Make my Google productivity system behave
July 17, 2017 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I've been trying to get an all-Google productivity system to work for a while now, but I keep running into roadblocks. Calendar works great, but I just cannot get a todo system to work. Help me iron this out?

I have ADHD and I've found that spreading my productivity tools among a bunch of different apps and programs really diffuses my focus and makes it difficult for me to work. Only having to log in to one thing and being able to link up calendars, todos, email, notes, and documents, is amazingly helpful. Thus I've been trying to move everything to Google. I use Google Drive for all my documents, Inbox for my email, Keep for my notes, Calendar for my calendar. All of these work great. But the one thing I can't get to work is my todo list.

I tried using Google Tasks for a while, but found it cumbersome. It also seems like a project Google is abandoning, so I'm hesitant to start relying on it. I also really like the reminders feature in Calendar (especially how it will carry over to the next day if you don't complete it), and you can't use both on Calendar at the same time (you have to switch back and forth). I've been trying to use Keep as a to-do list, adding tasks as notes and using tags and reminders and such. This works... okay. Three problems with it:

1) I can't put due dates. I can kinda hack it by putting in a reminder, but I usually want to remind myself to start the task before it's due, or at a certain time when I know I'll be able to complete it. I want to be able to have a hard due date (and arrange tasks by due date--so just putting it in the title or something won't work) and also reminders.
2) It clutters up my notes. I would like to keep my notes and todos separate. I know I could use Google Drive for my notes, but it's not as convenient as Keep, which I use for jotting down quick thoughts or saving links.
3) It doesn't work with Google Assistant on iOS (yes, I am indeed regretting not holding out for the Google Pixel). Right now I'm hacking it by using an IFTTT recipe to append notes to a "Daily Notes" Google doc that I transfer to Google Keep at the end of the day, but that's awkward and doesn't let me put in tasks + reminders that I need to complete today.

Another problem I have is reminders are kind of spread everywhere. I can make a quick reminder in Google Assistant that will go on my Google Calendar (although, for some reason, it will remind me through the Google Assistant app on my phone instead of the Google Calendar--which would be fine, except Google Assistant doesn't allow me to check off a reminder as done, while Google Calendar does). But this won't show up in my Google Keep, and there's no way for me to see all of my reminders in one place as a list--except Inbox. And the quite frankly infuriating thing about Inbox is I can't see only uncompleted reminders; if I click the 'Reminders' button it shows me all my reminders, including completed ones. This means my late reminders often get buried under completed reminders.

At this point, I'm open to using another todo app as long as it syncs with Google Reminders and works with Google Assistant (even if through an IFTTT recipe). Is there anything that will:

1) Let me put in a due date that is functional when I want to organize tasks by due date, but also let me put in (preferably multiple) reminders leading up to the due date
2) Sync with Google Calendar Reminders--not events. I've seen a lot of todo apps that will put tasks as events and that is not what I want. I also want it to be a two-way sync, letting me create tasks in Google Calendar or the todo app. Toodledo, for example, seems to only let Toodledo and Calendar subscribe to each other--not what I want. I just want to be able to see and edit tasks from my calendar!
3) Work with Google Assistant. If it's got an IFTTT channel then it should work. And if this just isn't possible, then at least something that has a widget + voice command that allows me to enter tasks quickly.

Is there any iOS app that will do this? Barring that, what can I do to make a Google productivity system work?
posted by brook horse to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am not certain I completely understand the primary gist of your question, i.e., the specific requirements of what you want for your replacement to-do system. You describe the problems you have with your current system, but the requirements of what you want replaced are not as clear.

That having been said, it is worth noting that if you install the IFTTT app on your iPhone, you will have access to a number of channels, including iOS Reminders, that can then be shunted elsewhere. I assume that may be why you want Google Assistant as a piece of your system. For example, you could create an IFTTT applet that would transfer reminders you dictate to Siri into Todoist or any other connected app.
posted by WCityMike at 9:32 AM on July 17, 2017

Sorry, I tried to be clear but my brain is kind of all over the place. What I want to use are Google Reminders, not iOS Reminders. I can't view iOS reminders on my computer, so those don't work for me. Google Reminders can be viewed on both a phone and computer, and they show up in my inbox and in Chrome. The IFTTT channel for Google Calendar only creates events, not reminders, so I can't use Siri to create a Google reminder.

What I want is to be able to view my tasks by the order they are due, but also set up multiple reminders (or at least one) leading up to the due date. Keep doesn't work for that. There are lots of todo apps that do this, but I want one that syncs with Google Calendar Reminders so that I'm not juggling multiple systems, and so I can view reminders on my calendar (I don't want to move away from Google Calendar because it works so well for me). If that's not possible, I'd like to figure out some other way to use Google that allows me to organize my tasks by due date and use reminders. This may be a trick of Google I don't know, or it could just be a more streamlined system.

