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 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 idea of someone keeping an eye on you, that helps increase the motivation needed to get things done. You can do this in a few different ways. Sharing my task list and calendar with my team members – or even a close friend – works well. An even easier example is simply texting someone what you plan on getting done. Once you’ve shared your responsibilities with someone else, they feel more concrete. You’ll feel like they’re real deadlines rather than suggestions. And so the added pressure (the good kind) will come! There’s a real boost in motivation 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 it being digital that makes it feel 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 planner or notebook, they become permanent and immutable. I’m much more anxious about getting them some, like a real 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 daily tasks over to the next day, 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 forget at times, and ends up leaving me frustrated when I don’t get everything done at the start 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 the time to dedicate to tasks that require more focus, rather than trying to squeeze them in with lots of other, less important tasks. By doing this, I’ve gained focus and feel much less pressure, so now I can get so much more done in a week.
These are just a few changes I’ve implemented that have actually stuck from reading tons of “productivity hack” articles. I hope these tips were helpful in finding the ultimate task management system for yourself!