Why I use task manager

Explosion

Over the last couple of years there has been an explosion of different swiss-army-knife applications. These are the programs that blend tasks, notes, clippings, ideas, etc. all in one place. Perhaps this is a good approach as you have everything in one place, easy accessible and easily searchable. It’s minimalistic approach that has a merits but taken to extreme can hinder the effectiveness rather than help it.

My preference is to keep tasks and project list separate from other elements of my system as and it’s not because GTD principle says so.

Modes

Having a dedicated system/application to manage task switches my brain into different mode a doing mode. When looking at all the item in my Remember the Milk account I focus on the outcomes and completions. I purposefully look for items that I want to accomplish in a given moment. The items in my RTM account mostly relate to specific actionable things, there is no more thinking required.

One place

If I decide that I need to do something then it can only go into one place – my tasks manager. Although I use other tools like Evernote or Moleskine notebook they have completely different purpose. I see them as containers for my thinking, notes, scribbles and sketches. But once an action has been defined it will end up in RTM.

Structure and binge

Task manager provides a solid structure for managing tasks and actions that I or others have committed to do. Rather than chase things around places, I have one location to refer to.

From time to time I like to tackle a large number of small actions that have accumulated in my lists. I call it a binge action day. A dedicated task manager is perfect for such occasion.

Not all work

As I try to keep every tasks and action there I always come across a variety of things todo. Just work would not be too encouraging and I’m pretty sure I would avoid the application like a plague. Instead I have fun, tricky, odd tasks which make the process of using RTM much more pleasant experience.

Best ideas from “Eat that frog” book

Eat that frog by Brian Tracy is one of the classic books on time management, personal productivity and effectiveness. Although it has been published quite a few years ago it still contains a lot very useful and practical advice. This also means that despite the progress in technology, systems basic work problems like getting things done, focusing on important items, achieving goal hasn’t been resolved. Therefore this week I wanted to share a selection of the best tips and ideas from the book which you could use to become more effective and get more done.

Plan every day in advance

Planning every day is one the single most effective techniques you could use to ensure consistent progress, yet it remains one of the most underutilized or ignored. Tracy points out that every minute spend planning saves up to 10 minutes in execution. Whether this is correct or not planning your day a night before is definitely very effective and powerful technique. You may be put of by the required time to completed a daily plan but if you look at up close it isn’t that difficult or time consuming. Simply in your last 15 minutes of the work day pull out pen and paper and your master task list. Then select few tasks which are really important to you and write them down on paper. I try to complete my plan each day and I find that selecting 3-5 items is really enough. Less than that won’t be challenging nor satisfying and more that will be cause of disappointment of too many unexpected things pop up. Lastly once you’re done with your list put it on top of your keyboard or screen so it’s the first thing you see in the morning.

Apply 80/20 rule

If you are looking for a way to establish what’s important and what brings most of the effects 80/20 rule should clear a lot of things. In its basic form principle says that 20% of activities will amount to 80% of outcomes regardless of the area and context it’s measured. To take that further 80% of your time is spend on activities that yield only 20% of results. This may sound quite depressing. So how do you leverage the 80/20 principle in your favour. establish your key result areas – what really important? establish your 20% most impact tasks projects – what are the projects which yield most return? start your day by focusing on your 20% high impact tasks – see daily planning above look out for activities that 80% that consume your time and bring very little value.

Take one item at a time

People used to take pride in ability to multitask which seemed like a perfect skill for solving all problems of more work and less time. Unfortunately this strategy creates more problems that in actually solves. Constant tasks switching can cost you up to 5 times in time necessary to complete a task. To avoid that, first select one action and work on it until it’s done. If you lose focus and put your attention somewhere else try to get back to the original task and attempt to finish it. Repeat the process until done.
To assist with that try to remove or reduce distractions. Turn of the email, internet, send calls to voicemail.

Create large chunks of time

Majority of important work requires a large uninterrupted time to complete. Whether you work on a presentation or write a report it will not be possible to finish it in an hour. In order to take advantage of those large chunks of time set up your day so that you plan them above other things. Use your calendar to block sufficient amount of time, then eliminate distractions and get to work. Before you start make sure you have a clear indication of tasks which you want to accomplish during that session. Alternative method is to refer to your project plan and start working in the next set of tasks.

Slice and dice bigger tasks

Are you familiar with a question, how do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite a time. The same applies to large tasks and projects. As mentioned above big and importat things usually take time to accomplish. It’s not always easy to see the end. To begin slicing your big project start with a list of all possible tasks you will have to do in order to take the project to successful completion. Then select one task and work on it. Each completed task will help you satisfy the need of making progress and seeing some results.

Eat that FROG

Lets be honest work does not comprise of only interesting and cool projects and tasks. Very often we need to deal with the boring, unpleasant and downright pointless activities. The simplest strategy to deal with such thing is to do it first thing in the morning. Do it quickly and move to something else.

Prepare before you begin

Very often we start working on something only to realise that we were going in the wrong direction or missing some key tools, people or skills to accomplish it. Tracy suggest that before you embark on something big make sure you have everything you need at hand. Setup your work area so that it will support completing the tasks. If you’re writing a report make sure you have the research and the necessary data. Also to avoid distraction clear off the stuff you don’t need for this task leave only what’s necessary. If your mind happens to wander off there will be fewer things to put your attention on. My own suggestion is to always make a plan before. This ways you have a clearer picture of what you want and what needs to be accomplished. My preferred method of planning is to use mind maps. If you prefer a more ordered approach simple outline will do the trick as well. You can read about my favourite software here.

“Eat that frog” is a little book packed with many practical ideas and techniques for improving your personal effectiveness and productivity. If you’re looking for something that will give a bunch of different tips in a bite sized form this book is definitely one to check.

Weekly Links post 8st January

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Use Mind Maps to Achieve Your Goals

  2. Gantt, PERT, or Task Calendar: Which Scheduling Model is Best for Your Project?

  3. How Handwriting Trains the Brain

  4. How to conduct your own annual review

  5. Switch Off Your Social Self – Switch On Your Creativity

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.