Email Todo

I use my email software as a some sort of todo list vehicle. Instead of marking emails read I leave them bolded – if they need action. I have categorized my emails in several folders (such as blog, business, team etc.) and whenever a new email arrives I either deal with it and mark it read, or I leave it to check later (and leave it bold). This way I can see with little effort what sort of tasks (business, blog etc.) I have to do.

The problem of this system is that I cannot assign a date for these emails, so I need to have another bigger todo list where I put all the todos that needs to be done on certain date. But other than this, I find the system very nice and easy to use. Much of the communication is done via email, so it’s very time saving way to handle different issues.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. I used to have a system similar to yours, where I categorize emails in folders etc. and recently I’ve switched to a much better way (at list on my opinion) for organizing my emails.
    I put everything (both incoming and sent items) in a single folder.
    I use flags to categorize emails and required actions. With flags you can assign a date to the email and in Outlook 2007 each flag automatically creates a task in my Tasks folder (which is one of the features I like the most about Outlook 2007).

  2. I use Thunderbird as my email client which supports 5 seperate user defined labels (in addition to the usual read/not read/important flags).

    With these I can mark work based email as TODO, URGENT, ON HOLD… Each email then appears with a nice colour highlight to let you know the status, in addition you can define additional views such as display only read, unread, todo.

    In addition to that I tend to keep all my emails on the IMAP server although set to duplicate locally for offline viewing should the email server ever go offline. I agree it would be nice to flag email with a “todo by date” I’ve not checked, but perhaps there’s an extension that supports this. Although I tend to keep my main todo list in colour highlighted RTF file.

  3. At my day job, I create folders in Outlook named @TOPIC_PENDING and @TOPIC_DONE for whatever TOPIC is.

    CURRENTPROJECT, PROBLEM, FEATUREREQUEST, and of course MISC for those things that don’t fit.

    I then tell Outlook to tell me the total number of messages in a folder rather than unread messages. That way, I can look at my folders and tell right away how many things I have on my plate. When I get into the folder, I organize by date and quickly go through to see what might be pressing. After a task is finished, it goes in its appropriate _DONE folder.

    I believe David Allen advocated this approach, and I’ve found it quite useful.

  4. I use an excel spreadsheet except for quick things which I put on paper. If something on paper lingers for a while, I put it on the spreadsheet. I don’t have mutiple “scraps” or paper, just a neat A4 sheet and I cross of done tasks. When it’s full I start a new one. Simple and effective. The spreadsheet has sections for different tasks types and also the sections are sometimes prioritised. I also like to look at the spreadsheet quite often and extract the important tasks I am going to do today for example.

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