We’re making email a powerful todo list
Would you use a todo list where all your tasks are created by someone else, and you can’t prioritize or rearrange them? Of course not — they’re your tasks, so you should be in control. Using a todo list sorted only by creation time would be incredibly frustrating. But that’s exactly what email is.
The last few decades have brought great innovation in organization methods like GTD and Kanban boards. The thousands of unique todo list apps in the various app stores have helped a lot of people get their work done faster. But email has worked essentially the same way for the past 40 years, sorted by time and organized in folders. What was a fun bunch of messages in the 1970s has turned into a nonstop deluge of incoming work, and email software has done little to tame the madness.
The average professional spends 28% of their time in email, trying to manage and organize their work in a system clearly not designed for it. So it’s time to redesign the way email works. The technology itself doesn’t necessarily need to change, but the tools that we use to read and manage email need an upgrade.
A list sorted by creation time is fundamentally unmanageable
The way people work with email now is ridiculous (or at least it was for me). When you get an email, you read it and ideally respond immediately. But if you don’t, you need to remember to deal with it later. And now you’re in for a world of hurt.
If an email falls off the bottom of your inbox, you’ll never see it again. So you star some emails to get back to later, which works for a little while until you have too many starred emails to manage. Then you start marking emails unread to pop them to the top. Now you have 20,000 unread emails, so you snooze emails to deal with later. Soon you’re snoozing dozens of emails a day and you’re teetering on the edge of insanity. You try organizing emails into folders, but you never look through your folders, so those emails are gone forever.
You’re wasting hours wading through starred emails containing important tasks, articles to read later, and coupons for chicken, trying to remember which ones are the most important to deal with now. You’re drowning in a sea of emails and the only thing you can do is give up.
You declare Email Bankruptcy (yes that’s a real thing), delete everything, and start over. You come to understand that the only way to stay on top of your inbox is to keep it empty by handling everything immediately, as in Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero.
It’s asburd that the only manageable inbox is an empty one. So we’ve spent the past few years building Moo.do to try to improve the email experience and we’ve come up with two major ideas to make this situation better.
1. Email should be a good todo list
You already use email as a todo list, so we should embrace it. A good todo list quickly tells you what to do next, so the first thing we did in Moo.do was to add tools to manage the way emails are organized. The simplest organization tool is prioritizing, or what Tobias van Schneider described as Actionsteps, where you can mark an email with a simple priority to easily visualize what’s next.
To prevent the cognitive drain of constantly switching between the Inbox and Priority View, we took inspiration from the Kanban Method, which suggests using boards to visualize the work to be done and progress being made as you move tasks between boards.
Building on that principle, Moo.do enables you to work with multiple views of your content side by side, making it easy to track a Priority View next to your Inbox or work with multiple labels at the same time.
But simply prioritizing emails isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter how good email is as a todo list if it’s isolated from your other tasks and your calendars. Checking multiple independent todo lists makes your brain waste effort context switching and managing priorities between all your different apps.
2. Email should be integrated with everything
Your brain doesn’t care what service a task came from, so neither should your software. Instead of being a separate app, it makes more sense for email to be just one part of a larger organization system. So, Moo.do lets you organize emails in your projects, right next to your other tasks and notes. A task assigned to you by an email is no different than a task you wrote yourself, so they should be in the same place.
Dinner plans with a friend or requests from a co-worker are the same whether you wrote them down yourself or they came to you as an email. Your professor’s email about this week’s assignment belongs right next to your assignment notes. And flight and hotel confirmation emails belong together with your travel itinerary.
The main benefit of integrating email with everything else is that email is now as powerful as your normal organization system. If you like to organize tasks by project, use tags for context in GTD, break down tasks on Kanban boards, schedule with a daily agenda, or outline your thoughts on a bulleted list, you can do that with email too.
Clean and minimal
Lastly, we think it’s important that an email client be distraction-free and visually pleasing. We designed Moo.do to avoid unneeded buttons, lines, and borders wherever possible.
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