Most folks are so busy these days that managing tasks has become a critical life skill. So much more so for those of us solopreneurs juggling business, family and other social obligations.
Making task management work for me has long been one of the skills I believe that has led to my success in many areas. These 6 task management tips, when used consistently will greatly improve your results day in and day out.
Start Each Day Fresh
It is easy to get dragged in to the busyness of each day, but rarely is that as productive as taking some planning time each morning. This does not need to be a big, long activity, but it should be focused. Typically 5 – 15 minutes is ample if you get into the habit of working through the process each day. As you plan your day, realize that today is a new day. Be realistic about what is truly feasible to get done given your available time. When I managed a large department, I had many meetings that I had to attend, so my task list each day might only have a couple of items.
In addition, when planning the tasks for the day, consider all aspects of your life. Keeping separate lists for work, personal, volunteer activities, etc. is ultimately hard to manage. You are one person and all these tasks fall to you, so you should see them integrated with one another as they are in your life.
Clear the Day Before
Begin by reviewing the prior day. This includes noting what got accomplished as well as what did not. Every item from the day before should have an action taken on it:
- Completed – This is obvious, it is marked off as done when complete. And don’t forget to celebrate…sometimes it really is the little things in life.
- Assigned – This is something that you have delegated to another person but for which you still have ultimate responsibility. Make a note to whom it was assigned and set a task to check on progress/completion on the appropriate date.
- Moved – This is for a task that was not completed, but still should be done. Moving a task places it on a new date (it could be today or some point in the future) or places it into the holding area (more on that below).
- Deleted – Some tasks are no longer needed and when that becomes the case, delete them.
Once you have cleared up the past, you can focus on the present.
Once you have processed the prior day, it is time to add tasks for today. A good software program will allow you to pre-date items so when you come to that day, the task is waiting for you. It will also allow you to set up recurring items that need to occur on some regular basis. These too will be waiting for you. From there, review your over-arching goals and the action plans associated with them. Are there specific tasks you need to add in order to stay on track? Have you received assignments from others? Add all of these to your list, even if it is more than what is possible for you to get done.
This step ultimately is the most critical in the process. Begin by considering how much time you truly have available. There is no need to try and get 3 hours of tasks completed if you only have 1 hour available in your day for those kind of activities.
Next evaluate each item in terms of IMPORTANT (or High Value) and URGENT (Necessary). Develop a method for ranking each task so you can focus on the most important ones first. Take special note if some of these tasks need dedicated time (most important ones do) or if they should be broken down into small tasks.
Once prioritization is complete, process any of the tasks that most likely do not fit into the time available by either delegating them, moving them forward to another date or deleting them, particularly if they are neither important or urgent. For the remaining tasks, if necessary, block out time to focus on completing them and/or work them into your day as time in available.
Throughout the Day
As the day progresses, continue to manage your tasks.
- As much as is feasible, work down the list from the highest priority to the lowest. Try to avoid adjusting priorities as this generally negates the process.
- Mark off items as they are completed (I LOVE the check box).
- Add items that are identified throughout the day either by assigning them to a specific date, setting them up to recur, placing them in the hold area or delegating them to another person.
Once a week (typically I start the week on Monday), set aside a bit longer for a more comprehensive review. Review the prior week and look to the week ahead with a bigger picture in mind. In addition, look at the tasks that have been placed in the hold area. This is a place on the list for items that do not yet have a date, but you do not want to lose track of in the busyness of life. Are there items on this list that need to be assigned a date? Analyze your ability to estimate the number/type/complexity of tasks to your time available.
Repeat these steps until they become habitual and you will discover you are more effective at getting things done!
These time management tips will work with lots of systems, methods and apps. What tools do you use to manage your tasks?