Email to-do list framework

I can’t tolerate chaos. I optimize, organize, categorize and label everything in my day-to-day work as much as possible.

Since I obviously can’t control other people’s behavior, I have to cope with inevitably chaotic communication somehow. This post aims to outline the framework I use to manage tasks and communications.


I’ve been using various project management methodologies for almost a decade, I spent 3 years managing teams of developers, designers, and testers, so, I guess this is enough experience to draw conclusions. My take from this: seasoned professionals do not need to be managed. It’s everyone’s personal job to ask for the details if needed, track the task, complete and report it. Email is just enough for this. Of course, this concept is not applicable to everyone, but it works well for me.

The inbox must be empty.

  • If an email is meaningful but requires no actions, then archive it.
  • If an email is meaningful and requires a response, then reply to it and archive it.
  • If an email is meaningful and requires lengthy work to be done, then star it. Archive it if no immediate actions are required.
  • If I got more emails than I can handle today, snooze emails that can wait.
  • Unsubscribe or report spam on every irrelevant marketing email.
  • Send everything else to the trash.

Starred emails are my to-do list.

Once I’ve got a new task, I articulate it clearly, outline the expectations and send it to my client for YES/NO kind of confirmation. If such a confirmation request is not appropriate, I send it to myself. Clearly stated task is the key to efficient work. If you are choosing between an easy and a hard task, your brain will choose the clearly stated one.

A big project can be split into tasks. A single task should not take more than 20 hours of work. From my experience, this is the longest timeframe that can be estimated with high certainty.

A task can be split into 3 stages:

  1. Discussion. Communication with everyone involved in decision-making. The goal is to clearly state the expected outcome of the given task. Once the goal is achieved, there is no change of plans allowed.
  2. Execution. The details of this stage are not relevant to the topic of this post.
  3. Results confirmation. Send an email clearly stating that the task is completed, tested and what benchmarks are achieved.