8 reasons why you shouldn't use your inbox as a task manager

Maybe the title is already a shocker to you, because you don't want to reorganize your system or find a new tool which works as a task manager. Or maybe using your email as a task list works perfectly fine for you, in which case, be my guest to continue on working that way. Today however, I'm going to share 7 reasons why you shouldn't use your inbox as your task manager.

For a lot of people, when they get more to do's on their hands, they want to simplify their processes, meaning that they want to use the same tool for as many things as possible. They think less switching and keeping everything together can create simplicity. However, it often leads to nothing more than complexity and confusing.

Most of the time, it's best to use a tool for what it was made for. Your mail is a communication tool, your calendar a meeting tool. Both are not task managers, even though in some tools you get some nifty possibilities, like flagging and starring mails. Leave it all behind. You can do better. Here's why.

1. Email is a source of distraction.

I hope this one comes over as a 'duh'. If you leave your mail manager open the whole day you will see emails appearing continuously. It's normal you can't help to check and see if it's maybe something urgent and jump to that email. Even if you have it closed, but then want to open it to see what you still have to do, you need all the willpower in the world to not delete or respond to messages which have just come in. But newsflash: you can do that the whole goddamn day...If you keep your inbox in offline mode, then you might be able to tackle some other tasks. But then we still have a couple more reasons why not to keep your tasks in your mail.

2. Email is an addiction.

Just like you would maybe check your Instagram ten times a day if you've made a new post to see if people like you, you check your email to see if people need you. It can provide some form of flattering to be needed. If you use your inbox as a task manager, you'll be constantly tempted to check and see if people have questions for you.

3. It's a sign of busyness.

Tackling a lot of emails, deleting them and replying to them can make you feel like you were really productive. Let me tell you a secret though: email is busywork, not productive work. Did you know the average employee checks his email on average 50 times a day while usually only 20% of the emails we get are actionable? That's a huge waste of productive time if you ask me... Which also brings me to my next point.

4. Not all emails are tasks (for you).

There are several options.

  • Informative email: This is just an FYI. If you read this during a time where you're normally productive however, then that's kind of a shame because you could be working on something else. These are especially bitches in email threads where you're in CC. If you keep getting those emails during the day, they are a constant distraction. Doesn't it seem better to be able to read up on that thread at a specific point during your day, at which moment you're able to delete all previous messages and just read the last one? TIP: All the messages where I'm in CC automatically go to a separate folder, because putting me in CC means 'info', not 'to do'. Then I'll read them when I want and make the time for it.

  • Email which needs to be archived: Maybe you have a new password which you required, or someone send you information with which you will need to do something in the future. Do you also leave this in your inbox? Where do you put it? Try to work out a clear system with folders on where to leave specific types of non-actionable emails.

  • Email which needs to be delegated: If someone sends you a question which is actually not really for you, then it's sometimes difficult to delegate this email to the right person. If I want to keep my inbox clean, I sometimes have the tendency to reply to this email anyways, just to get rid of it. I've learned to keep a folder with things where I presume they're not for me, so I can remind myself to inform the right people later on and have the email out of my sight, so I'm not tempted to do something about it myself.

  • Emails with actions for you: Now this is the 20% we were talking about earlier. These are actual tasks. But again, there are several issues with this which I'll discuss in the next two points.

5. Email or email subjects are not actionable.

Say your manager asks you in an email for the report of last month's sales figures. But he asks that in an email thread in which he also replies to questions you asked him and with the subject line 'Report One-on-One'. You can then only see that information when going through you email list. In some email applications, you can change the subject line so you could write 'Make report last month's sales figures'.

6. An email can contain multiple tasks.

But what if the email we mentioned before has different tasks with different deadlines? What if your manager asks you for a report of the sales figures which is due by the end of the week, but also asks you for a presentation for the management team meeting in three weeks? How are you going to define tasks and deadlines out of that mail?

7. Email is only tasks other people want you to do.

The problem is that you are not the manager of your email, others are. If you work out of your inbox the whole day, you work in a reactive mode instead of being proactive. Where do you keep the tasks coming from yourself or coming from a conversation or a meeting? It's incredibly difficult to set priorities if your sole purpose is tackling that inbox.

8. Email can be a huge stress factor.

We've all been there. Coming back from a well-deserved holiday to find your inbox completely cluttered with hundreds of emails. These days, people rather send an email than lifting their asses up to come ask you the question themselves (which can also be a pain, but that's an issue for another day). It's your responsibility however to deal with it in the right way and not let it control your priorities, projects or task list.

So the goal is to separate your email from your task management list or app. And yes, I know, that adds another step to your routine which seems really daunting. But sometimes, you've got to take time to make time.

If you want extra tips on how to keep your inbox clean, make sure to download our free 'Clean your inbox'-guide.