . Also, Keep is at the top of the “apps I’m not sure Google even remembers doing” list, so I’m not surprised it’s not part of the new setup.
My main constant complaint is the same one I have for almost every other Google product: it’s all too complicated if you have more than one Google account. There’s just no way to see all your tasks in one place if you have multiple accounts, making it difficult to manage everything. Tasks really should have a similar view to the Gmail app’s “All Inboxes” feature, but all you get on mobile is quickly switching between accounts. I’d also like to have a way to subscribe to Tasks, like I subscribe to things in Google Calendar, which is how I can currently see my work and personal events in one place. But there are no dice there either. Basically, you’re stuck with identical but totally separate task lists for each of your accounts.
The story goes that this is the last time Google will care about Tasks for a while, none of the remaining issues will be fixed for another half decade, and it will never become the true productivity powerhouse it could be. Even if that’s the case, it’s ultimately an app worth using. It’s not a power user tool, but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be a place where you can throw everything away without worrying that you’ll never find it again. In some ways, having a bunch of reminder tools is worse than not having any. Google finally only has one.
Well two. I don’t think I’ll ever get the seamless Keep integration I’ve been hoping for. But I’ll take what I can get.