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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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