Google Tasks' recent emergence from Google Labs has attracted plenty of discussion and criticism, but not much of that mentions that it originated in the company's Sydney labs. Lifehacker chatted with local Google software engineer Michael Lancaster about how it came about, why it appears to lack a few key features, what's ahead for Tasks, and how he uses it to maximise his own productivity.
Lifehacker: How did Tasks come about and how did you get involved?
Michael Lancaster: Basically, there were a small number of us in Sydney who were really interested in creating some kind of to-do list in the cloud. It wasn't a "20% project": It was pretty much a real project from the beginning. But we wanted it to have a really low barrier to entry. We wanted something very simple.
LH: That simplicity has led to some criticisms of the product. Why is the feature set so relatively minimal?
ML: We saw a piece of paper as our primary competition, so we wanted to be able to compete with that, but also allow for features for people to grow into. We noticed that people often used their email as a means of organising their tasks, so we wanted to tap into that flow. But lightweight and simple were the two guiding principles. That's why there's no save button, for instance. We also wanted to have simple keyboard shortcuts. We wanted something that resembled a straight notepad but had structure as well. We tried to walk that line.
LH: How do you use Tasks to organise your own life?
ML: I use it pretty extensively. I use it for tracking short-term immediate tasks — things I need to get done in the next day or two — but I also use it for longer-term project planning. I also tend to use lists for different sorts of things. I have a list for Next Tasks which is not very strictly prioritised. Then I have a Today list for stuff that needs to be done urgently, which is more ordered. Then I also have other more abstract kinds of lists, like books I might want to read or music I might want to watch. They're not strictly tasks but still things I want to do.
LH: Given the lack of altering or search features, how do you manage all these different sets of information?
ML: I guess it's partly about the way I have different lists. Some of the lists are very active — my Today list, for instance, I'm constantly adding to — but other lists change much less frequently. It's just coming up with good boundaries. I guess I'm pretty disciplined about actually ticking things off. One of the things that's important here is not to obsess over it. I don't spend half an hour obsessing over whether where something should be categorised. That's a popular means of procrastination.
LH: Is there any meaningful limit to how much stuff you can store in Tasks?
ML: All software has finite bounds. But as far as I know there's no hard-coded limits. We may have limits in there to prevent abuse, but that's about it.
LH: What new features are planned for Tasks in the future.
ML: We think really carefully about adding new features, because we don't want to lose the simplicity. We're not planning to add every single bell and whistle. But we'd definitely like to have some alerting features in there, and that's tied up with the calendar integration. It's certainly something we have on our roadmap. And we think APIs are really, really important. They're our way of leveraging the developer world and it's definitely on the roadmap.
LH: Will Tasks continue to add small incremental features rather than having major feature set updates?
ML: That's very much the way it will go. That's not even specifically a Google thing — it's a result of development in the cloud.