Small Business Tip: Separate Your InBox From Your To-Do List

More than likely (according to our research), you are a business manager who is constantly connected to the internet in order to communicate with customers, vendors, employees and the world. In the past, you connected to the internet primarily with your computer, but more-and-more, you’re connecting to it with a mobile device.

You are also wondering why this technology that is supposed to help you get more work done often makes you feel that the more you do, the less you accomplish. You’re wondering, “How can I tame this beast?”

Attempts to answer that question provide the foundation of a multi-billion dollar industry that promises you miracle software, hardware, training, notebooks, widgets, and a growing list of apps that will organize everything about your life.

Here’s a simple (and no-cost) two-step method that can get you started on your journey to reducing the hassle of your work day.

snail mail inbox

1. At work, limit yourself to one to-do list

To get control of the chaos, you must have one to-do list. But you should not have two lists. Or three. One. While we suggest you have one that synchronizes on every device you use at work, the key here is less about format and technology, it’s about getting started. And to get started, you need to focus on one thing only: having only one to-do list.

2. Your email inbox cannot be your to-do list.

Imagine  living in a nice home with a two car garage and deciding that everything you own should be kept in the garage so you’ll know where all those things are. All your clothes, food, kids’ toys, power tools, etc. — all jammed from floor to ceiling. Soon, using your system to know where everything is, you’ll discover you know where nothing is. Your email inbox is like a garage. It’s not the place where you are supposed to store things, it’s where things drive up to your nice home. Open the car door and bring those things into the house, don’t store them in the garage.

In other words: If an incoming message requires some action that you can’t complete immediately, it should be moved to a to-do list.

Don’t use your email inbox as a to-do list.

Bonus tip: After you master the easy task of separating your inbox from your to-do list

Once you’ve discovered the chaos-taming power of having a to-do list separate from you email inbox, go the rest of the way to organizational nirvana by learning how not to use your in-box as an archive or project-management system (or any other form of car garage). Learn how to keep your email in-box empty.

There are lots of methods to handle e-mail (google the phrase “inbox zero“), but most of them can trace their lineage back to a post by Merlin Mann in 2005 on MacWorld.com. Read it. Embrace it. Do it. A decade later, Merlin’s advice is as timely as ever.

(Illustration: SmallBusiness.com from Photo: via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)