Time Management Tips: Software Task Management Systems
Too often, we tend to think of our To Do List in isolation, that is we think of the list of
actions itself as the start and finish of our ‘system. If it’s on the list it generally gets done,
if it’s not, it doesn’t.
Sound even a little bit familiar?
The problem with this rather simplistic way of looking at our tasks is that it completely
ignores the ‘process’ going on around them – the task capture, the thought processes required to
properly process/sort our tasks, the tools and techniques with which we can not only help us
organize our tasks, but to remain focused and productive.
The reality is that, to be truly effective – and productive – we
more than a list. We need a complete ‘start to finish system’.
And more often than not, it’s because we don't have this complete system in place to
manage our tasks - at work and at home – we never actually achieve the personal effectiveness we’re
always looking for.
What’s more, because our task lists offer just a small snapshot of what we have to do, we have a
constantly worrying feeling that we have missed something important.
Similarly, while we always seem to be ‘busy’, we still never ever achieve the goals and targets we
have set ourselves.
So why is having a full-blown task management system so much more effective than just running a
To Do list?
For a start, because a task management system is comprehensive, it is capable of
capturing everything that we need to do, both in our work and domestic lives.
By adopting such an ‘all-of-life approach’, you immediately feel much more in control, confident
that you have captured everything you need to, ought to, or want to do and that nothing has fallen
between the cracks.
This immediately removes the feeling of overwhelm that you experience when you’re not sure what
you have to do, as you struggle to work through a collection of random and ill-defined tasks.
The first step in setting up a task management system is to identify and bring together all of
your possible ‘incomplete’ tasks.
This means scouring through e-mail inboxes, random bits of paper, sticky notes, answerphone
messages, whiteboards, pending piles and in-trays to uncover everything you need to do.
You should also gather up any reference material for all the projects that you have on the go.
If that means sorting through your ‘filing’ stack, so be it – it’s been there long
And don’t forget to interrogate your own memory – a brain dumping session is immensely cathartic
as it immediately removes the burden of worrying about forgetting things.
Establish 'Buckets' For Capturing Tasks.
Having done this, set up a series of collection baskets, boxes or filing trays into which all
future items can find a home. To make your system as streamlined as possible, only have the minimum
number of collection baskets you can get away with.
For example, rather than having a collection of notes and messages on scraps of paper and sticky
notes, why not have a Day Book containing each day’s messages, notes and other useful
reference material in one place?
You should then establish - and follow - rules for what should be done with every piece of paper
or information that comes into your system. And not only you, but others around you, should follow
these rules, simplifying everyone’s life in one go.
Processing Your Tasks.
When you have gathered together all your material, you can begin the second stage of the system,
which is to sort it into categories.
There should be a limited number of things that can happen to any piece of material that comes
into your system. If it is irrelevant or no longer of any use, it should be binned or
deleted without hesitation
If it is reference material, physical or electronic, it should be filed and stored
under an appropriate project or job heading. This can relate to work or a domestic
project, such as Holidays or Healthcare.
If it relates to a task that doesn't need to be done in the near future, it can be
deferred to a later date, and a reminder set up on some form of
If it relates to a task that can be done - to a sufficient standard - by someone else who has
the time, it should be delegated to them.
If it relates to a small job that takes less than two minutes to complete, it should
simply be done. That way you can tick it off your mental list, and feel like you are
starting to build momentum.
Any items that remain uncategorized at the end of this exercise must, by default, be
‘actionable’ - tasks that need to be completed, either in the short- or long-term.
The next stage is to further process all your actions by dividing them by ‘time context’, in
other words when they need to be done.
First of all, pull out all the ‘Daily’ actions that need to be done regularly.
This might apply to such things as remembering to water the flowers, doing some exercise or
setting aside time each day to learn a language, or practice an instrument . They are constant
reminders of a regular commitment.
Next, select those that tasks that need doing within the next 24 hours or so - these are urgent
Then, identify the items that need to be done in the next two to seven days. These are
‘Next’ tasks that will replace the ‘Now’ items once they’ve been completed.
Items that don't need to be done within the next seven days but which you need to do or would
like to do within the next month go into a ‘Soon’ category.
Any items which you have delegated to others and which require future follow-up, as well as
tasks and projects on which you are awaiting feedback, acknowledgement or further information and
don’t want to lose sight of, go into a ‘Waiting’ category.
Using the simple processing/organizing steps above, you'll have a simple method of
capturing and dealing with every task or piece of information that comes your way.
Make Use of Software Tools.
While it is possible to get yourself organized using a paper-based system, it is far better to
input all your tasks into a task management system, like our very own ShoutDone, which allows you
to organize your tasks not just by time contexts, but also location (office, town), people required
(colleague, spouse), and resources needed (phone, computer).
Such systems give you the flexibility to create ‘living lists’ that you can sort and re-sort,
depending on circumstances, so that you’re always doing the right thing for maximum efficiency.
So, if you want to see your personal productivity reaching new heights, it’s time to stop
bucking the system and adopt one.