The average office worker receives 121 work-related emails a day, and spends up to one-third of their work time reading and replying to emails. Between work-related emails at home and at work, the average worker spends 17 hours a week on email.
Worse, 30% of those emails are not considered to be important, which means the average person spends more than a half-day a week, or about 280 hours a year, managing unimportant emails. While reading emails is a task, and has a place on your to-do list, emails themselves shouldn’t be tasks.
They should be a way of delivering and reporting on tasks. The real work happens outside of email. While many people end up using email as a task manager, it’s a poor tool for the job.
By nature, emails are sorted by date, sender, and subject; they are difficult to sort by task, project, or priority. Emails include a lot of text or conversation that is extraneous to the job or the task, which makes them difficult to action or delegate.
Emails don’t have built-in scheduling or reminder features. Even with searching, filtering, and flagging, important emails can get lost or buried.
Using Email as a Task Manager Creates a Host of Unwanted Problems
1) Email is a distraction
Even quickly checking email can lead to getting distracted by other tasks, side discussions, further questions, non-productive time.
2) Email tasks are poorly defined
Often, even the person making the request isn’t sure of the scope of the task, the appropriate person for the task, or the necessary timelines. This information has to be gleaned from the text or requested in further detail.
3) Emails do not include start dates
Most emails do not require immediate action, but it’s impossible to defer action within the email itself. You have to find a separate way to define a start time or date, and a separate way to remind yourself of the email or the task, which increases the likelihood of the task being neglected altogether.
Furthermore, relying on emails to determine tasks and priorities means that you are always reacting, rather than controlling. Taking ownership of your tasks, and of your emails, means taking ownership of your time and your work.
4) Using email as a task manager
The most efficient way to manage tasks and to-dos is to use a dedicated app or system. There are tools specifically designed for managing tasks, objectives, and deadlines, and they work well for that purpose.
However, adopting a separate app or system means that you have to spend time duplicating data back and forth, from email to the task manager, and back for further questions or follow-up. Email can be fast-paced, and in many companies, the average email response time is just 6 seconds.
This means a tremendous amount of information is coming in constantly, and tasks are redefined or delegated, priorities change, and work is reassigned very quickly all the time.
- If you spend all your time not only keeping track of these changes but updating a separate to-do list, you aren’t getting any of the real work done
- If you log out of email for a few hours to work on an outdated task or priority, you are potentially wasting not only your own time but others’ time as well
- If you are keeping people waiting for relevant information or an answer to a question, you may seem uncommunicative or unresponsive
There’s a reason nearly half of office workers keep their email open all the time and check their email multiple times an hour. In a collaborative environment, using email as a task manager keeps you current and responsive. Ultimately, while many experts advise not to use email as a task manager, there are legitimate reasons why so many people do.
And many of the people who advocate disconnecting from email and focusing on the task at hand are the same people who want immediate responses to their communication and questions. There is no single right answer for every workplace, every project, and every situation.
But it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Today we have additional tools and solutions that make it possible to be responsive and up to date, while still managing your inbox, your projects, and your workload effectively.
You can manage tasks and achieve Inbox Zero while also maintaining constant, effective communication with stakeholders.
There Are Ways to Manage Emails and Tasks at the Same Time
Using an additional app or tool like Flow-e merges both of these imperatives, allowing you to control your tasks, workload, and priorities while remaining up-to-date and communicating quickly with stakeholders. Flow-e visualizes emails, tasks, and calendar events in a streamlined interface, in a way that allows you to group, categorize, prioritize, and change tasks as necessary.
Dates and reminders can be added to tasks, even if they weren’t included in the original email, and tasks can be easily delegated with automatic notifiers and no need to manually follow up. Flow-e’s visual kanban boards help tasks stay simple, organized, and on track. And meetings can be scheduled within the same interface, without going to a separate window.
Because Flow-e is simply a visualization layer on top of your existing Outlook, it never stores your data or requires special permissions. Tools like Flow-e are a brilliant compromise between the need to take control and manage your own work, and the need to remain in constant communication with teams and stakeholders.
The solution isn’t to continue working with limited email systems or adopt separate task management applications. The solution is to find a way to work with task management, schedules and calendars, and email all at the same time, leveraging the strengths of each.
Using the right software in the right way helps you manage your communication, your workload, and your time, for maximum productivity and effectiveness.
Picture credits: Freepik