Hopefully that clarifies what I'm looking for?
posted by brook horse at 9:42 AM on July 17, 2017

If I can, I'll return to this later, but in the meantime, you can view iOS reminders on your computer:
posted by WCityMike at 10:00 AM on July 17, 2017

Unfortunately you're not going to find a non-Google app that supports Google reminders. I use a 3rd party calendar widget, and the developer explained to me that, as yet, Google haven't opened the reminders API to the world in general. This means that unfortunately no 3rd party developer can access Google reminders for their apps. I plan to investigate todoist soon to see if that fits my needs. I'm looking at that because it apparently will give me time and location based reminders, and integrates with Android Wear and my shiny new Amazon Echo.
posted by punilux at 1:14 PM on July 17, 2017

punilux: "todoist soon to see if that fits my needs. I'm looking at that because it apparently will give me time and location based reminders"

Not OP, but of note, I found Todoist's location-based reminders to be pretty substandard.
posted by WCityMike at 2:32 PM on July 17, 2017

I'm sorry to answer with an answer that doesn't quite fit your requirements, but I'm a person with attention problems and I have an all-Google to-do system that I'm happy with. Maybe this will work for you, or maybe you can adopt parts of it.

1. Create a label in Gmail for To Do. (optional: I have a To Do Soon and To Do Later. Soon = "the actual to-do list" and Later = "this is a waste of my time but I feel guilty about this so I'm putting it on this list so I can forget about it guilt-free." Later is awesome, it really helps me focus on the important stuff.)

2. Email tasks to yourself with due dates written prominently in the subject or at the top of the body. The To-Do label is now your list. You can create an alias in Gmail like and create a filter to send anything sent there to the correct label, so it's automatic. Bonus: you can email from any email address in the world, so if you're away from your devices or at a work computer you can still add to your list.

3. Review your to-do label daily, or however often you need to. Create a repeating Google Calendar entry to do this.

4. When you're actually going to do something, put it in your Google Calendar with whatever reminders you want. Set a realistic duration - sure, writing that email will only take 10 minutes, but you know you'll procrastinate for 20 minutes, write for 20, and obsess over it for 20 more, so go ahead and give it 60 minutes. If you finish faster, great. Reminders can be a Calendar alert or an email. I use email alerts for the really critical "this MUST be done" stuff. For really important tasks, I'll often put 2-3 reminders on for 1-3 hours in advance so I mentally prep for the task.

5. Review your calendar 2 or more times daily. Create recurring Calendar reminders for this if needed. If you don't do something at its appointed time in Google Calendar, that's fine. Just move the appointment to another open time and work on it then. No judgements, just be realistic.

6. Don't use Google's reminders except for Google Calendar, because reminders outside of Calendar suck: they don't get a duration, are hard to reschedule, and are easy to lose/hard to review. Calendar is much better.

7. When something is done, remove the email from your To Do label. Bask in how productive you are.

Good luck hammering out your system. Honestly, for me anything beyond Gmail + Google Calendar is unnecessary complexity.
posted by Tehhund at 6:45 PM on July 17, 2017

Using Trello connected to Google Calendar might provide some of the functionality you're looking for. Unfortunately, I think the Trello cards will still show up as Google Calendar events rather than any kind of pop-up reminder, but Trello is pretty robust as far as allowing checklists, different lists for need to do, working on and done, inputting deadlines with dates AND times, etc. There are some IFTTT recipes associated with it, but I also think Trello itself allows for Google Calendar integration without 3rd party services.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:14 AM on July 18, 2017

You can see your Google App reminders in the Google App in addition to in Inbox. Before Assistant, you could just say "show me my reminders" and it would take you to the correct page. You can't mark them as complete outside of Inbox, but completed tasks are all listed together at the bottom of the display so at least those are out of the way.

Overall, it works decently well for a quick reminder here and there with only occasional use, but as you've discovered, Google's solution has some significant limitations that make it difficult to use to consolidate all of your tasks.
posted by wierdo at 2:21 PM on July 18, 2017

So, I'm coming back to your question on a sleepless night.

Essentially, the problem is that there's no (real) Google to-do app. The closest you're going to get is Tasks/Reminders. There *is* a place where you can view all your reminders at once -- go to Google Calendar, click on the Reminders calendar, choose "Select Only This Calendar", and view in Agenda view.

I think your answer does indeed like in another todo app. Your prerequisites, though, aren't possible right now. Google doesn't allow other apps to work with Google Reminders or Google Assistant in the way you describe.

I would not try it to work with Google Reminders; nothing will, as I think someone pointed out.

Given this information, I'd look for an application with both a web interface and iOS app. I would look at the iOS app's notifications, to make sure its "reminder" notifications fulfill the purpose you're desiring. I would suggest you check out Todoist. I don't know if it allows the multiple notifications before a due date, but I *do* know it has an IFTTT channel, meaning that you can investigate how it can plug and play with the existing Google Assistant, Google Calendar, Google Assistant, and iOS-native channels. (The latter require that the IFTTT app be installed on your iPhone.)
posted by WCityMike at 2:56 AM on July 22, 2017

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