The 5 secrets to task management to be more productive
I’ve read about a million “productivity hack” articles on how to improve your task management, trying to sift through the ridiculous (sleep without a pillow to get used to discomfort so you’ll be better conditioned for work) to the actually useful (keep reading) for better managing tasks.
Through tried and tested techniques, I’ve narrowed down the five secrets I found extremely useful for managing my tasks better, feeling less pressured, and getting more done overall. None of these are too complicated or require a major life overhaul; these are small, positive changes you can make today.
1. Managing energy cycles
There are a million articles out there suggesting you wake up at 5am and follow a predetermined schedule for increased productivity. None of these take into consideration your personal energy cycles or circumstances. And if you don’t, you could be causing yourself a lot more frustration than necessary. You don’t need to “power through” and work harder all the time, but you do need to learn to work smarter. A simple way to start is by noticing how you perform at different times throughout the day.
For example, I know that I have a greater ability to focus on detail-oriented and critical thinking activities – like writing or mapping out a plan for a project – earlier on in the day. At night, when I’m a little more tired, I’m better at reading or completing menial tasks.
Next, write down your tasks and categorize them either as repetitive tasks or focused tasks that require critical thinking. Schedule your tasks for the appropriate times of day when you are in the best state of mind. Don’t try to follow anyone else’s schedule; their brain isn’t yours.
2. Being realistic (and forgiving) with time
One of my biggest productivity mistakes is thinking I’m superwoman and have the ability to finish things that, deep down, I know will take me a good amount of time… in “about 20 minutes”. If you’re someone who schedules your day, this can throw you off track quickly.
I gave up on my unrealistic expectations. Instead of trying to estimate how long my tasks take, I now just pick 3-4 important tasks per day to complete and schedule them in blocks of time that are sufficient but not absolute. This allows me to add in some thinking time to whatever I’m working on, especially if it’s something more creative. This helps me feel less rushed and produce better quality work.
I know it’s cliché, but the Pomodoro technique is awesome for this. I will dedicate 2 or 3 25-minute periods to one of my tasks, depending on how much time I need. It makes focusing and managing time on tasks too easy.
3. Share them with someone
No matter who you are, accountability is hard. It’s easy to let yourself slide, and not get a few simple things done. You don’t need a life coach following your every move to improve at this. There’s something about the simple notion of someone keeping an eye on you, that helps increase the motivation needed to get things done. You can do this a few different ways. With my team or a close friend, sharing my task list and calendar works well. An even easier example is simply texting someone what you plan on getting done. Once you’ve let your responsibilities out and in front of someone else, they’ll feel more concrete. You’ll feel like their deadlines rather than suggestions. And so the added pressure (the good kind) will come! There’s a boost when you force yourself to live up to your expectations in front of others.
4. Physically write them down
Don’t get me wrong, paper task lists for task management are impossible when working with a team. I really have to have all our tasks managed in the same digital workspace for work to be productive. But for my personal tasks, I recently discovered I need to do something different to be productive. I’ve tried plenty of personal task management apps, reminders, checklists on my phone, etc. There’s something about the fact that it is digital and feels like an annoying pointless email or social media notification rather than a task I need to complete. It’s so much easier for me to brush off a digital personal task.
When I write things down in pen in a physical schedule, they become permanent and immutable. I’m much more anxious about getting them some, like a solid deadline. This also helps me compartmentalize work/life tasks better so I feel less overwhelmed.
5. Schedule your week, not each day
If you’re frequently hitting “remind me later” or moving over to the next day the daily tasks you’ve set up for yourself, you need to rethink how you’re setting up your schedule. All tasks are not of equal importance or need to be done ASAP. This is something I still sometimes fall into that leaves me frustrated when I don’t get everything done the Monday and Tuesday of my week.
Instead of cramming a lot of little tasks into one day and trying to force yourself to get as much done as possible, try scheduling tasks by importance throughout your week. This way you can schedule times to dedicate to tasks that require more time and focus rather than trying to squeeze them in with lots of other less important tasks. The amount of focus I’ve gained and how much less pressured I feel throughout the week doing this has helped me get so much more done.
These are just a few changes I’ve learned to make that have actually stuck from reading tons of “productivity hack” articles. I hope these tips were helpful in finding your quest for the ultimate task management system for yourself!