Google Productivity Pad: 5 reasons your email cannot be your todo list

Monday, November 4, 2013

5 reasons your email cannot be your todo list

email can easily get out of hand,
because it is controlled by others

I've talked about email productivity before in my post on inbox zero. This particular post is about the very common email productivity  mistake of using your inbox as your todo list. This mistake is, in fact, so common that I find myself doing it every couple days.

You may be having this problem if you:
  • Find yourself continually marking emails as "unread" so you will come back to them
  • You tell people "send me an email" even though you already have all the information so you will remember to do it
  • You send yourself emails to remind you to do things
You are probably saying to yourself, so, what's the problem? If email works as a todo list why shouldn't I use it as one? There are several problems:
  1. Other people have control over it
  2. You didn't write it down
  3. It discourages the "2-minute rule"
  4. You do not get an email about everything you need to do
  5. You can't trust the system
First, Other people have control over it
I don't care how sophisticated you may think your email processing flow is or how well you have your filters setup, anybody can still send anything into your email. That is how it is suppose to be, because it is an inbox!
There is something fundamentally wrong with other people having control over your list of tasks and being able to shift your focus with the click of a send button. It destroys your ability to decide what is most important and to be intentional about doing it.
Second, You didn't write it down
It is one of the first laws of memory that if you write something down you will remember it better, even if you never look at it again. Some people say this applies more to handwritten notes than typed ones, and that is probably true, but there is also something about intentionally moving something from an email or memo to a list, whether that be writing, typing, or dictating, that causes you to take ownership and remember it because you chose to put it there.
Third, It discourages the "2-minute rule"
Using your email inbox as a tasks list is bad because it discourages you from doing those things that right away that can be accomplished in two minutes. Why? Because you already think you have a reminder to do it. In actuality you could just do it right then and be done with it. But, because you don't perceive having to actually out it on a list if you don't do that, you don't have any kind of pushback to just knock it out of the inbox right then.
Fourth, You do not get an email about everything you need to do
What about those things you don't get an email about? Because you do not have a system to write down the things you need to do right away you are going to waste everybody's time by having an email sent that never needs to be. But there will be things you don't want to bother people to email you about, so you will think you can just remember it, after all since you don't have a todo list you have no place to put it.
Fifth, You can't trust the system
You shouldn't use a square peg in round hole. When you have someone right you an email, because you have not todo list, you are going to have it sent into an already bulging inbox where it can quickly be lost under the shear mass of information that will come in before and after it arrives. Perhaps having people send you an email would work ok if you were actually processing your inbox. But you aren't! You are just letting email dictate what you do, regardless of your personal goals.

So there you have it. You begin to rely on email as your todo list and your intentionality and productivity get shot, just like that. Don't let it happen to you.

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Thanks for reading, and remember, live better.

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