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Task Management: The Ultimate Guideon 3 November 2020Posted by Brandon Hastings
Life is full of tasks. The morning routine, for example, consists of a series of tasks that get us ready to conquer the day—getting kids ready for school, brushing teeth, making lunches, getting dressed, etc.
Just like your morning routine, you can break down any work project into a set of tasks that help you get from start (a concept) to finish (a finished product). However, there is often a long road in between, and all manner of issues could occur before you cross the finish line. To maximise your chances of success and ensure your journey is a smooth one, you need to manage your tasks efficiently. That’s where task management comes in.
Task management is the process of identifying, defining, assigning, progressing, and monitoring work over a specified unit of time, which could be a day, a week, or longer. This process is a core component of project management, regardless of the methodology you use. Task management also helps keep projects on schedule and on budget.
Organisations that stay on track consistently with projects waste 28 times less money than those that don’t, which is why it’s essential to master task management. Do just that by reading the rest of this guide, which explores task management tips, examples, and more. Check out the value-packed chapters below.
Chapter 1: Why Task Management Is Critical
“Businesses should focus on task management because it directly benefits the bottom line,” says Kimberly Smith, marketing manager at Clarify Capital. Effective task management keeps projects in line with expected schedule and budget estimates, thereby increasing profitability.
Smith says that improving the effectiveness of task management is about reducing operational waste and optimising productivity in the workplace, both of which are fundamental to achieving business objectives. But there’s also a team element to consider. “Regardless of an employee’s individual contribution, they are reliant on team members to reach a shared goal. That’s why it’s important to create a collaborative work environment with strong internal communication.”
Continuing, Smith notes that optimal internal communication incorporates elements of transparency and accountability, which positively impact both team and individual performance. “When you get communication and task management right, you see a tangible spike in productivity and a concerted effort to streamline processes for better results.”
Holly Winters, account executive at Ashore, adds that staying organised plays a big part in task management effectiveness. “While organisation is possible without task management, it’s significantly more demanding to achieve. This is especially true for a growing business; while you may be able to stay on top of one or two projects, things tend to spiral out of hand when your portfolio grows to 40 or 50.”
“A successful business is an organised one,” says Winters. “Every file is exactly where it should be, every employee knows their responsibilities, and deadlines never pass unwittingly.”
One important thing to note is that every task is not created equal. Just because something new comes across your desk or enters your inbox doesn’t mean you should handle it immediately. In other words, a task may be recent, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a priority.
Prioritisation is a task in itself, but a necessary one to ensure projects are completed on time. Some projects are heavily dependent on tasks occurring in a certain order; otherwise, the result may not be as expected or the entire project may be delayed. Some tasks must be completed first because subsequent tasks depend on the completion of previous tasks. Take construction for example—when building a house, you can’t put the roof on before you lay the foundation and place the walls. Thus, the latter two tasks take priority.
Chapter 2: 5 Task Management Best Practices
How do you go from zero to hero in your task management journey? Below, experts share effective task management strategies they’ve used to optimise the process at their companies.
1. Ensure all team members abide by a unified task list.
“It sounds simple, but in my work as a project manager, it's amazing how many projects I've come across where there are multiple versions of a task list, spread across different tools,” says Elizabeth Harrin, author of Collaboration Tools for Project Managers and director of Girl’s Guide To PM.
Harrin notes that the lack of a unified task list causes confusion, leads to rework, and results in lots of miscommunication about which team member is responsible for each task. “Having all the to-do items in one tool, and ensuring everyone has appropriate access, is the best way to bring a team together and get work done efficiently.”
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2. Empower your team with the ability to choose their tasks.
Harrin says that if you use a task management tool, be careful not to let it be too in control of task assignments. “People need some level of decision-making power over what they do. No one appreciates having their day completely dictated by software.”
