Intelligent Tasks in Mail.app

Task IconWith its latest update, Apple added some new features to their Mail.app that I think are more than worth mentioning. New in Apple’s Mail application is the ability to compose notes and tasks. Of course you could already write tasks in iCal, which worked fine, but Mail.app can do more.

First of all, Mail has the ability to store notes and tasks on the server. If your server supports this, as IMAP servers such as GMail and my own do, this allows you to access all of your notes and tasks remotely. Even without your Mac nearby; no synchronisation required. Best of all, these server-side tasks still show up in iCal, so it won’t break whichever workflow you may already have.

But it gets better. Mail.app also allows you to add tasks to your mail messages. I was a little sceptic at first at the idea of using Mail.app to manage my tasks or my calendar (I particularly don’t like the way this turned out in Outlook), but this is huge. I only now realise how often incoming mail messages lead to tasks. Now I can read a mail message, decide it needs action and add a task to that message with the click of one button. When completing the task at a later time, I can always open the corresponding message directly from the task by clicking on an arrow icon next to the task.

A task embedded in a mail messsage in Mail.app

There are still some quirks Apple needs to work out though. For instance, selecting a message in the message list and then clicking the “Create a To Do” button does not add a To Do to the selected message. You need to click inside the message pane or open a new window for the message first. Also, the list of tasks in Mail.app is less clear than the one in iCal (no use of colours, priority indicated with text instead of icons etc.) even though a lot more space is available. I want to use iCal for that anyway, but Apple could at least have given iCal a facelift to make better use of these new features.

Overall, the new features make Mail.app a lot more powerful. They perfectly complement the “inbox zero” philosophy I adopted recently.

Some more images illustrating Mail.app’s new feature:

Extended options are available under the arrow icon The task list shows arrows that link to the messages, but it could be improved Tasks created in Mail show up in iCal, but the URL is hard to find
Extended options Task list, with arrows A task in iCal

8 Responses to “Intelligent Tasks in Mail.app”

  1. This is great. I just started dabbling in GTD and I wanted to try out some things first before I chose to buy software like Omniorganizer. This lets me try out the system before spendig money.

  2. Roelant says:

    If you’re serious about GTD and/or the zero inbox method, you might want to take a look at iGTD (freeware). It supports the same workflow, but not only coming from Mail.app, but basicly any application that has something to link to. Just press the (adjustable) hotkey and a task is instantly created.

    The advantage is obvious: shorten your workflow trough the hotkey-method and have one place to collect *all* your todo’s, not just the mail-related items. It supports sync with .Mac directly and/or is able to sync with iCal (and trough iCal you can sync with anything).

    If you want to stick to mail, and not some external application, MailTags can be a nice add-on to go with. It’s not freeware, but definitely worth the few bucks. Being able to tag mail messages (like Gmail supports, but Mail.app doesn’t), assign projects, appointments ánd to-do’s, that’s just priceless.

    iGTD can be found here:
    http://igtd.pl/iGTD/index.html

    MailTags here:
    http://www.indev.ca/MailTags.html

  3. Ronald says:

    Ah, I see you finally got into that one as well :) I’m using it together with GTD, and it’s really nice :)

  4. Michel says:

    For me, it’s becoming an absolute necessity to be able to manage all my things. I actually bought the original book about getting things done, but ironically I haven’t got around to reading it yet…

  5. Ronald says:

    Well, that’s a good thing to start with then Michel :)

    B.T.W. One to put on your todo-list: new server??

  6. Michel says:

    Don’t worry, it’s on there ;)

  7. Todd Lohenry says:

    Is there an app that will sync this to ios?

  8. You know that is an interesting viewpoint, gratitude on your effort on the evaluation. This informative website gets saved for sure!

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