The ‘To Do’ menu, as the lynchpin of the Review Bar, is one of the most commonly used features.

But it has two problems (that I’m aware of – do tell me more!):

  • It’s fiddly. It’s not as simple enough to just ‘get me the things to do’
  • The menu items aren’t well thought out – they’re a little arbitrary

I’m proposing that we slightly reduce the menu choices down to “Today, Overdue, Scheduled, Action, Waiting On[, any other status labels]”.

I’m proposing that a view of ‘All To Dos’ becomes the defacto choice. This is where things get a little more complex…

1) If we have a pin-able ‘All’ item, it is a little inelegant (having ‘All’ and ‘To Do’ next to each other feels redundant); and ‘All’ is a little meaningless for visual recognition (perhaps a different word would feel less redundant next to ‘To Do’).

2) If we made clicking ‘To Do’ automatically load all active items but if you hover you get the full menu, we have a more elegant solution. The weakness is that we’d have to find a visual style that didn’t mean it was confused with the Projects dropdown — I’m generally feeling that ‘To Do’ isn’t intuitively clickable/obvious-what-will-happen.

2a) A variation is to also make ‘Projects’ a button that when clicked, opens a list of all Projects (perhaps in some way sortable – e.g. by Oldest Item). But if you hover, it shows the menu of all Projects as it does now.

Can you imagine using these updated variations? Which one feels more right?


This was written by Andy Mitchell



  • I can think of a “2a+”, where you’d have:

    Today || To Do|v || Projects|v

    I.e. split buttons, that don’t rely on you hovering. So if you just want all to dos, click ‘To Do’. But if you want the individual categories, click the ‘v’ to the right of ‘To Do’.

    • Neil McLeish says:

      Hi Andy.
      I like that idea of having a small down arrow to get the dropdown and a single click on the main button to view all.
      The only place it might struggle is on smaller, netbook screens, where the |v might be a small target.  If it can be made big enough to work easily on a netbook, but not so big as to take up valuable screen-space, then I feel it would work well.



    • Dale Holden says:

      Hi Andy

      I think the other way forward is let users ( Mike ) switch on and off to customize to keep the way they want. But the new option is to streamline remove clutter. The other thing that would be good is when email get put back into Inbox it color codes them until they are reviewed. Like a RAG system due today Green , DUe in last 2 days Amber over Red but this is config by users for their own needs.

      • Hi Dale,

        I’m trying to minimize the amount of customisation, not just for the sake of keeping AIB maintainable, but because it forces us to figure out the right defaults (Rather than lazily passing the decision to you!). 

        I note you didn’t express a personal opinion – is this just something that doesn’t affect you? (That’s cool if not – the main reason I blogged it was to see if it resonated as an issue).

      • Dale Holden says:

        Hi Andy 
        I guess i was trying to keep Mike happy but your right i know. I would strip all the dead wood out remember its email we are talking about not a full project manager which some users seem to think it is.

        To be honest i never ever use the todo drop down (i guess i am alone) i use the status labels separate i find the todo box overwhelming.

        But for me i would ditch the All now it is of no use you might as well leave everything in your inbox.

  • Mike says:

    Is this project ever “done?” I mean we aren’t talking Excel here.  Basically it is a UI to display Gmail labels, right?  

     It works the way I like now.  At some point these constant changes become a distraction.  Your focus is on developing the product, our/my focus is/should be on using it (not continualy relearning it.)  My opinion: Leave this one alone, freeze it, do bug fixes only for subscription members, keep it looking fresh when new UI technology comes along.  Start something new and more ambitious.

    My first surgical attending told me, “Better is the enemy of good.”

    • Hi Mike,

      So I’ll chalk you up as a “no change” vote then 🙂

      The desire to not have to relearn does resonate, and I promise I’m keeping it in mind, but it’s a trade off with “new users struggle to learn it because some features aren’t intuitive”. It’s a fine line for us to walk.

      To the charge “it’s just a UI to display Gmail labels”… that’s our chosen technical implementation, which we think gives you the greatest utility (use it wherever you use Gmail); but the bigger idea is to fundamentally shift how we think about communicating with email, and eventually improving where email fits in with our entire set of management tools. Therefore the first thing is to make sure we’re building on solid foundations.

      • While technically AI 4 is just an GUI, ACTUALLY or practically it is much more!
        GMail has so many limitations that AI4 helps to overcome, or rather AI4 helps to utilize existing stuff like labels in a SMART way! AI is pure “valued-added”! 🙂

        After all I remind you that MS Outlook is also just an “GUI” with added value, else why doesn’t everyone just uses their ugly domain-host web client, but GoogleApps? The same reason why companies actually charge for expanding on MS Outlook, while no one would go back to “Outlook Express”, so 1997!

