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:
- If the task is something I can do very quickly, I do it.
- 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.