731545_43123449You’ve got managing your tasks down to a science. Your dry cleaning is always picked up on time, your ‘honey-do’ list at home has nothing left on it, and you’ve even gotten through all the assignments your supervisor has handed off to you. You are a to-do list rock star.

But then something changes: maybe you’ve started your own business. Perhaps you’ve been bumped up into management. Suddenly you have to manage tasks for more than just yourself: you have employees or contractors you’re responsible for keeping on track, as well as a need to complete your own projects. How do you take your personal task management skills to the next level? How do you manage tasks when you’re responsible for other workers’ accomplishments?

Making The Change

I’ve been struggling with adapting my approach to managing tasks to the fact that I’m in charge of more than just my own work these days. Somehow, assorted to-do lists on RememberTheMilk just stopped being enough when I needed to remember to handle invoicing, checking in with writers and still handle my own projects. I had to step up my task management skills and make some changes.

As I was finding a new balance for managing deadlines and tasks, I learned a few things. In particular, I learned that I didn’t like most of the project management options out there — many were actually more hardcore solutions than I needed — but a lot of the basic task management options didn’t meet my needs either. Just as I had to find a system that worked for me when I started getting my to-do list under control, I had to find a balance in handling projects that involved multiple people. Along the way, I learned a few things.

Secret #1: Technology is a Choke Point

I think just about everyone I know relies on technology in some way to help them manage their to-do lists. There are a few paper-and-pen holdouts, admittedly, but that sort of approach does place certain limitations on task management. A lot of people have moved at least as far as using a text file to manage their tasks, if not moving on to at least a basic application. The technology available can be extraordinarily helpful in not only organizing tasks, but also helping us complete them. However, it’s also the choke point for taking on bigger projects and responsibilities.

The big problem is that we commit to a certain application or approach to managing our tasks. While there are a few exceptions that flit between RememberTheMilk, Toodledo and whatever they find like to-do list butterflies, the general approach is to find one system that works for you. We tend to stick with systems until something forces us to move on. That’s actually not a bad thing: why mess with something that’s working. The issue is that we don’t always recognize exactly what isn’t working. We’re inclined to cling to our current set up or application as long as possible.

The solution is relatively simple: we have to be willing to change our technology as needed. I’m not recommending that we all join the aforementioned butterflies, but it is important to recognize that as we scale upwards, we usually have to change tools. Take a look at your options and see which meet your new needs: maybe the ability to share tasks is crucial, or perhaps you need some sort of visualization. And when you find the tool that makes sense as the next step, jump as fast as possible.

Secret #2: Other People Are Now Involved

If you’ve gone the entrepreneurial route and you’re doing well, you might be hiring employees or bringing on a virtual assistant. Even if you’re just managing staff for someone else’s company, you’re going to have some other people to think of when it comes to managing tasks and projects. As the boss, you do have the option of imposing any productivity system you want but doing so might not endear you to the people you have to work with.

It’s worth your while to check with those individuals to see how they like to handle tasks. Make use of the inboxes, to-do lists and other systems they already have in place, whenever possible. There’s often a reason that they’ve made use of a particular system: right now, I’m working with a writer who just doesn’t have the online skills to work with something like Basecamp. I email her each task or project I need her to work on, because that’s the only inbox she’ll actually check. Such a situation isn’t always ideal, but it works and that’s the important thing.

Secret #3: It Has to Work

When I realized I needed an application that could help me track larger projects, I looked at several options. I signed up for a whole stack of trial accounts and messed around with a whole bunch of applications. There were one or two that I kept coming back to — not because they worked particularly well with the way I operate, but because I knew that a couple of friends swear by them and find them perfect options. I even started using one of these applications — and everything fell apart.

Recommendations aren’t enough. Instead, an application actually has to work with your personal methods of getting things done. If it doesn’t, don’t pay money for it and don’t spend time on it. Try out applications as much as needed, but jettison them if they aren’t working for you.

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