Anyone can benefit from a great task management system. Regardless of whether you are an executive working in a law firm, starting your own business, or a student with no current employment, you too can reap the rewards of proper task management.
Task management begins from the moment you realize something needs to be accomplished. It ends the moment that something gets accomplished. For example, household chores and work assignments are tasks that need to get done.
Having proper task management is what let’s you know you shouldn’t be washing the dishes if you have an important presentation due in an hour, and you still need to prepare.
Properly assigning and managing our daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly tasks can help significantly increase our productivity output. A lack of structure can lead you to focus on unimportant matters. On the other hand, a structured approach will allow you to pay attention to the things that hold the highest priority level. Thus, allowing you to make greater progress in less time.
That being said, it’s important to note that the best method varies from person to person. No individual, task, or profession are exactly the same. You’ll have to assess the importance and urgency of your own tasks in order to assess which require your immediate attention.
Nevertheless, there are a few things you can do to help yourself in the process. Before delving into these, let’s get a better understanding of what a task manager is.
As you might have already deduced, a task manager is, at its very core, a list of tasks you need to accomplish. A program on your phone or system that you have in place can help you manage your day-to-day tasks more efficiently.
Some professionals prefer a simple note-taking app. These allow them to create and arrange lists and organize their daily objectives according to their own assessment. Yet other professionals require more robust programs, especially when managing large teams.
While a task management system could be achieved with nothing more than a pen and paper, contemporarily it makes more sense to do it on a computer. This is especially true if you’re working with a team, as it’ll allow everyone to see the pending tasks in real time.
Once we enter the realm of shared-online-workspace apps, we tend to fall into the Project Management category. This area is a step above simple Task Management, as it groups collections of related tasks into larger categories called projects.
Project management systems help organizations to handle multiple projects, with different goals, and it also allows for breaking each of those projects up into instrumental goals or milestones. This is important when handling multiple projects simultaneously. They usually possess more extensive tools and features such as making some sets of tasks dependent on other sets of tasks. These tools are crucial when viewing larger-scale, complex projects at a wider scope to get a better view of how all goals are progressing together.
All the same, modern software for both task management and project management can integrate into emails, calendars, and other software to speed up the flow between different operations.
Managing your personal tasks won’t be nearly as challenging as managing the tasks of 20 employees and several projects simultaneously. That’s why many companies choose to purchase and integrate a dedicated system for task management that allows the team leaders, executives, and strategists to oversee the progress on a wider scale.
Imagine being in a chess game against 20 other players. While you can visit each individual board and plan out your move, you probably won’t want to. Therefore, it would be infinitely more beneficial to you to have a bird’s-eye view of all the tables and all the games so you can work on all of them at the same time.
In this analogy, once you’ve analyzed each game and each set of moves, you’ll advance much quicker. Similarly, by overseeing each department’s list of objectives, you can advise them in ways which are of the highest priority and which can be pushed back, to be accomplished at a later time.
Programs like Asana, Trello, and ClickUp, though created to be used as project managers, also offer valuable resources for managing the tasks of one or more individuals. For a more specific task manager, you can consider an app like Todoist or TickTick. Remember that a task manager’s function is to help you list out all your tasks and prioritize them. It is still good to have guidelines and processes in place to guide their completion.
Before downloading any new software on your phone, tablet, or computer, make sure you understand your own personal needs first. Not every person requires a fancy task manager that usually brings along with it a pricey monthly subscription fee. Paid programs should really be considered when the company deems it’s absolutely necessary, and it has developed the guidelines and methodologies for how to consistently use them.
Individuals or small teams can work with smaller, free programs, especially when they are starting out. If the team is small enough and great at communicating, a simple excel sheet, or shared note might be more than enough to do the trick!
First, consider your needs. How do you currently manage your tasks? If you already have a system in place for prioritizing, scheduling, and executing, then perhaps you just need to adapt that same system to your team.
If you’ve created something that works for you personally, think about how you can scale that system to fit the needs of the entire team. What can you do to help the team visualize the tasks that need to be done and how is that system going to help you delegate?
If you don’t currently have any system in place, that’s fine. That just means the next step, after considering your needs, is to learn the basics of task management.
If you’re just starting to learn about the art of task management, begin by making a list. It’s as simple as it sounds. Create a list of all the things you need to do. At this point you can think of it as though you are creating a robust to-do list.
There are several approaches that can make this process easier. You can use a bottom-up approach in which you list out the things that you need to do for that day. Then, consider what you would have to do once those are finished. Eventually, you will create a list that goes beyond your daily tasks and lists your weekly tasks, as well.
