Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Time Management Tuesday: Maybe Using Your E-Mail Inbox As A To-Do List Isn't A Great Idea

A few years ago, I read about people using their e-mail inboxes as to-do lists. (Note that the inspiration for that 2019 post came from an article by Oliver Burkeman, whose book, Four Thousand Weeks, I would read in 2021.) I liked the idea of using my inbox as a to-do list, though that may not be what I was supposed to take from Burkeman's article. I've been using my inbox--and I have two of them, one personal, one professional--as a to-do list ever since. Oh, wait. And a third one I use for my iPhone and iPad.

What Is On My Inbox To-do Lists

I used my inbox as a to-do list/memory catch-all for anything I wanted to attend to sometime in the future. So I was always e-mailing myself notes and links from my iPhone and iPad. Recently my personal mailbox had mail from my phone or iPad to my laptop on such things as:

  • Notes or links about items I want to buy for myself or anyone in the family.
  • Links to articles and books I want to read that don't necessarily relate to work.
  • Links to sewing instructions that I have actually used and don't want to lose, because I know I'll want them again.
  • Links to recipes I want to try.


  • E-mails from every place I've ordered from, planning to delete them after the order arrived.  
  • Marketing e-mails from every bookstore I ordered from during the pandemic. (I did unsubscribe from other places.)
  • E-mails from family and friends that I want to remember to respond to.
  • E-mails from medical groups asking me to rate my experience with them.
  • E-mails from my political representatives on many levels.

In my work inbox you might find e-mails mostly from me about:

  • Ideas for my writers' journal.
  • Changes I want to make on whatever I'm working on at the time.
  • Books I want to look for.
  • Articles I want to read.
  • Authors whose work I want to look for.
  • Agents I want to look for information on.
  • Publications I want to research as possible markets for my work.

When Do You Deal With These To-Do Items, Gail?

Well, ah, hard to say. These last four years, in particular, I've been packing those inboxes with to-dos while I struggled to get through the first draft of a book I've mentioned here before. Cleaning the inboxes was the plan for the first week post-draft.

I've been doing just that--for three weeks. And I'm not done.

It just goes on and on. And I'm continuing to mail myself to-dos.

One benefit of having a few years of to-do items in the inbox is that I can't remember why I put some of them there. So those can be deleted. Some of them are outdated or I'm no longer interested. So those are deleted, too. You could say, arguably, that I saved myself time by not addressing them early when I could remember what I wanted to do with them and was still interested. 

Still, this is a lot of stuff. I am sort of enjoying going through and addressing some of these things, at least. And I have no idea how to handle email to-dos differently. Maybe this is the way to go...get to them when you can and at that point toss what no longer works for you.

That sounds like a time management technique, doesn't it?


Ms. Yingling said...

Oh, that's a lot of things! I use my school e mail as a to do list of sorts, but only through e mails others send to me that I don't delete until they are dealt with. I use quarter sheets of school scrap paper for my to do lists, especially at home. (At school, it's a successful day if I even manage to MAKE a list between putting out fires!) If I have to keep moving an item to a new list every day, I'm more likely to deal with it than to keep putting it off. I guess in the end, it doesn't matter what the system is as long as something gets done!

Gail Gauthier said...

I may have stumbled upon an app to deal with some of this.