Convert Emails to Tasks to Prevent Aimless Work

Nov 30, 2017

There is something that is almost as bad as goofing off at work, and it’s called Aimless Work. That’s when you work on whatever is in front of you at the moment instead of prioritizing your work. People who do this feel busy, and may even get a sense of purpose or importance. But in reality if you do this you are working aimlessly and not achieving much. These days there is way too much to do at work to allow this practice and you need to fix it.

Email Is Prime Example

Reading and acting on email endlessly is a prime example of this. When we read and act on most email as we get it, we are contributing to aimless work. Face it: we all get way too much email, so we can’t treat it equally. We can’t read it all, and we cannot act on it all. We can’t just work on it all as it comes in. If we do, we’ll bog down in email and never get to our important work.

Convert to Tasks

The core solution I’ve been teaching for years is this: when you see an email that seems to need action, unless it’s really urgent (or super quick to do), take a second and convert it to a task and immediately move on. Do this rather than acting on it in the moment. That way you don’t get trapped doing low priority work all day just because it’s in front of you.

Then Work Tasks in Priority Order

After a session of processing mail and converting and prioritizing tasks (using 1MTD or MYN principles), next jump to your task list and work your tasks in priority order. This might include actions in mail you got today, but it more likely means working first on commitments you added to your list earlier. Imagine, doing your most important work first instead of just reading and doing new email all day, what a concept!

Also, once you process that mail, get it out of the Inbox (also using 1MTD or MYN principles) so the Inbox is relatively clear and ready for a new set of decisions.

How to convert emails to tasks in Windows desktop Outlook is simple, just drag the email to the Tasks icon. More details and other methods are shown in all my books and video lessons.

So, again, help prevent aimless work and start converting emails to tasks!


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6 Responses to Convert Emails to Tasks to Prevent Aimless Work

  1. Becky says:

    Your MYN video training has been a life saver for me. One thing I’m still struggling with is what to do with mail in the SENT ITEMS box. I’ve been categorizing them and putting them in the PROCESSED MAIL folder so that I could see full threads grouped by category…but I think there is a flaw in this approach. I’ve used “Find Related Messages” in the past, but that didn’t seem to give me full insight into all related messages. What are your thoughts?

  2. Glynn Brooks says:

    To avoid spending any time in the SENT ITEMS, I use a rule that says “Apply this rule after I send the message…move a copy to the PROCESSED MAIL folder”. Doing that means that all email I compose or reply to is already in the PROCESSED MAIL folder, ready to be categorized.

    • Becky says:

      Of course! Using a rule to move the sent items is the perfect solution. Thanks!

      • Glynn Brooks says:

        Note that it says “move a copy” – the original sent message is still in SENT ITEMS, a copy of it is in PROCESSED MAIL. I do not like the wording of the rule “move a copy”. A better description is “create a copy”.

  3. Richard Staudt says:

    If you have the rule in place to automatically save a copy of messages you send to Processed Mail, you can find the option under “Options – Mail – Save messages” that you can uncheck to stop saving copies of sent messages in the Sent Items folder. I still get some winding up there when I send them from Outlook web access but the bulk of them just go straight to Processed.

  4. Michael Linenberger says:

    Hi all, good replies and ideas on this topic. Yet another way to handle this is leave them in the Sent Items folder. And then when you need insights on what you contributed to in a given conversation, go to the View tab and activate Show as Conversations at the left end of that ribbon, and just below that in the Conversation Settings dropdown choose Show Messages from Other Folders. The result is you’ll see your sent items (from the other folder) mixed in with the received items in the conversation. BTW, I don’t like to leave Show as Conversations on all the time, but for things like this it’s worth toggling on. Michael

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