The Chaotic Symphony.
Throughout the course of a typical week in the office I attract action items and tasks like mosquitos on a summer night. They appear from every direction and often without notice as part of what I call organizational entropy. Most professional workers today have this dilemma because there are so many sources tasks can originate:
- Meeting minutes (usually in a word file or email)
- Meeting minutes (verbally given because no one wrote the minutes)
- Ticketing system / Service desk
- Project plans (Excel, MS Project, Software Development System)
- Personal notebooks
- Hallway conversations
- Customer requests for information
It’s easy to get to a state where the loudest voices get my attention during the week and I lose all sense of priority. Having tasks in multiple places makes it easy to lose them and really difficult to see what is most important. Help!
Make a Corral.
I’ve tried different systems over the years to corral tasks into a reduced number of areas. I try to group personal tasks outside of ticketing systems and email together into one tool. Getting down to one tool is part of a simplification plan that makes managing action items achievable. A single location allows me to group, sort, and prioritize the list.
I’ve tried a number of electronic solutions over the years and at times I just use pen and paper. There is a no perfect tool or system. What we choose to use is a personal preference based on how we think, how we mentally organize data, and what we can make part of our routine.
Personally, I prefer a tool that puts a task into the context of the larger body of work. I like a task list that is easily searchable. I like a tool that allows me to add notes and related documents to the task.
Some action items, like service tickets, are assigned in group workflow tools. These tasks require interaction with the customer/requestor or project manager. Using group workflow tools provides communication back to the requestor and keeps a record of the interaction.
Two important attributes for tasks.
To create an effective system for tracking my tasks and action items I try to focus on two key attributes. If you are evaluating methods or tools then consider these:
- Communication – Keeping the requestor current with clear communication is the best way to reduce the number of status report inquiries.
- Visibility – It hurts when I forget about a task. That’s like letting someone down because I forgot about something that is important to them. I need to pick a tool that I will both use and will see through the course of a day.
Making it routine.
Since I have tasks in both a personal to-do list and group workflow systems, I created an entry in my leader standard work definition so they receive recurring attention. Without some definition of routine our day is ruled by the loudest voices. That’s not productive.
Let’s do this.
Onward and upward!
Knowledge workers today are expected to process increasing amounts of information each day. If you’re like me then your “to do” list is a mile long and has tasks that are buried at the bottom and have been for some time. Whether by shifting business priorities, resource constraints, or simply a volume processing limitation, I just don’t seem to be able to get to some tasks. Task management can be a challenge.
I’m not one to carry and maintain a set of tasks if they are not relevant or don’t provide value to someone of something. I like to try to keep my “to do” list focused and relevant. So as part of my task management process, I’ve created a set of questions to ask myself about any aging tasks. If my answer is “no” to any of these questions, then it may be time to remove or archive the task.
1. Does the task align with organizational goals?
This is the mission question. Does my task align with the core purpose and mission of the organization? Typically for this I check to see if the task aligns with sub-department or departmental goals because those should be aligned to the overall goals of the business.
2. Does the task have business justification or return?
This is the money question. Is my task justified because it will produce a return greater worth more than the time I will spend completing the task? The justification may be through direct money contribution or indirectly by maintaining a valued client relationship.
3. Does the task have the support of management?
This is the management question. Does my boss support me completing this task? If I needed to get others to help me support the task then would my boss assist and support me within the organization? Complex tasks that require more than one person are extremely difficult to complete if you don’t have the support of the management layer between the people.
4. Is the task still relevant?
If I record a task on my “to do” list there was a reason. Circumstances may change with passing of time or external events that make the task no longer relevant. If the reason, priority, urgency, etc. that prompted the task to go on the list in the first place is no longer be relevant then it may be time to remove or archive this task.
That’s my list of questions for aging tasks. What is your task management routine for aging tasks on your “to do” list?
I struggled this week to keep up with my current task load while managing to deadlines and expectations. There were times that I thought that I was shortcutting some tasks because I needed to move on to other tasks. This thought resonated with me throughout the week and I’m curious how others handle task time.
Let’s say you have 5 active tasks and 4 of them are due at the end of the week. You start on task 1 and find yourself making quick decisions and hurrying to task 2 so that you can keep an adequate pace to complete all the tasks. At the end of the day you have completed task 1 but have not done a through job.
Doe this type of scenario happen in your work or home life? How do you manage to this and how do you rationalize the actions in your mind? Write to me, as I’d like to get some feedback on this as a possible way to improve my work habits and structure.