Task management systems are meant to make life easier by helping us to identify and organize
what we need to do and when we need to do it.
The only trouble is, at least for most of us, that no matter how many To Do lists we write, we
never gain the real control and organization that we crave.
What’s more, far from being just a ‘tool that doesn’t work very well’, the humble To Do list, in
its many forms, can so confuse our priorities that our productivity levels nose-dive rather than
When our productivity levels drop and we fail to 'achieve', our stress levels can go through the
roof, particularly if we still have a lot to do.
Now and again, this is just an uncomfortable experience with which we can cope. But when stress
becomes a permanent state, embedded deep into daily life, it can have an immensely damaging impact
on our health – as all those who have succumbed to premature heart attacks through stress are
While sudden death may be the most 'extreme' evidence of poor task management, if you’re
experiencing the following symptoms, then the way you manage your workload may very well need some
You dread looking at your To Do list
You always seem to be under deadline pressure because – intentionally or not – you
prioritize all your tasks by their urgency
You keep adding items to your To Do list as new tasks occur to you, so that in the end the
original tasks are buried beneath an avalanche of others
You agonize over what job to do next because you’re not sure which should take
Every job on your To Do list seems large and daunting, which makes you feel continually
Your desk is so covered with pieces of paper, documents for filing, reminder notes and
memos, that you frequently ‘misplace’ important pieces of information
You worry about throwing something away because it might be important though you’re not
You have an increasing number of projects on the go, but you never seem to be closer to
finishing any of them
You work long hours and put in the effort, but still end up ‘going to the wire’ with pretty
much everything you do
Your work day often ends with no sense of achievement
You regularly experience moments of panic about forgotten tasks
You frequently go so bed and/or wake up thinking of all the tasks you need to do
Your work day often creeps into your personal life and family time
In our fast moving, 24/7 business landscape, where a manager can have any number of ‘open’
projects on the go, it’s easy to see that handwritten, paper-based methods of task management are
unlikely to be an effective tool.
But the inherent weaknesses of the traditional To Do list format mean that even if you plump for
a software version, you can still actually lower your productivity and increase your stress.
There are a number of reasons for this.
First, To Do lists tend to bring together different types of tasks - making phone calls, writing
documents, having face-to-face meetings, planning and researching - that require us to swap between
skills, behaviors and thinking patterns. But ‘mind-switching’ like this takes time and effort, as
we have to ‘warm up’ each time.
What's more, by their very nature, conventional To Do lists isolate tasks from the larger
projects that they are part of, which means that when we look at our lists, we just see ‘things’ to
do, not the steps on the way to success that they represent.
Task management software based on old-style To Do lists also usually requires us to set due
dates and create specific timeframes for their completion. But often we don’t know exactly how long
jobs will take and so end up setting ourselves inappropriate and unrealistic deadlines.
All of which means that we’re continuously bombarded by reminders from our software that simply
add to our stress, rather than diminish it.
Choose the wrong task management software and it can be difficult and time consuming to input
new tasks into the application. When you have tens or even hundreds of new tasks to add each day or
each week, this can be a tedious and long-winded chore. That’s the last thing you want when you are
trying to relieve the pressure of work.
Alongside this, many task management systems, no matter what format they take, can often be
over-complicated. They can suffer from ‘feature bloat’ – overfilled with lots of bells and
whistles that suggest good value, but in reality just make the program harder to learn as they hide
the features we do want, beneath a load that we don’t.
Continually having to hack your way through the ‘features’ undergrowth just adds to our stress
and cuts down on our productivity.
Instead of opting for the older style, list-based system, try using one of the new era software
applications, like our very own ShoutDone - linked to above, and right.
These are not based on traditional ‘vertical’ lists, but are project-based systems that
encourage ‘next action’ thinking and allow filtering by ‘context’ to maximize your personal
They also offer a far more interesting and engaging user experience that encourages continued
use and combats ‘list fatigue’, which can make using some task management systems seem a major
Of course, particularly if you are under time and work pressure, it is all too easy to drop back
into the old ways and take out your pencil sharpener - better the devil you know than the one you
Fortunately, applications like this are intuitive to use, but, like any new software, do require
a little practice and regular use if they are to become part of your daily routine.
So, if you’re feeling the strain, it may be time to take another look at the task management
system you’re using now and decide if it’s truly a trusted and reliable friend, or your worst