The Best To-do App is… Gmail?!

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I’ve tried out tons of project management and to-do list apps over the years, and I could never stick to one of them for long. They all share the same problem: too much friction.

Here’s the typical workflow for any of these apps:
  1. Received a new email asking you to add a cover sheet to your TPS report
  2. Open the task management app or site
  3. Create a new task
  4. Type in or copy/paste the task
Even if your to-do app is already open, you’re still switching back and forth from email to app, loosing your focus each time. Basically, its a lot of extra hassle and wasted time for something that’s supposed to make you more productive.
New apps like Taskforce aim to solve the problem by integrating the to-do app directly in the Gmail window. But while that’s a great idea, my solution is even simpler: Gmail is the to-do app.
Let me show you how it all works.

1. Enable superstars

Superstars is a Gmail lab feature that enables extra indicators instead of just the standard yellow star.
You can find Gmail Labs by clicking on the Gmail settings icon
To enable Superstars, click the small settings icon in the upper right, choose “Labs”, and then search for “Superstars” and enable it.

2. Configure it

Pick two stars to use
Configuration is easy. With the plugin enabled, go to General > Settings, and scroll down to “Superstars”. Just pick two stars in the list, one to represent “reply” and one to represent “important”. Note: the “reply” star should probably be first.

3. Use it!

So what does that do? Well, nothing yet. But now you’re armed with all the tools you need to kick inbox butt, and solve your to-do problem at the same time.
Click the star!
A new email from your boss! And it’s super urgent! But don’t panic: just click the outlined star to set a star. Gmail will pick the first one of the series, and clicking again will cycle through all your stars.
The first star means “reply to this”. That’s all. Whenever any new email comes in, most of the time you’ll just set this star to remind you that it’s unreplied. Most people already do this by choosing to “keep unread” unreplied emails, but this technique is less than ideal, since there’s no way to distinguish between an email that has truly never been read and one that has been kept unread.
By using a star instead, you can also keep your inbox unread count to 0, which is less stressful. At the same time, Gmail still tells you how many starred (=actionable) emails you have (“1-X of X”, on the right side), it’s just not as visible so it’s less distracting.

4. The next level

So now you have a surefire way to know which emails need to be replied to. But that still doesn’t replace a to-do app, does it? Well, that’s where the second superstar comes in. Once you’ve replied to an email, if it still contains actionnable items just click the star again to set it to the exclamation point.
This means: "something needs to be done"
You now have two levels of “to-do-ness”. Things that need to be replied to, and things that need to be done. And you can see all your actionable items just by clicking “Starred” in Gmail’s left column.
Once a task is done, just click the exclamation point again to unset the star. That’s all there is to it.

5. Wrapping up

So here’s the new workflow in a nutshell:
  1. Received a new email asking you to add a cover sheet to your TPS report
  2. Set the “reply” (double arrow) star
  3. Reply
  4. Set the “to-do” (exclamation point) star
That’s it. No checkboxes, no priorities, no deadlines. Just two simple steps: reply to the email, and then do what it asked you to do.
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My name is Hassan admin of iPhonebux UAE nationality I'm 26 years old and I live and work in Barcelona, Spain I work as a professor of elementary informatics at a private university in Barcelona I love blogging and focus on what's new in the world of technology