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Task management basics


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In this guide we'll cover the basics of task management. Regardless of what you're trying to achieve, whether it's trying to put together a list household chores or manage a company - it all starts with knowing how to define and organize activities. Tasks also form the bedrock upon which any productivity or time management system rest so it's a good idea to have a firm handle on them.

1. Identify and define tasks

The first part of task management revolves around identifying and defining tasks. In order to do that we need to have a clear goal or objective those tasks will be focused on achieving. In other words, what is is that you're actually trying to achieve. For simple activities the goal will likely be straightforward, but as you deal with more complex tasks, it might not always be clear from the start.

A common mistake is to jump right into creating a list of tasks without taking the time to consider what the objective is. As simple as that might sound, it's a step that often skipped. We trust our intuition, make a list of tasks then get started - only to find out some time after that we could have saved quite a bit of time by thinking about what we were trying to achieve.

Once you've thought about what outcome you're trying to achieve, clearly state that and then come up with a list of tasks you consider necessary to achieve it.

Workflowy makes it easy to turn any item into a to-do. You can turn items into to-do's in multiple ways but the easiest is to use the slash command for single items and multi-select for multiple items. If you want to learn all the different ways to create to-do's you can learn more in our documentation.

Creating a to-do with the slash command

  1. Place your cursor on the item you want to turn into a to-do
  2. Type '/' to bring up the slash menu
  3. Type 'todo' and hit Enter

Creating multiple to-do's

  1. Select multiple items with your mouse
  2. Choose 'To-do' from the multi-select menu

Break tasks down

Something else to keep in mind when defining tasks is to remember to break them down into manageable chunks. If it's not clear how you would start a task, it's probably not well defined or it's simply too vague. 'Do the thing' as a single task is generally a bad idea, it's too vague and that makes it harder to know where or how to start.

By breaking tasks down into simpler steps you achieve two things. First, you make it easier for yourself to get started because it's clear what the next step towards achieving your goal is. Secondly, this helps you spot any gaps in your tasks. You might realize you don't actually know what to do next or that you're missing a couple of steps.

2. Prioritize tasks

Once you've got your list of tasks it's time to prioritize them. If your tasks are part of project, this step is relatively simple as some activities will naturally have to happen before others because they depend on other tasks being complete.

However, when you're dealing with a grab bag of tasks it's not always easy to know in what order to tackle them. Let's go over a couple of simple ways to do this.

Organize tasks based on categories

One of the first ways to start organizing your tasks is to simply group them by some useful category. This can be by what area of your life they involve or by what project they're a part of or even by the location they're supposed to be performed at.

Organize tasks based on deadlines
This is the most straightforward way to figure out what task to do first. Simply put the tasks in the order that they are due. And if there are tasks that don't have a due date?

Organize by order of importance or urgency
Are any of your tasks more urgent than the others? Do any of them carry any negative consequences if you don't complete them soon? What if you tasks don't really have deadlines or are not urgent?

Organize by order of impact
Order your tasks based on the impact they will have in your personal or professional life. Time is a limited resource so all else being equal, it's best to start with the activities that will be most impactful.

3. Schedule your tasks

After figuring out what you need to get done and in what order to do it, you'll next want to set some time to actually do those tasks. Another common mistake is to reach this step and then call it a day, thinking you'll get to your list at some point.

It's easy to get distracted at this point so make the effort to then decide what you're going to actually work on and when - and don't just think it, write it down as well. Make your intention to complete certain tasks within a given time or day clear.

Scheduling doesn't have to be complicated or require any other apps. It simply means looking at your list of tasks, deciding what you can reasonably achieve given the available time and committing the time to do it.

We recommend you clearly mark what you plan to complete within the given time or day rather than just work from the list, one task after another. The reason for this is that it's easier to feel like you're making progress as you complete tasks even though the list of tasks itself might be quite long. If instead you're completing one task after the other - at the end of the day it might feel like you haven't achieved much.

4. Track your progress

Finally, you'll want to track your progress as you complete tasks. For most folks this will be on a daily basis. By keeping track of what you planned to accomplish and then what you actually finished, you'll gain an understanding of how much work you can reasonable get done in a given time. This knowledge will help you with scheduling tasks and with breaking down activities in the future.

As time goes on you'll be able to better estimate how long an activity takes you to do and that will give you more confidence when creating and managing your tasks. You can then adjust accordingly by doing things like reducing the number of items you schedule or by modifying how you prioritize tasks so that the important tasks will definitely get done.

In other words, by taking a bit of time to review your tasks each day, you start a feedback loop that helps you refine your task management skills. This feeds back into how you define and break down tasks, schedule them and so on.

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