The Problem with Not Using Email to Manage Tasks

I’ve never been a fan of using an email application to manage tasks. That’s because I’ve tried, and know that it doesn’t work – at least not in a “standalone” manner.1 So I don’t use email as my task manager.

Instead, I have used apps that are meant solely for task and project management. They manage to integrate into email in a variety of different ways, but they keep email at bay so that I can work on the bigger picture stuff and deal with communication later.

But that can be a problem.

For those who use their email app to manage what they have to do, they tend to react and deal with their emails almost instantly – meaning they handle them as they come in and have less of a backlog. They also organize their emails in folders far more often than those who don’t use email to manage their tasks.

Basically, they consider emails to be…tasks.

For those who use task manager apps, email is a delivery method for tasks. They can contain actionable items but they don’t always do. Because they don’t spend as much time in their email app, emails tend to pile up. Unless they are diligent when they do check email, email can remain in limbo. This tends to happen with those who are moving from managing tasks within their email app to doing so with a task management app. It’s a change in habit that is challenging, and a high level of commitment is required.

(Heck, I’ve had it happen to me…and I’ve been doing this for a while.)

The other problem that can arise is that emails get “devalued” when you start using a dedicated task management app. Not just the time you spend dealing with them (in terms of the amount of time), but the emails themselves experience it as well. That’s why I think services like Asana and Flow have got a real shot at bringing those who want to improve their productivity into the realm of task management apps. They use email differently than other more “traditional” task management apps, which gives them a leg up.

I’m not saying that I’m going to use my email app as my task manager (Asana is working out just fine for me), but I do get the frustration when someone makes the move from email task management to dedicated task management. There’s a lot to juggle, and it’s not an easy shift.

But I think it’s an important one…as long as value is seen on both sides of the equation. If it’s not, then don’t make the move – at least not yet. When you do get there, hopefully myself and others like me can help support you on the way.

I mean, isn’t that what the Internet is for?

Photo credit: Bruno Girin (CC BY-SA 2.0)

1 By “standalone” manner I mean that there are no add-ons, plugins or extensions attached to the app (such as ActiveInbox or the like).