Alternatively, you can use a top-down approach in which you consider your tasks in the broadest sense possible. In this approach, a person might consider what they would like to accomplish this month, this year, in 5 years, or even in 10 years. Then, they begin to work retroactively by breaking these big tasks into smaller and smaller pieces. With this approach, one chooses a goal from a high-level and then figures out the simplest way to achieve that goal.
For the first time, however, we would recommend starting with a simple to-do list on a blank sheet of paper. Don’t overcomplicate things at the very beginning; keep it simple!
By simply writing everything down, you can get a better perspective of the things that need to get done. It might seem like something you have heard a thousand times: write it down. But you have probably heard it before because it works.
Start small, choose a clear goal, set a deadline, and use the top-down approach. You may find, after filling in the middle-level details, that the goal or deadline is not as clear as you thought it was; therefore you must revise the plan.
Try not to get too detailed, and try not to focus on the minutia until one is actually working on completing a specific task.
Once you’ve created a list with everything you need to do, it’s time to prioritize. These two steps go hand-in-hand and depend on each other for you to achieve success.
Break your tasks up into four categories by using a priority matrix. This matrix is essentially a square with two columns and two rows. These four boxes help you categorize things: “urgent vs. non-urgent” and “important vs. unimportant.”
By organizing these you create a better understanding for yourself. You now have a clear perspective of which tasks are: urgent and important, urgent but unimportant, non-urgent but important, and non-urgent and unimportant.
Urgent and important tasks take the place of highest priority. While, non-urgent and unimportant tasks can obviously be completed later. The key is to recognize which tasks require your immediate attention and get those accomplished ASAP!
Often the things we want to do first fall into the latter category; non-urgent and unimportant. That’s because we tend to migrate towards the things that are easiest to do.
Some professionals even prefer alternating this method to replace “important” with “time consuming”. Simply because they want to get the things that take up the largest chunk of their time done at the very beginning. This strategy helps motivate the individual as large tasks are taken care of early and each subsequent task takes less and less time.
This alternative is not always ideal, however. After all, just because a task takes the longest amount of time doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most important. Nevertheless, some people do appreciate finishing the longest task first and “getting it out of the way.” In contrast, other people prefer to do the opposite and knock out a few urgent and quick tasks first. This helps motivate them by giving them the dopamine boost of accomplishing several micro tasks.
By now you know that creating a list of tasks and prioritizing them isn’t rocket science. Anyone can do this from home with the help of a pen and a sheet of paper. The simple reason you might want to begin using a task manager is to keep these organized.
Having an application on your phone, tablet, or computer that helps you manage your tasks can add several benefits to your system. You can add dates to tasks so you don’t forget your deadlines, and you can control reminders that alert multiple people of a task’s progress.
It’s also easy to lose a sheet of paper, and forget about trying to share that sheet with your team. It makes more sense to have a program that allows you to seamlessly alter the tasks while simultaneously sharing them with the rest of the team. Sure, there are tasks you won’t need to share, like personal tasks, but you can also keep those in the program.
It’s especially useful to keep your task system online so that you can auto-sync your task lists on all your devices. Imagine changing a task on your computer and then having to check back to your computer every time you needed to check the tasks you had pending. That would be awfully inconvenient. It’s a much better idea to have a program that all your devices automatically update. Then a task you change on your computer will instantly change on your phone and tablet, as well.
Filling out the details of tasks can aid in collaboration, such as adding notes, images, subtasks, etc. All of these things can be done infinitely easier on an electronic device, but would require significantly more time to do in a paperback notebook with a pen, some tape, highlighters, and a weekend you’ll probably be spending at home.
For all of these reasons, it’s ideal that you get comfortable using a task manager app. Whether you prefer keeping a simple selection of lists or appreciate being able to attach images and files, a task manager will undoubtedly raise the bar on your efficiency.
Tools are developed for a reason. They help us do things better and faster. If you aren’t already managing your tasks in a structured fashion, it’s never too late. You can literally start doing that today.
If you are already managing your tasks but aren’t using a task manager, consider downloading one to try it out. There’s obviously no one-size-fits-all solution to task management.
Some apps offer tools you might not even need. As mentioned earlier, robust project management software will provide you with gantt charts, time trackers, and other tools you might not even care about. Though these are fantastic in their own right, they would only slow you down if you don’t know how to use them.
Rather, find the best system or method that works for you and try out several different apps. The best system and best app is the one that helps you accomplish your goals. By exploring different options, you can get a better idea of how to improve your own processes. After all, we can all benefit from better task management, right?