A realization about why my inbox keeps being my to-do tracker
I have a problem. It's not a unique or novel problem; I understand it's one that a lot of people have. My problem is that over time my email inbox quietly winds up getting used as my to-do tracker, basically regardless of how I'm theoretically trying to keep track of this stuff. I leave messages in my inbox to remind me to do things, and the latest go-round of this has now reached the point where I email myself notes about things I want to do.
Today I had an insight about why this happens: because my inbox has visibility. I look at my inbox regularly, and in fact I have to look at it, because dealing with new email that comes in is part of my job as a sysadmin. Looking at my inbox means that the to-do items are visible, which reminds me of them, which drastically raises the chances that they'll get done.
Nothing else in my environment has comparable visibility; there is no other system that I have to check to do my job in the way that I have to check email. (To the extent that there are other systems I check that often, those systems don't have any natural way of showing varied messages. Sure, I could make my little script that monitors mail queue sizes also show me the top of some to-do file, but it would be completely artificial and I would take it out in a week.)
Looked at that way, it's no wonder that I keep drifting back to using my inbox to hold to-do items. It also illuminates the problem with using my inbox for this, which is that I lose track of sufficiently old things to do. This happens because at a certain point there are enough messages in my inbox that the old messages lose visibility because they aren't within a screen or two of the most recent messages; at that point they almost might as well not exist, based on how much further attention they'll get.
This suggests certain things about any to-do program or technique that I want to be successful. Clearly I need to work out some natural way to make the list visible, in fact to shove it in front of my face on a regular basis. If I can't do that it should at least be highly accessible, in a sense the opposite of my low distraction email notifier; there should be something on the screen all the time to remind me of my to-do list, and it should make getting to the actual list as easy and simple as possible so that I invoke it frequently.
(Somehow making it part of my browser start page might do the trick, although I'm not sure if that would feel natural enough.)