Is your to-do list getting the better of you? Let's review some task management basics that will help you get your list under control and make real progress on the projects that matter most to you.
What are the task management basics that we all need to know?
I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about managing to-do lists. We’ve talked about it in several past episodes, but I thought it’s a good time to review the basics of task management as we enter the last couple of months of this year. We review the highlights in this episode; see the list below for other TPW episodes that go into more detail about these concepts.
Challenges of Task Management
- Keeping track of it all – As women, we often have not only our tasks to take care of but those of other people as well. We have to make sure the most important things get done, juggling multiple roles for family, home, job (and maybe a side hustle), volunteer projects, friends/social activities, hobbies and interests, and self-care.
- Taking on too much – We often have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, an unrealistic understanding of what we can do in the time available, and an unrealistic idea of how long tasks take.
Fundamentals of effective task management
1. Building the right habits
Anything that’s habitual uses a different part of our brain, leaving space for creative thinking elsewhere. This can be good or bad, depending on whether the habits we’ve developed serve us or don’t.
If we need to create new, more productive habits, it will take more effort at first, but will pay off later in time dividends (as Laura Vanderkam writes about in Off the Clock, our August TPW Book Club selection).
2. Understanding the key concepts
It's important to distinguish between tasks and projects:
A task can be done in one segment of time in one location with one set of tools.
A project requires more than one step, one segment of time, a session of work.
Your to-do list should have only tasks, which might (or might not) be organized by projects. For more info, TPW130 – What’s On Your To-Do List?
It's also important to formulate the tasks well in your system. A task or project should start with a verb. It is something you do. This forces you to think about the objective, what you’re really trying to accomplish
3. Understanding (and applying) the basics of the GTD (Getting Things Done) Approach
Based on the teachings of David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done, the basic components of a high-functioning task management system are:
- Capture: Have a place to put everything you need to do and get it off your mind
- Make it easy – Have it with you and use a tool that makes it easy to get the task into your inbox (to be processed later)
- Be consistent – Always do it and put everything in the same place
- Go through the things in your inbox and put them where they need to be – categories, labels, deadlines, etc.
- Schedule regular brief times to do this – morning, afternoon, evening?
- Sometimes, the processing means deciding not to do it or not to do it until later
- Have effective ways to view your task list
- Block scheduling/batch processing
- Delegation: Maybe the things that need to be done don’t need to be done by You do need a system to keep track of stuff you’re waiting for other people to do.
- Review: This is a key element of effective task management! Even if you’ve captured and processed your to-do list, if you never look at your list again, you don’t get to the “Do” step because you won’t remember.
Daily: At the end of the day, check your list to prepare for the next day.
Weekly: Identity what your priorities will be for the next week.
Quarterly: This is looking at the bigger picture to ensure your daily and weekly to-dos reflect your long-term goals.
30/30 approach (Get Momentum – Jodi & Jason Womack – episode 184): Spend 30 minutes working on something that isn’t due for 30 days. This requires some forethought. I love this approach because it helps you to be proactive instead of just dealing with what’s immediately due.
Develop a habitual process for review:
- Have a checklist for your review times
- Reviewing the list and calendar. Delete things you decide not to do and defer things that need to wait.
- Categorize the roles you have in your life – Are you taking action in all the areas of your life that are important to you?
Tools for task management
There is no one right tool for everyone. Any tool will work if you use it consistently.
- Paper & Pen – 3×5 card, paper on a clipboard, notebook, Bullet Journal, big sticky notes you can stick on the wall. These options are simple, portable, inexpensive!
- Digital – OmniFocus, Nozbe, Todoist, Things, Asana, Trello. These apps sync across devices. They are portable and make it easy to move things forward. Asana and Trello are very good for collaboration. When you try a new digital tool, give it 6 – 8 weeks to get comfortable with it before you decide it doesn’t work. (Check out Episode 65 for thoughts on why you should or shouldn’t change your task management system.)
- Hybrid – I use my digital task manager as the comprehensive repository of all tasks, but I use my Bullet Journal (or even a small sticky note) for my daily priority tasks.
Using your calendar
- Schedule regular processing and review times
- Schedule times to work on specific key tasks
- Look at your calendar when planning your to-do list. What you can do from your list depends in part on what commitments you have – if you have lots of meetings or calls, plan on fewer to-dos. Days with few commitments are great for knocking out lots of tasks. Be intentional about which ones you do.
The value of accountability
If managing your to-do list, and actually getting things done, is a challenge for you, having someone hold you accountable can help you establish better habits. We often will work harder to meet commitments to other people than those we make to ourselves. Having some accountability can help keep focus on execution.
- Find an accountability partner – text each other with top 3 tasks for the day, etc.
- Join a mastermind group (self-formed or professionally facilitated) – report in regularly on progress with respect to key personal or professional goals.
- Hire a coach
What do you think?
What are your best tips for managing the tasks that matter most to you? Please share them in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group or send me an email.
Resources & Links
- TPW030 – Task Management Options
- TPW065 – How to Choose the Best Task Manager
- TPW130 – What’s On Your To-Do List
- TPW145 – Making the Most of Your To-Do List
- TPW060 – Planning a Project
- TPW132 – Herding Cats: Managing Multiple Projects
- TPW181 – Time Management & Balance, with Susan May Warren (her time-blocking approach)
- TPW184 – Discernment and Self-Care, with Jodi Womack
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