Of course, you need a balance between what the system indicates as optimal and what your team chooses to do. This is where prioritisation can be helpful. You could use a simple high, medium, or low designation to indicate each task’s relative importance. There are also color codes—try red, orange, and yellow to show descending priority. Or you could just use due dates, with closer due dates indicating higher priority. “As long as people understand relative priority, they can make smart choices about how to spend their time, so they’re working on the right things at the right time,” Harrin explains.
3. Be realistic about due dates.
“I often see project managers committing their team members to delivery dates without fully understanding what other tasks that person is working on,” says Harrin. “That can lead to overload and missed deadlines, which doesn't help them, you, or the project.”
Harrin says it’s important that when you set due dates to think them through fully, collaborate with the intended assignee, and verify the dates can be reached on time. That means the team member doing the work has to spend enough time understanding the task and reviewing their current workload to make a realistic estimate of when they will be able to complete the task.
Of course, if you are working with due dates set by a client or other authoritative party that can't be moved, you may need flexibility in your approach. “This may include moving existing work around to free up time for the assignee, or allocating work to another team member,” Harrin explains.
4. Delegate tasks appropriately.
As a project manager, you have your own tasks that need completing. In Management 101, you learn how important delegating work is for focusing on higher-level needs. But balance is important here as well—your team may be loaded down with essential project tasks and can’t take on additional work.
“When delegating, it’s essential to keep in mind the team member’s task management skills and current workload,” says Tory Gray, digital marketing strategist and CEO of The Gray Dot Company. “Consider what they have on their plate, and also provide them with resources, training, and meetings to set them up for success.”
5. Keep communication channels open.
“Communication is key,” says Gray. Whether it’s the team needing to talk to one another or to her, Gray makes sure that her team is able to communicate in whatever way they see fit: chat, phone calls, video conferencing, etc. Team members can also use their task management tool to comment on work through threaded discussions.
“I also encourage feedback so I can provide an optimal working environment to deliver the best possible results on client projects,” Gray explains.
Chapter 3: 4 Task Management Examples
What does an optimised task management process look like in action? Check out the examples experts share below.
1. Taking the “un” out of uncertain tasks.
Harrin shares a task management example from a past project she worked on where her team was dealing with a high degree of uncertainty. There were many tasks no one had done before and, subsequently, had no clear owners. “We weren't sure what the tasks really were or would turn out to be, which made it difficult to estimate how much effort they would need and who would be the best person to take ownership.”
As any seasoned project manager knows, tasks don't get done unless they have an owner. So it's essential for tasks to have assignees to take responsibility for getting the work across the finish line. “As the project manager, you then have confidence that someone is on the job,” Harrin explains.
Naturally, team members were reluctant to commit to tasks because they didn’t understand the work involved. To remedy the disconnect, Harrin and her team took an investigative approach. They worked together to figure out what each task entailed—without anyone actually committing to do the work. It was easier to assign people to research and gain a clearer understanding of the tasks. “Our findings gave us more information to ensure the work was then allocated to an appropriate owner who could dedicate the time and right expertise to complete the task.”
2. Using alerts to keep work moving.
Another task management example from Harrin puts the spotlight on alerts—specifically the kind you get from task management software. “I've currently got alerts set up in our task management tool so I know if someone has completed a task, among other activities. They’re extremely useful, and help me ensure work is progressing.”
Harrin also gets email alerts when a team member has mentioned her in a comment on a task, which sometimes happens when she either hasn’t provided all information required for the team member to move forward or the team member has gotten stuck for some reason.
“These types of alerts are so helpful because I don't have to follow up to get the task status at our next team meeting,” says Harrin. “I already know it's done. I don't even have to open the email—the subject line tells me all I need to know. I save so much time.”
While alerts may sound like a small thing to some project managers, they have streamlined the way Harrin and her team manage their work. Everyone stays in the know about who’s working on what, and how much progress has been made. “We can instead focus on outstanding and ongoing work instead of reviewing work that’s already finished.”
