Your Inbox is NOT a Task List: 5 Tips

I’ve made the switch to using Google Apps as my email client.  I’ve been pretty happy, I must admit.  It’s nice to have access anywhere and not have to deal with nursing my other application.  However, I was making one mistake that dawned on me the other day.

The inbox is NOT a task list.

Oh sure, I know for some people that works well.  But not for me, maybe not for you either.  Here’s some things that can happen if you use your inbox as a task list:

  • Emails get missed (like really important ones, from important people)
  • Overload: Ever tried to look at Gmail with all the flags and feel like you were drowning?
  • “Action” items never actually get done
  • Labels look like a patchwork quilt

So, here’s what I did.

  1. Put the inbox and task list in separate corners. I separated them back out (I use Remember The Milk), and have a task list and an inbox.  They are related, because…
  2. Emails are for backup.  Just like an Action Paper Management system or Tickler File, emails can be things that need to get done.  Think of them as backup materials.
  3. Deleted emails after responding.  I picked up this handy little tip from my interview with Peter Shankman.  I’m not a librarian, and I don’t want to have to manage a huge list of dead emails.
  4. Create tasks from email interactions.  Such as: “enter Jim’s info into contact manager” or “submit See Jane Work order”.  Keep the email in an @action label (or file), and delete when task is finished.
  5. Filter, filter and filter again.  There’s lots of white noise that happens in the Inbox, so filter those babies out.  Less time manually filtering email = more time to do what actually matters.

For a little more reading on managing email, check out this ZenHabits article, “Email Zen”.

Do you use your inbox as a task list?  Why or why not?

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8 thoughts on “Your Inbox is NOT a Task List: 5 Tips”

  1. I gotta tell you, I love gmail labels, but love to hide old conversations in folders even more. That way the in-box is just for stuff with loose ends.
    After 10 years of emailing, it’s hard to switch philosophy now. The visual anti-organizer lurking inside of me likes to seeeeee all the stuff to do and be reminded by seeeeeing it.

  2. I totally agree! Although, I discovered the beauty of the “Archive” feature in Gmail. Kinda like putting it in a folder. Basically you don’t see it, but you can still put a label on it (and it’s included in search results too!). It’s different, but I’m liking it more 🙂

  3. Oh my heck! Recently I soooo need help with my emailing strategy? I’m a mess and getting as many as 200 emails per day!

    I end up leaving items I need to get to marked ‘unread’..

    I’ve heard about Thunderbird, any thoughts?

    I’m so ready to read over your other suggested links!

  4. I’ve not used Thunderbird, but I know some people who do and love it. I use Gmail for many reasons. It stores everything off my hard drive, has the best spam filter I’ve found to this point and I can access it anywhere (including overseas when we go).
    I’ve added a great article above by Leo at ZenHabits. Give it a read. It’s good stuff!

  5. I see a highly recommended tip is to delete the email when you are done with it. I have a lot of problems doing that because I think I would need to go back to it for some reason! And of course on the odd chance that I do delete one, I have to check it back for something or the other like checking it back as a paper trail! On the other hand, I have so much archived I can barely find one when I am looking for it!

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