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Why Email is an Inefficient Project Management Tool


Vastly reducing the amount of external and internal email communication in our business led to increased productivity, and is hence one of the best decisions we have ever made. In this article, we’ll explain why this is, and what we replaced email with – Basecamp.

To clarify, email is good for initial communication, but not for project management. Here’s the difference:

  • Initial communication is generally a lead or client’s first touchpoint with us, the ‘Hello, I’d like to book a consultation to discuss improving my website.’
  • Project management is everything that happens after a lead has become a client, and a new project is beginning; there is usually more of this than there is initial communication.

Issue One: Open System VS Closed System.

Email is an open system, meaning anyone from anywhere in the world can contact us and add a message to our inbox. This is great for initial communication as it makes it easy for people to contact us. But it is not good for project management: imagine if anyone from anywhere in the world could add an item to your To Do list? Even with filters and labels, your inbox is never fully in your control, so this limits how good it can be for managing projects as you need as much control as possible. Our project management tool Basecamp is a closed system; we control who can access it and what parts of it they can access. In this sense it acts as a filter that controls what information is presented to us. When we go into a Basecamp project, we are presented with information that we and our clients have deemed important to our shared project, and this increases our productivity.

Issue Two: Email is not designed for long-form conversation over large timespans.

Have you ever had to search through your inbox to find an important email, then once you’ve found it, had to spend a few minutes finding the info you’re looking for because it’s somewhere in a huge thread of 40 or more emails? Boy have we. Email is simply not designed to handle a lot of back and forward information. Even with the best search functions, it takes time to find the right information. With Basecamp there is a Message Board that is used for communication. Once you click into a project, you are presented only with messages for that conversation. They are easy to navigate, and by allowing people to comment on messages, all of the discussion on a particular item is contained in the one place – communication is more structured and attached to the relevant information. Plus, you don’t have to see previous conversations, and people’s lovely email signatures, duplicated multiple times throughout an email thread. It’s cleaner and more organised, which increases our productivity.

Issue Three: Poor Communication Creates More Work.

Email not being suited to project management is a problem itself, but this problem creates more problems in the form of poor communication. When communication is poor, it begets more communication, which takes up even more time. If things aren’t clear because four people are all trying to communicate via one email thread, then a meeting might be needed, where it might not have been had a better communication and project management tool been used. Using Basecamp has allowed us to cut down on communication and meetings.

Issue Four: Email does not have project management tools.

This one might seem obvious, yet so many companies use email for project management anyways that we feel it’s worth mentioning.

Email doesn’t

  • Give you an overview of a project: Who is involved, what tasks are left to be completed, what the deadlines are, etc.
  • Allow you to assign tasks to specific people, with a specific deadline.
  • Allow you to re-assign and re-prioritise tasks as the situation changes.

With any business task/area, not just project management, it is better to use a tool that is specifically designed for that task, instead of using the tool that is most accessible and that you are most familiar with – usually email.

Issue Five: Email is addictive.

Just think about the way you use email yourself. Do you spend too much time in your inbox? Are you pulled away from important work that you need to focus on when you hear that ‘ding’? The way most people use email is not effective. We feel that we need to check every single email to make sure it’s not urgent. People do this for all eight hours of their work day, breaking their attention and focus, which studies have shown to have a negative impact on productivity. We even did it ourselves. But now we do it a hell of a lot less!

Our Solution: A Dedicated Project Management Tool.

Our use of email has been greatly reduced by trying to use Basecamp as much as possible. You can learn more about it here.

Basecamp is so simple, easy to use, yet powerful and efficiency-enhancing, that all of our team use it, as well as our clients. Once the deal is sealed and a lead becomes a customer, we switch over from email to Basecamp, and try to send as few emails as possible to our clients and to our team members.

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