How to Manage Your Task List in Email

Learn how to manage your task list using email to collect your tasks.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #132


We all have our own systems for staying organized. If you use your email as your main system, you’ll probably want everyone to email you. That way  you only have to look in one place for your incoming communication--which is a good idea! When an email request comes in, you can drag it to your task list folder; and voila—you’ve just easily updated your to-do list.

How to Get People to Email You

So, how can you get people to conform to your system and send all requests via email? You can start with a direct approach. If someone is asking for a favor, you have negotiating leverage. In an ideal world, you want to lose the to-do anyway, because, well, who has time to do favors? So ask them to do the work. “I’ll forget. Please email me that request, with the subject line TO DO Find missing pterodactyl egg.” If they really want to find that egg, they’ll be thrilled to send you the email. And if they forget? You’re off the hook, and tomorrow, you get to have the best omelet ever.  I discussed this more in another episode, so head over there for more.

How to Get Clients to Email

If they’re a prospective client, though, you want to make sure to get their item onto your task list. Tell them, “I’m not near my computer right now. It would be a great help if you could just send me a quick email repeating your inquiry so I can be sure to remember it and get back to you.” You’re phrasing your request in terms of what they get out of it. Namely, that if they email you, you’ll be able to help them better.

[[AdMiddle]But just as you want things in email, there are plenty of people who don’t want to be bothered with email. When you ask them to send their request in email, they’ll say something like, “Candarian Demons Will Eat My Soul before I send you an email!” or maybe just, “I can’t. I’m not at my computer right now.” In that case, you must take matters into your own hands.

Create the Email Yourself

If you’re using your email folder as your task list, I’m sure you have either a Blackberry, an iPhone, an Android, a Bizmark, a Fibble-bloot, a Sporble-borp, or some other email-enabled phone. Take a moment and email yourself the to-do. It will only take a second, and it keeps the person on the other end from feeling put upon.

How to Organize Your Task Emails

Put a special keyword in your email subject line, like TODO. Then set up a filter in your email program to watch for any email with that keyword and automatically move or copy it into your task list folder. You’re doing the extra work to handle the email yourself, but getting the benefit of automagic filtering.

You Can Email via SMS

Google voice transcribes voicemail and emails it; it turns your voicemail into email.

“But my phone doesn’t have email,” you cry. First off, stop crying. It’s embarrassing to cry in public at your age, and you’re smudging your mascara, Bill. You can just email yourself using a text message. Text your email address and message to your carrier’s SMS gateway and voila, it comes in via email. The SMS gateway number is 111 or 121 for AT&T and 500 for T-Mobile.

If your carrier has no SMS gateway, grab an invite to Google Voice. Google Voice gives you a phone number that routes incoming phone calls and text messages to any phones you want. Get a Google Voice account and configure it to send incoming text messages as email. Then when you want to add an item to your task list, text your Google voice number and it gets sent to email.

Use Google Voice to Add Voicemail to Your Email

Google voice can also turn your voicemail into email. It transcribes voicemail and emails it. That way, you don’t have to check a voicemail box and an email inbox. The transcriptions aren’t 100% accurate. Bernice left a message, “Sometimes Melvin is such an incredible fool.” Google Voice emailed it to me as “Sunday we’re having brunch, eating edible tools.” You can imagine my embarrassment when I showed up with a marshmallow casserole shaped like a hex wrench.

Use a Capture Pad

Of course, you can also just carry a 3x5 pad and jot down requests as they happen. Email yourself daily. But send just the to-do items important enough to go into task management. That seems like more work, but it forces you to consider each to-do twice. Something that seemed like a good idea when you jotted it down may be better left alone when it comes time to put it in the system. “Subscribe to ‘Nasal Fluids Explained’,” for example.

If you want to manage your task list through your email, ask people nicely if they’ll send the email. If not, don’t fret. Email yourself with a keyword in the subject line that your email program filters into your task folder. Use Google Voice or an SMS gateway so you can text to-dos to yourself as well.

For a Quick Tip on organizing your to-do list priorities so you can get through them quickly, head on over here.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

-    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMS_gateway – SMS gateway codes
-    http://www.google.com/voice – Google Voice

Task List image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.