There is one modification you might make in your task management system that may make it even more useful. You know your own body better than anyone else. If you’re at the peak of your energy levels early in the day, you should do the tasks that require high energy the first thing each day.
On the other hand, if you don’t hit your stride until later in the day, try to match the tasks to your different energy levels. It also helps to discipline yourself to do the things you don’t care for when you are at your higher energy times, but still focus on getting the high-priority items done first. The less important ones can wait.
Timing Your Task Management
There is another factor to consider as you plan your day. Some tasks on your list require you to be more creative and others more logical or sequential in addressing the task. A creative task may be writing text for a catalog or crafting a presentation. Preparing a production report or doing budget calculations are examples of logical or sequential tasks.
Dividing tasks in this way correlates to what are commonly referred to as right-brain and left-brain activities. Right-brain tasks are the creative ones and left-brain tasks are the logic-based ones. The side of your brain you’re using is not as important as remembering that there are different types of tasks. Another way to think of the process you use to address tasks is either circular, for the creative ones, or linear, for the logic-based ones.
Some people find they perform creative tasks better at certain times of the day, such as early in the morning or later in the evening. In turn, they may be more efficient performing logical tasks during certain periods of the day. Keep this in mind as you observe when you are most productive and adjust your task management system accordingly. Is there a task you have been trying to accomplish for a while that actually went quite well when you finally got to it? Make note of the time of day and whether it was a creative or logical task. Multiple observations of this type can give you insights that will help you adjust your task management system and be more productive.
Some people are more productive when they group creative tasks and logical tasks. The idea is that addressing different types of tasks requires a different thought process. You may benefit by trying to do creative tasks before lunch and logical tasks after lunch, or the other way around. I know of people who find it very difficult to return to creative tasks after they have taken up logical tasks so they try to schedule the creative tasks first.
The Flammable Task Management List
Everyone reading this is probably thinking that task management and goal lists are great, but my days are so crazy sometimes I cannot get to a single planned task regardless of what method I use to keep my list. True. Some days it just seems like your task list is flammable—as soon as the day starts it goes up in flames. This is reality, but it is not a valid reason to not subject yourself to the discipline of task management planning your day.
Part of the reason you have been selected to be a manager is that you have illustrated that you have judgment. One of the ways you will need to use your judgment is to know when to stick to your task list, when to set it aside, and when to revise it. You will likely have to revise it during the day and often many times in the same day. Your ability to do this well significantly influences your level of success. Many accomplished senior executives seem to have an innate ability to continually re-prioritize their task management system based on changes in circumstances. Observe the leaders in your organization who do this well and learn from them.
Prioritizing the Task
Some managers use this task management system. They divide their task list into three categories: A, B, and C. The A items are the crucial ones that must get done first. If you have several A items, you need to prioritize the tasks within that category. The B items can wait until you have the time. The C items are not important. If you never get to do them, it probably would not matter much. Then there are those managers who like to do their C items first because they get a sense of accomplishment. Do not fall into that trap. When you do this, you are not only not accomplishing much, you run a serious risk of leaving some critical items in your A category undone and creating significant problems.
Keep in mind that circumstances can change and result in an A-category ‘ task changing in priority to become a B-category task. A few minutes taken throughout the day to validate and refresh your task list will pay you back many times over in increased productivity.
If an A item is too big, complex, or overwhelming, break it down into a few parts. Instead of being one task in your list, it will be a few.
An example would be developing your operating budget for the coming year. This is a big task. If seeing, “Create budget for next year” on your task list seems so overwhelming that you are not getting started, you may want to break it down into a few smaller tasks such as:
- Create quarterly revenue projections for next year.
- Determine tentative staffing levels for next year.
- Get projected materials costs for next year from purchasing.
Other Task Management Tips
Many people get a psychological lift by drawing a line through the tasks that have been completed. If you are using a goal-tracking program or task management application, you may want to give yourself a sense of accomplishment by moving them onto a list of completed items instead of deleting them. Some people use a big marking pen to cross out completed items. It’s great to sit there at the end of the day’s activities and see those big marks across so many tasks.
If you hand-write your list, don’t throw the list away when you leave the office. The next morning, yesterday’s list will serve two purposes. It will remind you of all you accomplished the day before—there’s nothing wrong with that—and will inform you of what tasks remain unaccomplished. These items then go on the new task management list. That’s especially important for long-range projects that might get accidentally dropped from the list. Too many creative ideas and projects get away from us because we didn’t write them down.
Have you ever gone to bed with an office problem on your mind, only to wake up in the middle of the night with a solution? Then you wake in the morning and it’s gone—you can’t retrieve the idea from your memory. A paper and pen on your nightstand for jotting such thoughts down during the night solves these retrieval problems.