Don’t use email for managing tasks

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I love email. I prefer it to all social networks, instant messengers and team chat apps (a la Slack). It’s amazing how a system invented in the 1970s (and hardly updated ever since) proves sufficient for 95% of online communication in the 2010s. Not to mention various plugins such as Mixmax and Streak that turn email (Gmail in this case) into a powerhouse of productivity and efficiency.

But there’s one thing I don’t use email for: managing tasks.

I tried that, and it didn’t work at all.

First, email subject lines didn’t tell me what I should DO, and A to-DO list is called that way for a reason. When I see an item, there should be NO additional mental steps to understand what ACTION is expected from me.

Secondly, there were anyway tasks that were unrelated to email communication, so I had to keep at least two different to-do lists to attend to. This resulted in confusion prioritizing and categorizing tasks in each of them.

And, finally and most importantly, the view of an “oversaturated” inbox was plainly depressive (unfinished Gestalts?). And the more emails piled up in it, the more discouraged I was to do anything with them.

These were not the only problems, but they alone made it clear that this marriage wouldn’t work out.

So now I turn all emails that cannot be answered really quickly into actionable tasks. Thus, “Re: Feedback on my last job” becomes “Respond to Nancy’s feedback on my last job”. The processing takes half a minute or so, but gives me clear understanding of what I will have to do with that task once I get to doing it.

The specific task management system to use is another question. I ended up using Habitica (which I wrote about once), and my efficiency skyrocketed ever since. But I assume any environment tailored for task management will do better than email. Even if it’s just a pen-and-paper day planner.

But anyway, that’s just my experience, and I’d love to hear if anyone has succeeded in managing their tasks in email.

Did you?

Originally published on Ab HoC.

Vova Zakharov

About Vladimir Zakharov

Hey, I’m back from my slumber! Now giving my best shot at running Gyglio ⚜️ Grows you global. I know a bit about running a translation business and will try sharing some of it here.

11 thoughts on “Don’t use email for managing tasks

    1. Hi Silvia, I’m about to enter the Bullet Journaling tunnel too 🙂 I’m starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of productivity apps I’m supposed to use, so I’m turning to the old pen-and-paper which could offer unlimited customization possibilites (among which the chance to keep different to do lists without going crazy). I guess we’ll see about that!

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    2. Had I not found Habitica, I would be using pen and paper too. I think it’s just a (fortunate) coincidence I finally found a task management app that actually works — all the others I tried before didn’t.

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    1. Copypasting from my earlier comment: Had I not found Habitica, I would be using pen and paper too. I think it’s just a (fortunate) coincidence I finally found a task management app that actually works — all the others I tried before didn’t.

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  1. Hi Vladimir,
    so have you been bookmarking e-mails to remember tasks? I am not sure I understood your method correctly 🙂
    I have tried the Evernote extension for Outlook (I don’t know if there is one for Gmail too?) and if you use Evernote in general it can turn out to be quite useful. In that way you can refer to different notebooks (= lists) and edit/sort tasks quickly. Did you ever consider the possibility?

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    1. Eleonora, I’m not sure how the Evernote extension works, but if it turns message into some other entities within Overnote (let’s call them tasks) — then that’s exactly what’s needed. I used to (and many people I know still do) star/label messages that contained any action points. I also tried using Gmail extensions such as Streak, but the problem was that they, too, were “contained within” Gmail, so every time I needed to check my to-do list I would have to go to my mailbox. Which proved unproductive, too.

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  2. Hi Vova!

    I tried so many Apps I can’t even count anymore. Nothing works, for whatever reason.
    We work with computers, tablets and phones all the time, but I just cannot find a way to open a certain App and enter all the stuff I have to, at all times.

    I found out that the only thing that works for me is to carry a little notebook around with me when I’m on the go, so that can write down everything that comes to mind: from to do lists, to tasks, reminders, things to research or write about, etc etc.

    And then I put everything in my BuJo (bullet journal girl here too…) and so I have everything in one place. If fact, in 2 different places, as I have 2 of them, one just for personal stuff and one just work related.

    I’m still getting the hang of it and changing some layout on a per week/month basis until I find out which one works best for me, but I wouldn’t do without paper and pen, that’s a fact. 🙂

    PS – I think I already answered you somewhere about this Habitica App: I tried it and I really think it’s fun if you want to “gamify” your day and your productivity a bit, but I must confess: I found myself “making up” task just to be able to tick them off and get more point to level up and upgrade my gear 😀


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