Task Management: Tips, Best Practices, Tools & More

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Ever wonder how the most powerful people on earth actually get so much stuff done?

People like Bill Gates and Elon Musk haven’t been super successful in their lives by accident. They’ve done it by organizing every hour of every day—scheduling their time so they’re productive and reaching their goals. 

This way of thinking is the crux of task management. After all, everybody has the same amount of hours in their day, but it’s how you organize those hours that determine how much you actually get done. 

The way we organize our working days comes down to strategy. Some people will stick to a to-do list, while companies may find it more useful to use task management tools to organize their calendars. In fact, companies that use techniques like task management spend 28x less money than those who try to deliver projects without a real plan or strategy. 

In this piece, we’re going to take a deep dive into: 

  • What is task management?

  • Why you should start thinking about task management

  • Three different ways you can manage tasks

  • The advantages of using a task management tool

  • How to choose the right task management tool

Let’s get organizing

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What Is Task Management?

Task management is where every task is scheduled and managed using details and deadlines to deliver projects on time. 

Task management isn’t as complicated as it sounds. It’s just a fancy way of planning how tasks are handled from the moment you put them into a schedule until they’re completed. We’re talking about setting deadlines, collaborating with team members, and creating project schedules that allow you and your team to be as productive as possible. 

When it’s done well, task management allows you to:

  • Manage your workload: See what’s on your calendar, what items you need to prioritize, and what deadlines you have looming

  • Boost productivity: When every task is organized, you’ll know exactly what you need to be working on and what needs to get done. All of the information for every task will be in one place

  • Create collaboration channels: Task management is about team management. Your team will have a better idea about who is working on what and when you expect them to collaborate on a task to get it completed quicker

  • Be more time efficient: Instead of deciding what task you should do next or what is more urgent, task management eliminates wasted thinking time. You’ll always know what you should be working on. 

What’s baffling is the number of businesses that still don’t have a process in place to organize and complete tasks in their pipeline. PMI's 2017 Global Project Management survey found that 37% of executive leaders admitted the biggest cause of failed projects was a lack of clearly defined objectives and discipline when implementing strategy.

In other words… not planning well enough. 

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Why you should improve your task management process

Ever wonder how teams like Microsoft manage to release new products and features all the time? 

It’s no accident that their 3000-person team of developers is so meticulous that they’re able to release brand new versions of every one of their projects every three weeks. Their tasks are managed down to the finest details. Everyone knows what needs to be done, who will be doing it, and when tasks need to be delivered. 

You see, task management is just one part of the overall puzzle of project management. MetaLab Project Manager Kyria Brown put it best when she compared the planning, completing, and delivering projects to flying a plane. 

“At the most basic level, a Project Manager’s role is to ensure things run smoothly so the pilots and flight crew can do what they do best while the passengers feel safe knowing they’re not going to fall out of the sky or crash mid-flight,” she says.  

“None of us would make good pilots anymore than we’d make good designers or developers, yet as Project Managers, we get to be the shepherds of their successes and live our creative dreams vicariously through them.”

However, successfully landing that plane highlights the benefits of task management. Not only can task management help you see from 10,000 feet what everyone on your team is working on, but it’ll also give you a better idea of their capacity and what tasks they’re prioritizing. 

The good news is that task management isn’t exactly rocket science. On the surface, it involves three simple steps: 

Step #1. Create tasks: The first step is unpacking a project and creating individual tasks to deliver it. Once you know what these tasks are, you can turn them into actionable items by creating deliverables and setting deadlines

Step #2. Organize and prioritize: Think about every roadblock you might come up against during the project. Could a team sickness derail certain tasks? Does your team have the capacity to get them all done? Schedule the tasks on your team's schedule based on who has spare time 

Step #3. Monitor and update: Here’s where task management really comes into play. Once a project kicks off, you can use task management to monitor each task and change things in real-time. If a team member is running behind, you can re-allocate a task to another team member or change tasks around so the most important gets done first. 

The best way to actually manage tasks, however, is still up for debate.

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How to manage tasks

We know you’ve heard it before, but it needs to be repeated—failing to plan is planning to fail. 

It’s obvious that task management is a crucial part of delivering a successful project, but it’s up to you to decide which method is best for your team. The most common methods for managing tasks can be put into three different categories: 

Manual: To-do lists, anybody?

Electronic: Spreadsheets/apps

Online: Cloud-based task management tools

The truth is that if you don’t have a way to manage your tasks, it’ll be an uphill climb to get everything done on time. Here are some ways to turn that pile of tasks into an organized timeline. 

1. Write an old school to-do list

Ahhh, the to-do list. 

It’s the simplest way to manage your tasks, and the good news is that all you need is a pen and paper to create one. If your task list is fairly light or straightforward, this method may be enough for you to organize your schedule. 

