Projects are made up of tasks, and knowing how to manage your tasks (and everyone else’s) is the secret to getting your projects completed on time. At its simplest, task management is having a To Do list but you’ll soon find that method isn’t going to cut it for managing project workloads.
Never fear, we’ve got years of experience when it comes to managing tasks and in this article we’ll share it all with you. We’ll step you through everything you ever wanted to know about task management but were afraid to ask!
What is Task Management?
Task management is a way of describing how you identify, monitor and progress the work that you need to do during the day. Generally we talk about ‘task management’ for things that relate to work life but you’ll also need to manage your home life activities and you can use similar tools.
Why Manage Tasks?
You can’t be efficient if all you do is react to whoever shouts the loudest at work. You can’t be efficient purely by answering the next email in your inbox. And data from the Pew Research Center points to another reason that you might not be as good as managing your tasks as you think: 70% of Facebook users spend time on the app every day.
You have to manage your tasks as a group because what comes in next might not be the most important. You have to manage your time to spend the right amount of time working on the priority tasks (and that means staying off social media until the work is done). Task management lets you stay on top of all your work and help your team hit their deadlines too. The benefits of task management are:
- You can see everything you are working on at once
- You know what your priorities are
- You know how much time you’ve got to do those tasks
- You can group tasks together to work on similar things at the same time
Above all, you can keep a balanced workload so that you can adjust or delegate tasks and deadlines so that you are not overworked.
The Tools for Task Management
There are lots of tools for managing your tasks. At the simplest, you’ve got a notebook and pen and you can write down your To Do list. The downside of this simple approach is that it’s hard to move tasks around to group them and prioritise them. And you have to rewrite the list every few days or it gets too messy with all the crossings out. Many people do manage simple lists on paper, but if you are managing a project or multiple projects then you’ll need something more sophisticated.
Task management software lets you automate all of that. It’s great for project teams because you can make a list of all the tasks required for the project (in project management jargon that’s the Work Breakdown Structure). Simply add a new task for each item.
Online task management tools also give you much greater flexibility than paper lists, and it’s not only about making sure everyone has access to the ‘master’ list of tasks. You can:
- Export and import lists
- Define custom views
- Print lists
- Filter lists by day/week/month
- Drill down into the detail of a task from the task list
- Manage dozens (and even hundreds) of tasks easily with only a few clicks.
How To Manage Your Team’s Tasks
One of the big challenges for project managers is making sure that tasks are done by others. When it’s your responsibility, you know that you will get round to it, but when it’s work for someone else—let’s face it, they probably need a little chase every now and then, even if it is an action that has been recorded in the minutes of a meeting.
When other people take an action in a meeting, make a note of it and add it to your task management app. Assign it to the right person and it will show up in their personal To Do list. Then they won’t forget!
You’ll be able to monitor progress and see how they are doing. Filter the project’s task list by resource to see what work everyone has got on: this gives you an at-a-glance view of the workload for each person. You can then remind them from time to time about what they agreed to do, making sure it is completed before the deadline.
The cool thing here is that it means your simple To Do list is linked to resource reporting. You can pull up details of who has too much to do and who has some capacity to take on more work, using the information in your task list. It saves a lot of time and duplication of effort.
Leadership coach Susanne Madsen explains how to manage tasks and lead people at the same time in this video:
What You See On a Task Management System
The main things you’ll see in your task management system are – obviously! – the tasks. Make the Tasks page of your project management tool the first place you go every day.
You’ll see the work you have assigned to you that day and the upcoming tasks so you can check that the priorities align to what you feel you need to work on and make any changes as necessary. Click any task and you will see the detail about that piece of work. In ProjectManager.com you can go even further, sharing status updates, adding links, uploading files and recording audio messages on your task. It’s a great way of keeping everything to do with that activity in one place.
Tasks that are overdue will be highlighted. This is helpful to see what you should have completed by now but haven’t. You can either agree with your team that the target date for completion needs to be changed or get cracking on making sure that work is finished off. It’s a very visual reminder of what needs to be done!
