Call our listener line: 317-721-DADS

Where dads get advice on everything from diapers to drama queens and divorce to date night! 

Facebook Twitter Pinterest YouTube E-mail RSS
Home Blog Posts 3 Reasons Why Your In-Box Makes a Terrible To Do List!

3 Reasons Why Your In-Box Makes a Terrible To Do List!

Published on September 11, 2012 by in Blog Posts
to do vs inbox

to do vs inbox

When I’m not talking about being a father over forty, I’m often engaged in my professional life, handling multiple priorities, a hectic schedule and layers upon layers of people, programs, services, budgets and multiple priorities.  I’m also one of those people who constantly read, research and experiment with various time management and personal productivity tools and trends.

Lately, I’ve become a fan of Erik Fisher’s podcast “Beyond the To Do List“.  Each week Erik interviews the movers and shakers of the social media world and gets their advice and opinions about how to best manage their time, tasks and balancing work life with home life.  In a recent interview with Cliff Ravenscraft ( Erik and Cliff discussed the To Do list.  Although the comment was something that was mentioned in passing, they made the point that your email in-box makes for a terrible to do list.  This concept has resonated with me for days.

My typical tools for managing tasks have included using my calendar to schedule tasks and appointments that are inherently time-sensitive, have a due date or include meeting with other people at a particular time.  Everything else lived in my in-box.  It was either marked as “read” (meaning that I’d looked at it) or “un-read” (meaning I’d either not looked at it, or that I HAD looked at it but wanted to trick myself into thinking that I hadn’t looked at it.)  This system actually works until you have more than a handful of messages in your in-box and new messages come in too frequently.  One day, recently,  I received about twenty messages in my in-box in rapid succession.  It suddenly occurred to me that there is a major flaw with using your in-box as your to do list:  Everybody else has control of your to do list.  All someone has to do to put themselves at the center of your attention is to simply send you an email and “BAM” there at the top of your list–your TO DO LIST!  DUMB, DUMB, DUMB!

Starting this week I am no longer using my email list as my to do list.   I’ve been a fan of Workflowy ( for several months now and I’ve decided to elevate my Workflowy list (using #ToDo, #Today, #Tomorrow, and #Later) tags to my to do list.  I’m also relegating my email in-box back to simply being a communication tool–its original purpose.

In just two days of using this new system, I’m seeing some marked changes and here’s what I’ve realized:

1. Your in-box is distracting: Since making this change, I don’t constantly check my in-box for the next item on my to do list.

2. Checking items off a to do list is faster than sorting through an in-box:  I find that my #ToDo #Today list gets done much faster than expected and I get a big kick out of knocking items off of my #ToDo #Tomorrow list before #Tomorrow even gets here!  (These hash tags will make total sense to Workflowy users.  Check it out, it’s free!)

3. Items in your in-box are moving targets:   I no longer dread emails coming into my email box because they don’t push other important messages down, down, down on my to do list–because my in-box is no longer my to do list.  Items that come in via email either get added to my calendar (if it’s truly an appointment) or my #ToDo list (if it’s something I need to do) or DELETED (which is very often the case and gives me a little rush each time).

Although I don’t plan on regularly talking about personal productivity here on my blog or on the podcast, there are times, like now, when I have a big win in my professional world that may just trickle into the world of other fathers over forty.

Here are some links:

Thanks Cliff and Erik!

 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
3 Comments  comments 

3 Responses

  1. Poky

    I’ll check out workflowy, thanks. These days, for better or worse, most people’s work life is entangled with their personal life, so I don’t think discussing one in relation to the other (especially if something in one can help in the other) is a problem. Have you read the management article, “Who’s Got the Monkey?” That’s another management technique that can translate well into one’s personal life. Here’s a link to it:

  2. I like Monkeys! Good point! This Havard Business Journal stuff is a bit, though. I wonder if Dr Seuss or Sesame Street could re-do this article in a way that would be easier for my tired brain to absorb. I’m imagining Gonzo as the manager and chickens in the place of monkeys–or perhaps Beaker.

  3. Jenny Wingler

    I have yet to find any kind of “to-do” list that works for me. A to-do list is just one more thing to add to my list, ya know? I want soo badly to be an organized person, but I think for me, it’s a lost cause. I’m glad you can love me despite my lack of organizational and prioritizing skills…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *