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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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