Pro Tip: Don’t let a long task list overwhelm you. ProjectManager.com contributor Elizabeth Harrin shares tips for staying focused and avoiding multitasking in this article.
How To Track Task Progress
On your task management tool you’ll see a column for ‘% Complete’. This is an indication of how far through you are with the work. Anything that is greater than 0% means the task has started and when it gets to 100% the task will be considered complete.
Your team members can update this manually. The data flows through to the timesheets and updates your project schedules to reflect how the team is getting on with the tasks allocated to them.
How Often Should You Update Your To Do List?
The easiest way to stay on top of your deadlines and tasks, and those of your team, is to update your To Do list once any individual item on it is completed. If that sounds like too much to remember, check your To Do list at the end of every day and mark the tasks you finished that day as complete. Mark anything that you started as ‘in progress’.
It will take you a minute or two and it means that tomorrow you’ll be starting work with a clear idea of what you are in the middle of and what should be your next priority.
Pro Tip: Book a 15 minute slot in your calendar at the end of every day to update your task list. If you are using timesheets (and you should be) then you can fill them in at the same time.
Should You Share Task Lists?
Yes! Task management works best when everyone can see what needs to be done. Online task management software makes this easy because your project task list can be shared with the team. Don’t worry about people getting confused about what they personally need to do: each task will be allocated to an individual so you get the whole picture for the project while still knowing what you are personally responsible for.
The exception to this rule is that you will probably want to keep your personal tasks separate from project tasks. Items like completing your expenses, that meeting with HR you’ve been meaning to organize or providing a reference for someone who has just left are tasks that you don’t need to share with your team.
How To Save Time With Task Management
Managing your tasks, and those of your team, takes up valuable time in the day. You may be wondering if it’s worth it. When time is money, are you really going to get a return from spending so much time on managing your workload?
The answer is easy: Yes! Not managing tasks is a recipe for missing deadlines and feeling overwhelmed. You’ll spend more time working out your priorities every week and dealing with the fact you’ve spent time on the less important tasks while ignoring a looming deadline. Ultimately that will cost you money, time and stress.
You can still cut down the amount of time it takes to manage your tasks. Here are 5 tips for saving time on task management activities.
- Tip #1: Use Your Calendar
What gets scheduled gets done. Use your calendar or project schedule to add deadlines for your tasks. Then you can forecast when you might be busy and when you’ve got extra capacity.
- Tip #2: Stick With One Method
Forget sticky notes on your monitor, a list on your tablet, scribbled notes on a piece of paper… you need one To Do list. Using online software or an app is the best way because you’ll probably always have your phone or laptop with you. You can quickly open the app on your smartphone or tablet and record the task.
- Tip #3: Prioritize your tasks
We mentioned this earlier but it’s worth mentioning again. Creating one central list of tasks for you and the project team is a big help, but then you need to think about the right way to tackle that long list of work. Prioritize your tasks. There are two ways to do this: what’s urgent and what’s important. Of course, a task can be urgent and important at the same time and the priority of tasks can change from day to day!
Urgent tasks are things that must be done right now, such as a request from your project sponsor to provide an update by the end of the day.
Important tasks don’t necessarily have to be done immediately, but they are essential for the success of the project.
- Tip #4: Track your time
Using timesheets to track your time is a great way to manage tasks. Why? Because it helps you see exactly where you are spending your time during the day and this information lets you prioritize effectively.
- Tip #5: Delegate
Finally, look at what you can delegate. You don’t have to do everything on the project yourself. Projects are a great development and learning opportunity for your team members too, so think about what you can delegate to others. Not only can you pat yourself on the back for helping develop their skills, it is also work off your To Do list that you don’t have to do!
Next Steps for Task Management
If you haven’t already found the task management app that works for you, now is the time to test drive a few products and find one that suits your style.
ProjectManager.com is easy to use, quick to set up and lets you manage task lists with your team from wherever you are. Give it a try today.