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3 Secrets to Moving Personal Task Management to the Business Level

3 Secrets to Moving Personal Task Management to the Business Level

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    You’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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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