The Perfect Task Management System: How to Set One Up In
Trying to keep on top of your workload without a proper task management system, in a world that
is ever-more hectic and demanding of your time and energy, will inevitably limit your productivity
and add to your stress.
So why keep on muddling along when you can create
a highly effective task management system for
yourself - in almost no time at all?
If you’re lucky enough not to have too much on your plate, you may still be able to get away
with using paper-based day planners and organizers, or even a software version of the 'traditional
To Do list', to manage your workload.
But, for most people coping in a modern commercial environment, a more robust,
end-to-end system that allows you to manage each task to suit your changing priorities and
particular work and life-style is a far better way forward.
How to set up your perfect task management
system in seven straightforward steps.
Step One. Search through every piece of written material to identify all
your tasks - immediate, coming up soon, or even a long way down the line.
Check notebooks, letters, yellow stickies, old lists, white boards, memos, magazine cut-outs,
and so on. Do the same for all your ‘electronic store cupboards’, such as email inboxes, dictated
notes and voicemails.
For larger projects, brainstorm with everyone involved for their input.
Finally, do a 'brain dump' of anything else you can think of.
(Note: Once you’ve done this the first time, when it will take a few hours to capture
all the information, this round-up of tasks should only take a few minutes each week - Sunday
afternoon is a good time to do it, ready for the following week.)
Step Two. Go through each of these potential tasks and consider whether
you could or should:
dump it, if it is not worth pursuing
delegate it to someone else
defer it for later action
allocate it to a project
file or archive it
Step Three. If the item can be done in under two minutes, do it
Step Four. Allocate or attach all the remaining items to the projects
they are part of. These can be current projects, those on the horizon, or just someday/maybe plans
for the more distant future. And don’t restrict yourself to just work projects – include those that
relate to your personal and family life as well.
Step Five. Add time or date-specific items to a physical calendar, or
better still an electronic one that you can link to task management software. This will allow you
to create a ‘hard landscape’ of the immovable bits of the week ahead, like appointments, meetings
and events around which your tasks must flow.
Step Six. For every item in a project decide on the very next action
required to move that item forward. This is a powerful productivity-enhancing technique because it
breaks every project down into a series of small, actionable steps, and overcomes one of the major
problems of the traditional To Do list – filling it with tasks that are simply too large to be
done, such as Create Brochure, or Organize Event.
While such a list might help us remember what we have to do in a very broad and generic way,
they aren’t particularly helpful in identifying what actually needs to be done next.
Step Seven. As you do this, think also of where each task needs to be
done (work, home, town); what tools you need to do it (computer, phone); who else is involved
(husband, wife, colleague, boss); when it must be done, or anything else that is required for
This creates a ‘context’ for every task, so that rather than having a wide range of different
types of tasks, as you would on a standard To Do list, you can now sort your tasks into ‘living’
lists that you can continually adapt to our needs and circumstances.
So, if you are waiting at the airport and can’t do anything but make phone calls, you can
readily identify all your outstanding calls, whatever project they are required for. Being able to
‘batch’ similar tasks together is a far more productive way of working than constantly switching
between dissimilar activities and mind-sets.
Clearly, trying to include contexts for all your different tasks would be next to impossible
using a paper-based time management system or even standard To Do list software.
Leveraging 'Contexts' Using Software Tools.
The potential of this more fluid way of working can only be fully exploited using the new
generation of task management software that allows you to ‘tag’ each task with multiple contexts,
enabling you to repeatedly sort and filter your tasks under any number of different headings, as
Adapt Your System to Meet Your Needs.
It’s important when setting up your new system not to worry about getting everything perfect
right from the start, as there really is no right or wrong way.
Developing a task management system is a dynamic process that will evolve as you use it, to suit
you. And while you may not get things exactly as you would wish to begin with, any good task
management system, like ShoutDone, has
the flexibility to easily accommodate any changes you make, without you having to go back to the
Over time you will start to refine and adapt the system so that it becomes personal to you,
helping you to develop a new way of working that is right for you.
Make Task Management Your Daily Habit.
Of course, when developing any new habit – and that’s what task management is, a habit – it’s
crucial to stick with it, so that it becomes embedded in your daily routine, even if occasionally
it may be tempting to default to your trusty pen and notepad.
You will find the long-term benefits in terms of increasing your daily productivity will more
than reward the time spent becoming familiar with, and getting the most from, the new generation
task management software.