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ActiveInbox Help

(Part of our Organize Gmail Into An Effortless Task Manager guide)

Turning work emails into tasks

To turn an email into a task, just give your email a status (and/or a reminder). There are two default statuses:

  • 'To-do'
  • 'Waiting On' = "I need to to follow this up if I don't get a reply or whatever I'm waiting for."

You'll notice that ActiveInbox doesn't create separate tasks from your email... the email becomes the task. The status is like an intelligent post it note. And because the emails are the tasks, you don't have to keep switching between your email client and a task manager. Gmail will become your ultimate task list, so you never forget anything - ever again.

Some examples…

  • It's best to think of Statuses as post it notes on your desk. They are there to remind you about things which have to be followed up.
  • You might need to send a reply to someone, or add a quote, or answer a question in an email - you want to 'Action' it because it's urgent.
  • You might need more information before you can answer an email or you may need information from someone else (a price from a supplier or a timescale for a piece of equipment) before you can reply to an email so you mark it as 'Waiting On'.

A Tip for the Future: Adding New Status Buttons

You can create new priority levels by adding new status buttons. This is covered in more detail in Prioritising your Day, but it's as easy as creating a new Gmail label beginning with !. For example, if you want a 'Some Day' status for low priority items, create a new Gmail label !Some Day. ActiveInbox will detect this and show it as a new button.

Adding checklists and notes to an email

What you need to do with an email should be summarised in the To-do or Notes section.

Use To-Dos to instantly know what to do when you return to an email

This means that no matter how big the conversation gets, you don't need to scroll through it. Just look at the steps you have to take with one glance!

When you're viewing your task lists (e.g. your Today list), having to-dos makes it really easy to scan actionable statements rather than irrelevant email subjects.

Tip: You can re-order To-Do's by dragging them up and down.

Use Notes to have quick access to useful details

If the conversation has grown large, copy & pasted crucial nuggets of information into your notes for instant retrieval.

Or if you have related information in another system (e.g. you created an event in GCal based on this email), you can link to that information.

Keeping track of work

To bring up the sidebar, click < ActiveInbox at the top of the Gmail sidebar (or click the cube in the bottom left).

The sidebar contains quick links to your Today list, things you must do (Action list), things you're Waiting On, and projects.

It is structured to group all your task lists into Tasks, and all your projects into Projects. But you can click the down arrow to the right of any item, to pin it to the main bar above the 'Tasks' group. Use this for your most common task lists, or any projects you're currently focusing on. By default, this includes Today, your Action list and your Waiting On list.

Tip: you can drag things up & down to change the order.

Tip: if you want to switch back to the standard Gmail sidebar, just click Gmail >.

Tip: Scan emails and know what to do next

ActiveInbox puts your next To Do below the email subject in your Task Lists and ActiveInbox folders. This makes it very easy to scan through actionable items, because you no longer need to try to decipher the out-of-date email subject!

Making sure you always get replies

As David Allen says in Getting Things Done, "You'll get a great feeling when you know that your Waiting On list is the complete inventory of everything you care about that other people are supposed to be doing".

Whenever you send an email, or reply, we suggest marking it as Waiting On.

That means it'll appear in your Waiting On list in the sidebar.

We recommend going into your Waiting On list once a day, and pinging anyone who hasn't replied in the last couple of days.

Automatically finding things you're Waiting On

To get you started, ActiveInbox can detect all messages you haven't received a reply to - so you can mark them with the Waiting On status. Just go into your Waiting On list (from the sidebar), and click Automatic Waiting On.

Does it automatically remove the Waiting On status if they reply?

No! We did try this feature for a while, but it had a major problem: by removing the Waiting On status, you lost the important piece of information that you actually had been waiting.

Instead, we've made it as easy as possible to say you no longer want to track it: you can turn the Waiting On status off with 1 click at the top of every conversation; and you can bulk mark things as finished in the Waiting On list.

Tip: add a to do for things you're Waiting On

We suggest starting with the text, When they reply,.

This means next time you return to the email, you'll know exactly how to resume getting it done.

Clear away tasks you've finished

A task is never explicitly marked as 'done'. Instead, it either has a status/due-date (and is thus a task), or it doesn't (in which case ActiveInbox stops tracking it).

To finish something (i.e. to remove the status, due date, and then archive it - a Gmail term to move it out of your Inbox and into the All Mail folder), click the finish icon:

  • In the conversation view, click
  • And in your task lists (e.g. your Today view), select one or more items and the finish button will appear in the action bar at the top.

Tip: Urgent tasks appear above your inbox

To ensure you don't miss critical things (e.g. tasks due today), ActiveInbox shows them above the inbox.

We call this feature the Radar (it keeps urgent matters right under your nose!).

By default, ActiveInbox will show you all tasks due Today, or that are Overdue right above your Inbox so you don't forget them.

  • You can change what appears in the Radar by going into our Preferences and clicking 'Configure Radar'.
  • You can expand/collapse each Radar section using the arrow to the left of the title.

Tip: Only show critical items in your Radar, otherwise you risk becoming blind to it.

Note: Because ActiveInbox encourages Inbox Zero, it doesn't return emails due today to your inbox - having a dedicated Today list, that you can re-order to prioritise, is much more zen!

Tip: Adding tasks that did not start as an email

If any task comes through a channel other than an email, say at a meeting or on the phone, you can hook it into the ActiveInbox system and make sure you don't forget anything by sending yourself an email with the details you need.

ActiveInbox provides a shortcut for doing this: just click the 'Task' button next to the regular 'Compose' button.

Tip: It's useful to use action language for your subject if it's a task: e.g. "Finish report on product strategy".


You've learnt to turn emails into tasks, give the tasks a checklist of To Dos and a Note, and you've seen how to review your task lists within Gmail so that you can work effectively.

Next, learn how to use ActiveInbox to achieve Inbox Zero, so you can always feel confident that everything has been seen and is under control.

Tip: Drag tasks up and down your lists to priotitise

You can also drag tasks up and down task lists to prioritise them, by putting the most important at the top. (You may need to set 'Sort By' to 'Rank' by clicking the menu in the top right).

Clearing out your Inbox