This is the first lesson of Patterns for Remote Projects, a free email course to teach you how to make your remote project team happier and more productive.

Over the next few weeks, I'll send you lessons to dramatically improve your team communication, cohesion, and happiness. Because each lesson captures a behavioral pattern (or antipattern), it's important that you spend some time considering how your team can improve its process. Reading these lessons is the first step toward better remote work. But the critical step is committing the knowledge to action.


Antipattern: The Email Todo

The Symptom

How many times have you received an email from one of your teammates that looked something like this?

Hi Teejay:

I talked to the client and they said they'd like to see these changes:

  • Make the submit button mauve (right now it's chartreuse)
  • Remove the "About Us" copy
  • Add a simple contact form to the bottom of the page

Let me know when you can get to these! I appreciate it!

What is your first instinct when receiving an email like this? If you're like most people, you might do one of two things: Address each of the items in the email and send back a response saying you've completed them, or let the email linger in your inbox for days, weeks, or months.

The fact is, this sort of email is toxic to your project's success. Here's why:  

You're discussing 3 separate actions in the same thread. When you create separate task items for each todo in your project management system, it allows you and your team to discuss the task at length and in context. Responding to the example email above would require clarifying which of the 3 separate tasks you're referring to, requiring your teammate to re-contextualize themselves before processing your words.

You're letting your inbox set your priorities. When you don't have a centralized, priority-ordered queue of tasks accessible to everyone and rely on email to dictate your priorities, you're letting your tasks pick you and not the other way around.

Email is a modern miracle. But it's made for chronological processing, and you handle your action items by priority — not chronology.

The Solution

Don't send emails to delegate tasks. Use your project management software (like Basecamp, Trello, or Flow) to create a new task, and notify the person using your tool's built-in notification.

Tomorrow I'll show you one of the most time-consuming mistakes when writing task items.