3. Wrangling clients in a task management tool.
As the leader of a client-focused team, Gray regularly deals with a number of client projects at one time. To keep track of each client and the status of their projects, she implemented a task management tool. The feature she favors most is the visual boards she can name and move around to suit her needs.
“We add all our client projects to these boards,” says Gray. “For new projects, we set up the boards, add tasks, create checkpoints, and outline goals. Team members then update their tasks, upload documents, and mark tasks as completed. I can also adjust deadlines as needed. Being able to visualise our work helps us keep client projects on track.”
4. Keeping operations flowing smoothly despite employee turnover.
Crystal Huang, CEO of ProSky, says focusing on making tasks extremely detailed helps make employee turnover less of a hassle. For example, when a team member left the company unexpectedly, her company’s task planning made reassigning the former employee’s work easier. “Since our tasks are always so detailed and the necessary resources are all in one place, it was easy to split up important work among other team members, and put less important tasks on the back burner.”
Chapter 4: 5 Essential Task Management Software Features
A task management system can help automate manual tasks that rank low in effort but still may be time-consuming. For example, keeping track of progress for all your team members’ tasks can quickly eat up your day, especially if your team is large. A task management tool with features like the ones below will put much-needed time back in your busy schedule.
1. File sharing
“Cloud-based file sharing is a must,” says Winters. This not only keeps files safe, but readily accessible from anywhere in the world. Losing track of a file is terribly frustrating—and potentially disastrous in certain scenarios. “We allow our team to organise their files based on project or category, so finding them takes no effort at all.”
2. User tagging
Healy Jones, co-founder of Fin vs Fin, says an essential feature that enables true team task management is the ability to mention or tag other people in threaded discussions. This is especially important for distributed teams because they “don’t get in-person feedback.”
Jones notes that a task management tool should pull team members back into the conversation, and help them understand what other team members need. “Mentioning others and commenting provides context, and helps recreate the in-person office chatter that makes people feel closer to one another.”
Having everything you need to begin a task in one place is like heaven for most professionals. Visnja Zeljeznjak, digital marketing consultant at Logit Internet Services, says dealing with a decentralised task management approach is frustrating. “There’s nothing worse than sitting down to work and realising that you’re missing half the information you need to get started.”
Zeljeznjak explains that your task management software should make it easy for teams to include a full description of the task, instructions, all supporting documentation, and any other required resources in one centralised location. “Being able to attach everything needed for a given task can make the difference between completing the task on time and missing an important deadline.”
Simon Keller, CEO of SDK Marketing, considers customisation a key element of a valuable task management system. “Customisation allows you to create a working environment that reflects your company’s preferences (such as logo and color scheme), custom exports, and how you prefer your data to be organised. Reporting and data column customisation allow you to selectively display information in your reports so you can easily adjust the view of relevant data to different stakeholders.”
Even the best task management software can’t address every use case. For times when you need a solution that caters to a specific need, it’s important that your chosen tool be able to integrate with an external app. While most task management systems integrate with widely used tools, make sure the one you choose works with the apps your team depends on in its everyday workflows.
Get the ultimate team task management solution: Glasscubes
Glasscubes is more than just a task management company. We’re a collaboration-focused group that’s created a solution to give teams like yours the ability to keep work moving efficiently. From task management to communication to file sharing, our platform helps you stay in touch and on top of things—all in one place.
Use threaded discussions to keep conversations in context, whether discussions deal with client tasks or important project files. And speaking of files, share them to your heart’s content—with team members, your clients, your suppliers, and so on.
With Glasscubes, you can:
- Store and share files in a secure location, complete with automatic version control. You can even create approval workflows and view clear audit trails of user actions.
- Assign and manage tasks for different members of the team, and track them to completion.
- Create customised workspaces for each project team in your portfolio. Team members can share resources and communicate with one another in their specific workspace, and you can access them all for easy oversight.
Make task management a stress-free experience with Glasscubes. Start your free trial today.
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