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How to use Google Keep as your virtual to-do list maker (and why you should)

Google Keep is an overlooked gem that keeps track of your seemingly never-ending grocery list, work tasks, or travel agenda. Here's how to make it your master to-do list that always goes with you.
Written by Christina Darby, Associate Editor
Woman working at a laptop in a home office
Getty Images/Johner Images

Whether you're a student, a working professional, a parent, a combination of the three, or just a busy person, you more than likely have a to-do list -- or multiple. That to-do list, either mental or physical, can get overwhelming. 

As someone who likes to compartmentalize my tasks, I've recently found that Google's hidden gem of an app -- Google Keep -- is the best tool for dividing, conquering, and transferring the chaos in my brain into action.

Here's a rundown of Google Keep's features and how you can use them as your virtual to-do list. 

Also: How to create multiple Google Calendars (and why you should)

How to use Google Keep as your virtual to-do list maker

Google Keep is a virtual note-taking app done right. A good choice for any G Suite user, it allows you to create notes and voice memos, and insert drawings and pictures, reminders, and labels for each. And even better -- the app is compatible with both Android and iOS phones, so you don't have to worry about leaving your grocery list on the kitchen counter or losing that idea you just had once you shut your laptop. Here's how to best make use of Google Keep's tools and keep the clutter in your life, or brain, to a minimum. 

1. Open the Google Keep application

On either your phone or your laptop, make sure that you're logged in to your Google account. Once you've logged in, go to the right upper right-hand corner of your screen and toggle the icon that looks like a grid. After you click on the grid icon, you'll see G-Suite's apps. Scroll down until you see the yellow icon with a notepad and a lightbulb, then toggle that option and you'll be taken to Google Keep. 

Google Keep in G Suite

Where to find Google Keep in your G Suite. 

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

2. Take a note

Once you're in Google Keep, the world of organization possibilities is truly at your fingertips, but at first glance, it may just look like a blank, wonkier Google Doc. Here's how you can take notes in the most intentional, efficient way.

Google Keep homepage

What your Google Keep "homepage" will look like when you first access it. 

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

Also: How to create a plain text file in Google Drive (and why you might want to)

3. Add a Title

Before you jot down everything you have to do, give your tasks a title to help you compartmentalize them. Are you making a grocery list? Making note of the due dates for your English class? Reminding yourself of what you need to pack for that weekend vacay? Title your list accordingly. 

To do so, double-click on the prompt to "Take a note" in the bar at the top of your screen. From there, type in your title where the text box says "Title" in bold.

4. Jot down a thought

After your main category is in place, export your thoughts from the brain to the screen -- start writing!

Google Keep taking a note
Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

5. Add checkboxes

If you're like me, the act of checking something off of your to-do list can be the best part of your day. Google Keep lets you add checkboxes to a note (you can even come back later and add them to a note that didn't have them) and it crosses the task off your list once you've completed your task and checked the box -- so satisfying. 

To add checkboxes, just click the "more" option (icon with three dots) and then select the "Show checkboxes" option.

Google Keep show checkboxes option

Display checkboxes, or take them away, by toggling the "more" icon.

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

From here, boxes will appear next to your lists of your thoughts, needs, tasks, items, etc. 

6. Customize

To make the notes display across the page as they do in your brain, you can customize them so that whatever is at the front of your mind is at the front of your screen. Here are some ways to customize your Google Keep notes.

Also: How to add new words to the Google Docs dictionary

Pin your notes

If you want certain notes to be at the very top of your list, you can pin them to the top of the screen so that they're separate from the rest of your notes. To pin, hover your cursor over the desired note and then press the pin icon in the right-hand corner. That way, that note will rise and stay above the other notes in both your mind and on your screen.   

Google Keep with pinned notes
Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

Add a background

For those who are more motivated when there's a nicer aesthetic or color code for your notes, you can add a background color or theme to your note or you can have peace of mind knowing all your project reminder notes are pink and your grocery list is in red.

To add a background color or theme, hover over the note and click the third icon from the left on the very bottom (the paint-pallet icon). From here, you can select pastel colors or even a "travel" background for your packing list, for rexample.

Google keep background color options
Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

Add a label

For even quicker access and even more compartmentalization, you can even create labels so you can go straight to your ideas, pictures, or "frequent reminders" tab if you're in a rush or just want everything that correlates to be in one, easy-to-find place. 

Once again, go to the three-dots menu icon and click on it to see the drop-down menu. Select "Add a label" or "Change label" depending on what you want to do. Once you add a label, a new tab will appear in the left-hand side of your Keep page with that label title. From here, everything you add to that label will appear under that tab as well as on the main Notes page, and you can click a label to see all the notes with that label. 

Google Keep add label
Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

Copy to Google Docs 

If you want to expand on a list that has become a little too lengthy or overwhelming for just a note, you can copy the note directly to Google Docs and it will save it to your Google Drive

Simply click the More option (three dots) and then select Copy to Google Docs from the dropdown menu. From there, your to-do list will appear in a Google Doc in your Google Drive, formatted as it is in Keep. 

So, there you have it! Some basic organization tips and tricks for how to get your virtual to-do list started and how to make use of your newest productivity pal.

Also: How to use Google Drive as your virtual backpack (and why you should)


What is Google Keep used for?

Part of the G Suite apps, Google Keep is an organization tool you can use to take notes, set reminders, and check off tasks.

Does Google Keep offer offline access?

Offline access for Google Keep is not available for the desktop but is available on Keep mobile apps for either iOS or Android.

Is Google Keep free?

Yes. Google Keep is part of G Suite, so you can log in via your Google account on your computer or mobile device. The Google Keep app is also free to both download and use. 

Can I recover a deleted note in Google Keep?

You have seven days to recover a note you deleted in Google Keep. To do so, go to the Trash  icon at the bottom of the Keep menu and you'll see your recently deleted notes. Click on the note you want to restore and select the restore icon (the second option with an up arrow). Your note should reappear on your homepage with any label you assigned it to. 

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