Simply write down each task you need to get done, add a deadline, and tick them off as you complete them. 

If you like the idea of planning tasks on a to-do list but you want to do it digitally, you can use an app like Todoist. In the app, you can create tasks, set deadlines, and have access to your digital to-do list no matter where you are. 

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The good news: To-do lists are the task management equivalent of going off-grid. You don’t need an internet connection or to pay for an app to organize your tasks. 

The bad news: To-do lists are very basic and if you are managing anyone other than yourself, it’s not ideal. 

2. Use a kanban board

Kanban boards were developed in the 1940s by Toyota. In Japanese, Kanban means signboard—which is exactly what this task management system is. 

A Kanban board is basically a digitized post-it note board, and they normally look like this:

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Managing tasks this way helps you to visualize every task inside a project and break them up into columns. For example, you can use columns to represent stages of a project’s workflow. Inside each column will be a card that represents an individual task. 

Let’s say your team is doing a website redesign. To get the project done, your team will have to complete tasks like selecting typefaces, collecting images, and building a mood board. Using a tool like Teamwork.com, you can organize these tasks into separate columns on a Kanban board: 

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Once the project kicks off and the team starts working on each task, they will slowly make their way down the Kanban board into the completed column. Teamwork.com’s triggers also cut out the manual admin work by automatically re-assigning tasks and changing due dates when a task moves from one column to the next.

However, Kanban boards do more than just keep your tasks organized. It can also help you spot bottlenecks and raise the alarm if deadlines aren’t being met. If a task is overdue, your team will get a notification automatically and you can quickly address the problem before the entire project gets derailed. 

The good news: Kanban is a great way for your team to visualize every task inside a project. It gives everyone a clear idea about their workload, due dates, and how a project is progressing. 

The bad news: For big, complicated projects, Kanban boards can get busy and look overwhelming. 

3. Use a task management tool

A task management tool is the easiest way for teams to manage multiple projects at once. 

Not only will every team member have access to their own account, but they will be given their own schedule, task list, and due dates for every task assigned to them. It’s the easiest way for teams to collaborate and get projects done without having to waste hours every week in planning meetings. 

You will also have a 10,000 feet view over every project in your pipeline. A task management tool shows every task and which team member is working on them so you can better estimate your capacity for future projects, and you can also schedule people to work on multiple projects at once.  

The good news: Task management tools are perfect for teams who need to collaborate on projects and plan tasks based on capacity. 

The bad news: These tools will probably cost a little more than a pen and paper

The advantages of using a task management tool

When it comes to managing tasks at a team level, it’s a bit different from managing a shopping list. 

Small businesses managing tasks will look a lot different from companies with 50 projects in their pipelines. Even so, managing tasks using methods like spreadsheets, whiteboards, and post-it notes can be a recipe for disaster. 

Nobody wants to walk into the office on Monday morning and find this.

The big pull of investing in a task management tool is that it helps deliver projects successfully by recognizing that task management is team management. 

Before Telecommunications company Strencom started using a task management tool, they were trying to deliver hundreds of projects by using traditional tools like email, spreadsheets, and documents.

Not only were they struggling to deliver all of their projects on time, but their communications with clients also suffered. The company’s Director of Operations, Colum Buckley, says the company reached a point where managing projects using email and spreadsheets had become a total nightmare. 

So, they started searching for a task management tool that would keep tabs on deliverables, tasks, and deadlines, as well as involving their clients in the process. 

The company invested in Teamwork.com. Not only does the tool give them real-time insight into their pipeline, but it involves their clients, who can not track their project’s progress without the need for an official update from a project manager.

The result? 

Strencom has tripled its NPS score — a metric used to measure customer loyalty — in just five years. 

“Not only are we completing more projects in less time, but we’re getting a reputation for on-time delivery and reliability,” Buckley says. 

“Our project delivery is now a real value add, which is good for us in Operations and for everyone in the business.”

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How to choose the right task management tool

Picking the right task management tool for your specific needs is super important, so you need to do your research. 

Some tools out there are basic, and others have everything but the kitchen sink. So, it’s important to know exactly what you need before you invest. To do that, you should compile a “must-have” features list by asking yourself: 

  • What types of projects do you normally have in your pipeline? 

  • Does your team collaborate often and would you benefit from features like notifications and automated triggers?

  • How many people are on your team? (this will impact how much the tool will cost)

  • Do you need reporting and analytics features? 

  • Will you need time-tracking features? 

  • Would you benefit from project templates to improve your task management?

  • Will the tool integrate into your existing tech stack? 

Whatever task management tool you pick, make sure that it ticks all of the boxes on your list and doesn’t break the bank! 

For more details about getting started with a task management tool — check out Teamwork.com.

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