So Happy Together: Task Apps and Email

Email smartphone

Email can easily get out of control for school leaders and anyone else who has a lot to deal with. Among the challenges email presents:

  • Anyone can email you
  • It’s easy for other people to create work for you
  • A single email can have several tasks embedded in it
  • The work that needs to be done to handle an email often isn’t stated very clearly
  • Emails are hard to organize in a useful way, so if you have more than a handful, you have little choice but to handle them in the order they showed up

The solution? Use a task app alongside your email app.

Task apps like Remember the Milk, Nozbe, ToDoist (my current favorite), and the dozens of others on the market can make a huge difference.

Old School: Outlook

We’ve known for a long time that we need to handle emails with task management in mind, and for more than a decade, Microsoft Outlook has included a task feature.

Drag an email to the Tasks bar in Outlook, and you’ll create a new task with the email attached. It’s not a bad system.

Unfortunately, in our newly mobile world, that’s not very helpful. I read 90% of my email on my phone first, and only open it on my computer if I need to.

The more I can handle it once and be done with it, the better, and that means I need a solution that works from my iPhone and iPad.

A New Approach for A Mobile World

It’s great to have apps for all the devices we use today, but what if some of those devices don’t give us full control?

What if you use a school computer that you can’t install software on? What if you use an iPhone, and 3rd-party apps can’t integrate with the email client?

Here’s my favorite feature of modern task apps like ToDoist: Email input.

Get an email, decide that it needs to go on your to-do list, and simply forward it to a special address that the app gives you.

The app’s servers will receive the email and put it in your task inbox. (And yes, your to-do list needs an inbox too!)

Even better, you can create a project and get a project-specific email address, so tasks can be forwarded straight into that project.

Where We Live

When we’re working at our computers—which, as school leaders, should only be a small part of the actual school day—where do we “live”?

For too many of us, it’s in our email inbox. Email will consume all of our time if we let it.

If instead we use a smart app like ToDoist to manage our tasks, email becomes simply a communication tool, and we can do the work in a better-designed task management environment.

What’s your favorite task app? How do you use it?

ToDoist Tutorials Coming Soon

This week, I’m filming a detailed set of tutorial videos on ToDoist for my GoingDigital series for members of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. If you’re a member of the Network, expect to receive the first videos later this week.


High Performance Requires A Focus On Behavior, Not Results

Benchmarking for high performance

As leaders, we like to say that we’re all about results.

“Show me the numbers!” we demand. “I don’t want excuses. I want results!”

And we should want results; not only are they the bottom line, but the old truism that you get more of what you focus on is, well, true.

But results don’t produce themselves by magic.

Behaviors produce results. (And systems composed of behaviors, such as the way people work together, produce results.)

Beyond “Results-Only”

Some leaders believe they can focus only on results, while remaining indifferent to the behaviors that produce them. They couldn’t be more wrong.

We’ve learned this the hard way, like when we experienced the scandal around Atlanta’s rapidly rising test scores a few years back.

In a climate of leadership that focused only on results, behavior was free to go awry (and did it ever…). When people are held accountable for results they honestly don’t know how to produce, they panic, and too often, they cheat.

So we need to focus on behavior, because that’s the only thing we can control. How do we ensure that our behaviors are productive? How can we choose high-performance behaviors?

The Dr. Phil Question

One way to figure out if our behaviors are on track to produce the results we want is to ask the Dr. Phil question:

“How’s that workin’ for you?”

As the old saying goes, your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re getting. If the results aren’t meeting your goals, adjust the behaviors that are producing them.


One of the key concepts I teach in the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network is the idea of benchmarks for productivity.

You probably have a number of benchmarks for yourself, such as:

  • “Before I leave for the day, my desk is clean.”
  • “Before I hang up the phone, I clear all my voicemails.”
  • “By 4pm every other day, I get down to zero emails in my inbox.”
  • “Before school every day, I get my to-do list updated and reprioritized, with no overdue tasks.”

If you want to increase your performance, focus on your benchmarks—and the behaviors it takes to reach them.

Here’s what happens when you focus on achieving your benchmarks: you learn the adjustments you need to make, and you can close the gap between what’s happening and what needs to happen.

Thinking About Your Work

What benchmark are you working toward? Leave a comment and let me know.


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