Capture those tasks!
I have many things in my life which I enjoy doing ranging from writing these waffles to streaming games and making YouTube videos. I am passionate about learning and how we can impact on this, and of course, the use of technology. But one area which I dabble my feet in now and again is task and time management and, since the semester has just begun, it seemed appropriate to do a waffle about this…
I have written waffles before about being organised and starting university with an emphasis on technology, but in this waffle I wanted to focus more on my own tactics and procedures which I use to keep my head above the flurry of tasks in all aspects of my life. I will include the technology which I use to support me with this, although it is important to realise that paper/pen tools are just as efficient if that is the way you work. I probably should also mention that much of my procedures originate from the ‘Getting things done’ book by David Allen – a must read for all us task orientated people.
Capture, capture, capture… – When you stop to think about it, I think it is amazing how many different ways jobs and tasks come to us. Sometimes we are asked to complete things or asked questions which require us to seek out answers. Other times, emails and questions generate new tasks and sometimes we just wake up and suddenly thing, ‘I need to do that!’. In order to keep up to date and complete all these tasks, you need to be able to capture them effectively and efficiently. My tool of choice here, and throughout this waffle, is Omnifocus. I have dabbled with Things but I find myself always coming back to Omnifocus as my task manager. Whenever a task presents itself it gets captured. I try to ask or make notes of any other important information with the task, e.g. a weblink, or email content and always try to generate a due date. This is important for me and I am often that person in the meeting asking – when do you want this done by. Precision is the key here for me – if its tomorrow then it has a different priority than next week or ‘sometime in the future’. Omnifocus allows me to use reminders on my iphone which, in turn, are linked to Siri – so I can even capture verbally on the move – I try not to use this method in the middle of meetings though!
Context, context…you get the picture – Although context can refer to a place, I am meaning here time or energy level. I’m a morning person. The best time for me to work is between about 6am and 12 noon. After this time I start to waiver! Indeed I could easily have a nap between 14:00 and 16:00! When you are assigning tasks to be completed in the day, it is important that you allocate them according to both your energy levels and your favourite time for working. Anything which I really need to think about, proposals, marking etc gets priority in the morning, with tasks such as – ‘sort the filing cabinet out’ getting the ‘nap time’ slot. I do perk up again about 19:00, usually after food and coffee, so this is another key working time for me. When I am looking down my task list for the day, I always remember the contexts in which I work so that I can allocate the tasks to suitable slots. I also try not to do ‘work’ related tasks at home (unless I have to) so tasks relating to blogging, gaming and or Youtube, are allocated to the after 19:00 slot. You might be thinking this is a bit intense, but it is important to know and recognise when your best working times are and set your tasks accordingly.
Don’t overload! – I often hear people saying that they have too much to do or not enough time to do it all in. Although the latter can be true, especially if you leave things to the last minute!, the former happens to me when I am not implementing my systems or have started to panic about things. When you read about time management, you will become aware of the difference between tasks and projects. Projects for me, are almost the end point and are made up of a range of tasks. ‘Set up your Minecraft Servers’ is a project, not a task, because it has a lot of tasks within it which need to be completed before the project is finished. Within an academic context, complete the ethnics proposal actually has a number of tasks which need to be completed in order to achieve this. Within a day, everyone can achieve a number of tasks, although the number of projects you can complete is a lot less, if any at all. Too many times, I would give myself several projects to complete in a day and get to the end feeling that I have achieved nothing, since nothing from my task list had been crossed off. It is important to recognise that you are completing tasks which lead to projects. Identifying this tasks are very important. Also, you need to be realistic – how much can you actually complete in a day? Setting yourself a sensible task list to achieve will actually be more beneficial in the long run, both to the completion of jobs and your own personal well being. Prioritising the tasks is important – remember the due by date part of the capture process? – and as is actually working on the tasks rather than procrastinating. You can always add more to your day’s tasks if you get more time.
I could probably waffle about this topic for hours, but I want to keep to my usual format of three points but, if you want to ask me any questions about the way I work, then I am more than happy to provide you with some answers from my own perspective. I just want to summarise this waffle so that you have something to work with;
1 – Find an effective and efficient way to capture your tasks with as much information as possible
2 – Prioritise your tasks taking into account contexts, your preferred working times and due dates.
3 – Be realistic – always set yourself realistic targets to achieve, rather than getting ‘bogged down’ (such academic language!) in how big your task list is.
I hope you have found this waffle useful and, as always, I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.
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Have fun and I’ll catch you later