Today’s missives are two examples of how sometimes you don’t have to follow the rules. Especially if the rules aren’t, in fact, rules at all.

Use your email inbox as a “to do list”

“Whatever you do, don’t use your email inbox as a to do list.” Because… why? It’s not designed for that? Well, DOS wasn’t designed to support more than 640 KB of memory.

The trouble with virtually all “to do lists” is that they are another place I have to look frequently. I’m already looking at my email several times a day, I don’t need somewhere else to look. But wait… don’t to do lists, like, get in your face by reminding you of stuff? Well, yes, if you can pinpoint a time for every item at which you want it to remind you.

I get an email that contains a newsletter I will probably read. When will I read it? I don’t know. Can I put a link in my to do list which says “Remind me of this when I have time and when I’m interested in this topic”? (Rhetorical1.)

I get an email from a family member who asks “Have you seen this problem with the new iOS 14? Do you know how to fix it?” When will I compose a response? Certainly it is likely to be before I read the newsletter, but when? OK, to do list, remind me when I have time to research the topic, however long that will take.

I get an email from an online service I use saying “there will be an outage between the hours of X and Y on day Z.” Oh, OK! Here we go! This one has a precise time frame on it. But wait a minute, when do I want to be reminded of this? Seems like the start of the outage window would be good, no? No! I don’t want to be reminded of this. I want to be aware of it.

Being aware of things is a whole different ballgame to deadlines, which is all that to do lists are really good for. I want to see that outage notice from time to time so it stays in my mind that it is going to happen. If I find a problem then I might think “Hey, wasn’t that outage on now?” and I will then be able to confirm that fact by referencing the full notice in my inbox.

Many years ago at work we used to get an email saying that a client would be on site, or that auditors would be around. Again, this was an awareness requirement. Most of us did not have specific tasks to accomplish as a result of these people being present. In fact, we had to remember over multiple days to ensure we shut the doors in the face of everyone to ensure we met the security audit requirements. How do you set that reminder?

So, given many emails don’t have deadlines — either because they’re not time critical, or because they are awareness requirements — why bother shunting them into a different application which is actually less suited to storing and displaying the long form information that these types of items require.

I still use a to do list for stuff which doesn’t originate from emails. And I frequently forget any item I don’t (or can’t) put a deadline on.

If your work and your days are usually well organised, then moving everything into a to do list may work very well for you. Mine aren’t. So I will absolutely use my email inbox as a “to do list”.

Weigh yourself every day

“Don’t weigh yourself every day.” I think the reasoning is that your weight can vary quite a bit from day to day, irrespective of a longer term trend, and you might incorrectly interpret what is only a temporary gain or loss as something more lasting.

I get that. In fact, I know the variations happen, because I weigh myself every day. But here’s the thing. Not only can I see that minor variations occur, I can tell you how big the variation typically is, and I can as often as not guess my weight before I step on the scale.

If I have a big lunch, and a big dinner, then getting on the scale the next morning reminds me of the effects. That’s a much quicker feedback loop than weighing myself only once a week. Also — and statisticians have known this for a while — you can still make a trend from more data points.

So yes, I weigh myself every morning after my shower and I know exactly how my weight behaves and what affects it.

Oh, and it’s NOT just food versus exercise. You can measure food intake by kilojoules (if you’re really keen — I’m not2) and you can measure exercise by means of a fitness tracker also by kilojoules, but I’ve not yet seen a way to measure the most effective weight loss agent I have encountered. Stress.


That concludes this edition of Echoes. The comments are open, but will be moderated for civility. Alternatively you can hit me up on Twitter, where I go by @zkarj.


Cover image by Brian Kostiuk on Unsplash.


  1. This one word parenthetical is inspired by “Marcus Browning MP” — a sketch by Roman Atkinson.
  2. The other day I forgot we had some leftover chicken curry and rice and had gotten some beef mince out of the freezer to defrost. Dinner was the mince with a can of tomatoes, a jar of bolognese sauce, the remainder of a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and the leftovers all in one frying pan, served with a small side salad and some corn chips. I don’t think you could pay me enough to stop and work out the kilojoules of the entire dish, let alone the portion that was on my plate.
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