        As GMail itself is more dwelling on the Nexus / Apple user experience cloud, where it is cozy, sunny but also not very productive. AI4 is like the Int. space station, a little rough on the edges and still incomplete, but there is a lot of solid work done at that level!

        Finally: My conclusion out of Mike’s comment would be a different one. One that is actually harder to achieve, Andy! 😛 That is: Implement a new feature, but make it consistent with the other features or old removed features! i.e. the goal shouldn’t be to remove or flatten the learning curve, but to keep it as gradual as possible. And that will actually require a lot more care and thought than just shoving another feature out to public release, just because our neurotic “Beeminder” counter tells us to. 😉

  • An additional thing I’d like to do is create custom to do items. 

    For example, in our support account, if something is delegate to me, we mark it as U/Andy (User Andy). In the ‘To Do’ dropdown, it would be great to have “All Andy’s To Do”. 

  • Nathan Sudds says:

    I almost always have the key items from To Do pinned on the Review Bar — so I rarely go into the To Do dropdown but it’s nice to have when I do. The Projects tab is very helpful too, improvements there could be very interesting. I personally like the ever evolving state of AIB — because I have seen how your dedication to getting it “right” has improved my email experience too.

    That being said, I can understand Mike’s concerns — but I think having the beta “channel” that you have for testing some things with users and continuing to improve without a lot of ongoing changes for users who aren’t interested is great.

    Keep up the good work Andy and team, I appreciate it and look forward to what comes out of this discussion either way.

  • Jeff says:

    I like being able to see my tomorrow number in the menu.  It is good for me to be able to see what is coming up “tomorrow” without having to click to see this.  

  • JochenSchuetze says:

    Hello Andy,

    I’m really impressed with your constant strive for improvement!
    But I’m a bit worried that constant change may make life unnecessarily hard for your users.

    Since AIB already is quite flexible and configurable, I suspect that many users have established their own ways of using it happily and productively, some of which you may never have thought of yourself. So, whatever you do, please try to not remove things anybody may have chosen as a vital part of their particular way of using AIB.

    Regarding the ToDo menu:

    What items specifically are you considering for removal?

    I feel it should at least have (1) Overdue, (2) Today, (3) Next, (4) Action, (5) Waiting On, (6) Someday, (7) Scheduled. Additional deadline-related items like Tomorrow, Upcoming (next quarter), … may be nice to have. I’d propose (a) Tomorrow, (b) this week (including tomorrow), (c) next week. Or perhaps a variable number of configurable items for which (each) I can define a time span to include. In addition, some few combinations like “Next and Action” may be very helpful.

    Some years ago, The menu allowed me to drill down into combinations of a property from this menu and some other flag / label / property: From every menu item, a self-configuring sub-menu opened to let me see e.g. what projects my Next items sit in, or what different action status or deadlines the individual “actioned” items under a certain project label have. I haven’t got a very clear picture of what this really ought to look like, but I believe it was a very powerful concept worth resurrecting. (I often want to know the spread of my Action items over projects. How about a drill-down path like “Action — Projects — “..?


    Besides the important conceptual work that you’re discussing here with us, there are lots of small things that somehow disturb the enthusiastic feelings about using AIB everyday. Just little things like the fact that under “Projects” from the top review bar a [0] is yellow like any other number, while in the ToDo menu zeroes are grey — which is indeed very useful!!

    I suspect that there are more such tiny glitches that your happy and enthusiastic users have reported, e.g. through getsatisfaction. I would feel more encouraged to continue reporting things if I saw some more of them fixed; and it would help me love AIB as much as your conceptual, innovative efforts do.

    Best regards!

  • Hello Andy!

    I’m good either way. I guess it doesn’t bother me as much because I’ve really tried to simplify and streamline my gtd inbox and I only place TODAY and TOMORROW in the TO DO menu (PROJECTS that need to get done are done because they’ve been placed in TODAY for example). TOMORROW is there because there are times when I finish everything for TODAY ahead of time and I can start doing the TO DOs due TOMORROW. The other numbers (in projects, actions, etc.) are not really useful and do not add to my workflow so I don’t use them.

    But that’s me. I understand that design issues will be subjective (user dependent), but I love AIB because it allows me to simplify–and not complicate–my workflow. And so if there’s any “design principle” to follow it would probably be this: design it so that it helps us deal with email faster so we can leave our inbox and get on with the rest of our lives. hehehe.  

  • Andrew Gross says:

    Andy, in re the left-hand scenario where “every deadline/status’d item would be pinned to the Review Bar by default”.  Does this mean if I have 30 emails with deadlines (and I have much more), all 30 emails would be pinned across the AIB bar (left to right)?