We’ve been using Confluence Questions for a few months now and we’re loving it. It’s simple – you ask a question, and you get answers. Questions like this one from our head of brand, Carilu Dietrich:

How do you manage email and your personal task list(s)?”

— Carilu Dietrich, Atlassian

Personal productivity is a topic I’m particularly interested in and one I’ve blogged about before, so naturally I felt inclined to share my own approach. It has since become the top voted answer to Carilu’s question, which got me thinking there might be some value in my answer to folks that don’t work at Atlassian.

My four-step plan to managing email and tasks

I think everyone has their own approach to dealing with personal tasks that works for them. Here’s what works for me – hopefully there’s some tips in here that will work for you too.

For me, tasks arrive in one of four ways, and I have different methods of managing each of them.

1. For content in Confluence or Jira that requires my input, I use Confluence WorkBox

Since my team creates and shares everything in Confluence or Jira I’m often asked to review content – draft blog posts, project plans, email copy, etc. – via @mentions or Shares. When I’m at work I’ll check my notifications in WorkBox a few times throughout the day. If I’m not at my desk I can also check my notifications via Confluence Mobile.


If there are notifications that require an action from me I’ll either do it straight away if it’s something I can do in under two minutes – e.g. a replying to a comment or liking a comment – or I’ll create a task in Workbox for things that will require more time – e.g. reviewing a draft blog post or copy for an outgoing email.

Here’s an example of a Jira notification from which I have created a WorkBox task. Note, this is not a Jira issue that has been assigned to me, just one that requires my input:


I’ll run through and complete my WorkBox tasks once a week or so. If something needs to be done urgently or ASAP and I haven’t gotten to it yet, I rely on whoever is asking me to nag me to complete it.

Here’s a quick video that shows how you can use Workbox in Confluence:

(info) Pro tip: How to avoid notification email overload

Since I exclusively use WorkBox to track notifications from Confluence and Jira that require my attention, I have created a set of filters in Gmail so that all email notifications that I already see in WorkBox – e.g. replies to comments and likes – just skip my inbox and are marked as read.

For notifications that don’t show up in WorkBox – e.g. notifications for all new blog posts – I have a filter that allows the message to skip my inbox but remean unread. I also have all page/blog/comment edit notifications automatically skip my inbox and marked as read.


2. For tasks that I need to complete in a sprint, I use Jira Agile

My team practices scrum and we run bi-weekly sprints to make progress against our quarterly goals. All tasks (stories) that I have committed to completing in our sprint planning meeting are tracked in Jira Agile on my team’s rapid board.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 3.22.25 PM

3. For tasks from email, I use Gmail stars

Fortunately I don’t get a ton of work-related email since most of my work takes place in Jira or Confluence, and I use WorkBox for managing those notifications and any resulting tasks as described above. Additionally, I don’t do a lot of work with people outside of Atlassian. With this in mind, here’s my method for managing my email:

1. Read

I force myself to only check my email a couple of times a day when I have 15-30 mins to plough through my inbox. Sometimes I will even ignore requests I get via email. If it is important enough, the requester will send me another email and that’s when I will deal with it.

2. Act

If the email requires action and can be done in under two minutes, I deal with it there and then (e.g. reply or forward). If it’s going to take significantly more time to deal with, I will star the email as a reminder to get back to it later and then archive it.

I like to keep my inbox clear so every email is archived once I have read it.

3. Review

When I have more time, usually in the late afternoon, I will review my list of starred emails and deal with them based on which I deem to be the most important. If something is urgent, people have other means of contacting you to get a repsonse e.g. Hipchat, phone, or in person.

(info) Pro tip: Become a Gmail Ninja

4. For all other tasks, I use Any.do

Sometimes there are tasks that don’t come from a task in Confluence, Jira, or an email. They are just things that pop up that need to be done – personal or work. Jira is too heavyweight to track them, and you don’t want to forget them. That’s why I use Any.do.

Any.do is a simple and free task management app for iOS, Android, and the web. Tasks are synced across all your devices and they have a handy Chrome extension, too.

(info) Pro tip: At the start of each day, write down the one to three things you want to get done and cross them off as you complete them.

On a related note, I’ve just started using Simplenote for taking ad-hoc notes and also jotting down things that I want to discuss with my team in our 1:1’s. Evernote has never really worked for me, and this seems to be a simpler app and a good solution that works and syncs cross platform.

That’s it. It’s not rocket science, but it works for me.

How do you manage email and tasks?

I’m always looking to improve my personal productivity and would love to learn what works for you. Comment away.

I am Matt Hodges and this is how I manage email and tasks