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I see a lot of people use the standard task application in their e-mail client. This forces you to keep e-mail open all day long, looking over what to do next multiple times a day. Side effect is that you're tricked into directly reading new e-mail as it arrives; a pure distraction nightmare, if you ask me. Therefore I always tell people to use a separate task system, be it paper or digital. It enables me to move beyond e-mail and handle all incoming information in the same way.

Of course you can turn off "you've got mail" messages, but even then you probably go and check e-mail dozens of times a day...

I'm curious if you agree: task applications in e-mail clients do more harm than good when you want to be really productive. Therefore they are better left unused.

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5 Answers 5

I don't use the task application that's bundled with my email clients (Gmail at home and Exchange at work), but that's not because of the potential for distraction; it's because neither Gmail nor Exchange have what I'm looking for in an electronic task system.

Just as important is that I do have separate email systems at home and work, but feel that having a unified task management system with home and work contexts is the right answer, which means that my task system can't live in an email program I can only get to half the time.

To quote Merlin Mann on this exact subject:

Could I do things like this [manage email and tasks] inside a Single Heavyweight Application? Yes, probably. But, personally, that's not my gig. I love Mail.app for email, Safari for web browsing, NetNewsWire for feed reading, and so on. I've chosen a series of super-sharp paring knives over one monstrous Swiss Army Knife, because, frankly, that's just how Daddy rolls.

And that's how I roll too.

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Adam, great description of the beautiful RTM is. I left it for Toodledo some time ago, because it mimics a GTD setup even more. But still I miss the great powerful and intuitive interface that RTM has, and Toodledo unfortunately misses... –  ArjanZuidhof Aug 22 '11 at 9:51

I don't find that a problem. I have my tasks and calender in separate windows from my mail, so I don't read mail when I am looking at tasks or adding them.

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I agree, not reading e-mail is an exercise in discipline. –  Jeanne Boyarsky Aug 19 '11 at 0:37

I prefer using a paper task list. Writing things down on paper makes me remember the items better. It is also more rewarding to check them off with a pen when you've completed an item.

Another addition is that you can take your paper todo-list with you. You can also use a smarthphone with a todo-list on it. But I like paper more.

In the end, it's your choice. What do you like best. Try different things.

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Whether or not you should use the task application in your email system depends entirely on whether or not that application meets your needs.

  • Does the task application include the features you need? (Tags, contexts, subtasks, reminders, recurrence, portability, etc. and so forth.)
  • If you have a combined work/home system, is the application accessible from both locations?
  • Do you have trouble avoiding frequent email checking?
  • Do you get a lot of actionable tasks via email? (The stronger the "yes" here, the more convenient and efficient a single email/task system is.)

Personally, I would love to use a single email/task/calendar application, but haven't found one yet that meets my other needs.

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I use my email system as my todo list (sending lots of emails to myself with next-actions as their subject lines) precisely because I find myself checking my emails so regularly - if I put it anywhere else then it would be so much easier to discard the list and abandon the system...

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