Mobility

How Google stealthily built a "Getting Things Done" suite of apps

With Calendar, Inbox by Gmail, and Google Keep, Google has created a productivity suite focused on getting things done. Andy Wolber shows you how to be more productive with these apps.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

In December 2015, Google added the ability to add reminders in the Google Calendar mobile app. As a result, I changed the email app I use.

I realize that may seem a bit odd.

As many people know, I'm not really a fan of email. Email allows other people to push tasks to me. I much prefer social tools where public conversations include everyone, and group conversation tools that eliminate long email threads.

I am, however, a huge fan of lists and task management tools. I've tried all types of task management tools. I like lists.

So, when Google announced the ability to add reminders in the Calendar app—I immediately downloaded the update and tried it. I learned that I could add a reminder in the Calendar app, and that I could set a reminder for any particular date and/or time. No surprise there.

Then, I noticed that reminders set in Calendar also display in the Inbox by Gmail app. Note—not in Gmail, but in Inbox by Gmail, which is the newer email app. I had tested Inbox by Gmail briefly after Google first released it, but stopped using it since it initially only worked with Gmail accounts. Now, Inbox by Gmail can work with Google Apps accounts, too.

Inbox by Gmail

Inbox by Gmail presents itself as an email app. But, I think of Inbox as a task-focused message management tool. And, that's the reason I switched from Gmail to the Inbox by Gmail app.

You see, Inbox by Gmail allows you to process each email as a task.

Not ready to deal with an email? Select snooze and tell Inbox when to display the email again. Or, if the email is something you need to do at a specific place, ask Inbox to remind you when you're at a specific location.

On some emails, Inbox auto-suggests three short replies. Tap one, add your edits, then hit send.

Even the terms imply task management. You mark an email "Done" to dismiss it from the Inbox. No more "Archive" or "Move to trash." Instead, with Inbox, you work with a list and you mark it "done."

Reminders

When you create a reminder in Inbox by Gmail, you can set it for a specific date, time, or place.

Inbox by Gmail displays these reminders at the top of your incoming message task list. (Put another way: Email that you haven't-yet-marked-done list!) Reminders display on your calendar, too.

Reminders created in Google Keep also display in Inbox by Gmail, and on Calendar.

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Inbox by Gmail reminders may be set for a date, time, or place.

Get started with Inbox

To use Inbox by Gmail with a Gmail account, first install the Inbox mobile app on Android or iOS. Open the app and sign in with your Gmail account. After you set up Inbox on your mobile device, you can access Inbox from your desktop browser at http://inbox.google.com.

For people who use a Google Apps account, your administrator first needs to enable Inbox by Gmail. If you're the administrator, sign in to the Google Apps admin console, go to Apps, then Google Apps, then Gmail, then Advanced settings, then End User settings, and check the box next to "Enable Inbox by Gmail and join the early adopter program." (The administrator must also read and affirm the additional terms that indicate that Gmail may offer features not yet available in Inbox by Gmail.)

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An administrator must enable Inbox by Gmail before Google Apps accounts can use the app.

Getting things Done

Many of you may recall David Allen's best-selling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. The whole point of the GTD methodology is to help knowledge workers, well, get things done. You do a task at the right place, at the right time, and when you have access to the necessary materials and information. And, when you can't do a task, you store the task in a system you trust—outside of your brain.

Some of GTD focuses on list management. You keep a list of your next actions, a list of projects, a list of someday/maybe items, and so on. Even a Calendar is a special type of list: A list of actions that must occur on a specific date and time.

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Set a Calendar reminder for a specific date or time... which is precisely how David Allen's Getting Things Done system defines a calendar task.

Now, open the Google Calendar app on Android or iOS and create a reminder. Notice anything? Unlike Keep and Inbox, when you create a reminder in Calendar you can choose a date and time, not a place. Remember, GTD defines a Calendar as a list that contains items that must occur on a specific date and/or time. That's what helped me realize exactly what Google has created.

Google's given us a suite of apps that work together to support Getting Things Done. But, to see that, you'll need to use all three apps: Calendar, Inbox by Gmail, and Google Keep.

So, I switched my email client from Gmail to Inbox by Gmail because Google added support for reminders in the Calendar app. I wanted to be able to create, view, edit, and mark tasks complete in all three apps. Together, these three apps help me get things done.

What do you think?

Have you tried reminders in Calendar, Keep, or Inbox? And, if you use the GTD system, how well do you think these three apps support your work?

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About

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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