You have the option of marking e-mails with flags in Outlook, Mail (OS X) and Lotus Notes, and with stars in Gmail. Many people I meet use this function for e-mails which contain something they need to do something with. They thereby create a kind of to-do-task. Another variation is marking these e-mails as unread.
I can see the intention and I do think it is good to mark them in some way rather than just try to remember that ”I need to do that which the client e-mailed me about”.
But, there are better ways to do so than indicating tasks with flags or stars.
What you get when flagging and marking e-mails with stars with the purpose of remembering to do something with them, is only a second to-do-list parallell to your actual list. You see the subject lines of the highlighted e-mails in a long row and they are rarely phrased so that you immediately know what to do with it (but rather more like ”Re: re: re: ans: fwd: re: The new project”).
The list is vague and ambiguous. You need a very good memory or a burning desire to reread the same e-mail several times, to work with this type of list.
Everything you do are to-do-tasks
It is much easier to formulate what you are going to do as a to-do-task right after reading the e-mail the first time (if it implies that you need to do something). If you have your to-do-list on paper, write the task on the list and then save the e-mail where you gather the e-mails which you do not know when you might need, but need to be able to find easily once you do.
If you have a digital to-do-list, it is easier to do the following:
- In Outlook you click, drag and drop the e-mail on the Tasks-button, and thereby create a task which contains the e-mail.
- In Lotus Notes you copy the email into a to-do-task.
- In OmniFocus (OS X) you send the e-mail to OmniFocus Inbox through the Mail Drop-function and in Things (OS X) you mark what you want to copy and create a task though the Quick Entry-function.
- In you use Gmail you create a new task in Todoist.com through the Add e-mail-button in the Todoist-box or in Toodledo.com by forwarding the e-mail to your unique @toodoledo.com-address (just to mention a few possibilities).
There is a way of transforming an e-mail to a to-do-task in most digital list-services. Are you having difficulties finding how it works in your particular tool? E-mail me, and I might be able to help you.
If you have previously been using the stars or flags to indicate that an e-mail contains something you have to do, and have had a regular to-do-list as well, then transform all these highlighted e-mails to clear and concise to-do-tasks and add them to the list.
Are they too many of them to deal with them now? Then at least transfer a single e-mail into a proper task and schedule time in the calendar for as many and as long periods of time as you will need to soon be rid of all the flags (or stars), and again only have one, and only one, complete and comprehensive to-do-list.
Read and prioritize easier and faster
If you create to-do-tasks out of e-mails rather than just leaving them highlighted by stars or flags, or marked as unread, you will have a list made up of clear and concrete to-do-tasks which are much easier to understand and perform.
You now no longer have to read the same e-mail several times just to realize that it contains a task you do not have time to do now anyway. Instead of feeling frustrated, you will now make decisions on what to-do-task that is the right one to prioritize next faster and with much greater ease. There will also just be one list instead of two (one concrete and one ambiguous), which will give you a better overview of all the things you have to do.
What is your tool?
What kind of digital to-do-list-tool do you use? Perhaps it is one I have not yet head of (since there is, as we all know, always another app to become aware of). Give me a chance to learn something new! Leave a comment below.