5. Your inbox is NOT a to-do list

techtipsfortradeunionistsPart of getting to the Holy Grail of an inbox with nothing in it means knowing what to do with an email that requires you to do something.

Let’s say someone writes to you and asks to you to do X.

You could immediately do X — if it takes only a very short time, why not? That’s the advice given by David Allen, the personal productivity guru behind “Getting Things Done” (GTD).

But what if it takes a longer?

Some people file the email message in a folder with a name like “tasks” or “to do”.

Others leave it in the inbox until they’ve actually done it.

Both are bad ideas because email inboxes make for terrible to-do lists.

This is in part because the most important field in any to-do list is the description of the task — and in emails, this is usually the subject line, and these are notoriously bad.

So if someone asks you to, say, book a meeting for a room, the subject line of their email might be “Re: Friday”.

But if you were to create this as a task in a to-do list, you’d give it a description like “Book a room for the Friday meeting”.

To-do lists (and more on this in future tips) also feature fields like categorization, due-dates, priorities and recurring tasks — all of which can be sorted and displayed.

None of these fields are readily available in email inboxes.

So here’s what I do to keep my inbox empty:

  1. If the task is something I can do very quickly, I do it.
  2. If not, I create a task in my to-do list.

In both cases, I archive the email message.

The result is an empty inbox and a longer to-do list — which is the way it should be.