• Advice

Stop Working Out Of Your Inbox

This guest blog post is written by Allie Rice, a designer, storyteller, and curator who is hosting Work Smarter, Not Harder: Streamlining Your Day-to-Day Freelance Life on March 20th in Portland, OR.

I’m a huge advocate for digital systems, especially in the area of task and project management — and web- or cloud-based systems in particular. Many people do this by working out of their inboxes. This sounds like a good system, right? It’s digital, it’s simple, it’s accessible, it has organizing tools built right in.

But I’m about to give some very unpopular tough love: Stop working out of your inbox. Period. Here are five reasons why.

Your inbox is multipurpose.

It holds lots of different kinds of things. This can be good for historical reference, but it’s bad for task management. One of my favorite websites says that trying to manage a project via email is like collecting sand with tweezers. Tasks love to get lost in long email threads, and you end up reading six paragraphs of information (that you already read yesterday) before you get to the actual task.

Your inbox can be a huge distraction.

It’s hard to resist clicking on that Anthropologie sale email when you’re supposed to be retrieving your next to-do. You go into your inbox looking for one thing and find 16 others. When you go looking for tasks, you should find just that: tasks. Other things — especially emails — can completely derail you.

Your inbox is a place of mayhem and mutiny.

Your inbox isn’t fully within your control — even if you’re an Inbox Zero proponent like me. You can’t control what pops up there, or how much of it rolls in at once. Your project management system, on the other hand, is 100% yours. You know the things that live there intimately because you put them there. It should be a place of calm and bliss and ahh, yes, this.

Your inbox has a limited hierarchy.

Most email systems have folders or tags. Folders are intended for reference purposes, and they do that really well. But they are not intended for project management, so they do it poorly.

Your inbox can be used against you.

If your clients know that you work out of your inbox, it’s likely that they’ll capitalize on that. They aren’t trying to make things difficult for you; they just know how to get your attention. They’ll send constant requests and notes — and expect constant attention and immediate response.

Instead of using your inbox, choose a project management system that’s designed specifically for that purpose. A system that’s centralized, fluid, and expandable — and a system that’s always with you, even when you need to get out of your inbox for your own sanity.

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