By Adrian Emerson, Association Accounting Specialist
Recently, I attended an interesting class presented by Emily Parks with Organize for Success, LLC, called, “Moving From To-Do to Done: Task & Project Management Tools.” The class was a combination of tips to get things done more efficiently and suggestions of software that can help. Did you know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different technology options to help with your to-do list? Of course, everyone has their personal preferences. Here is a brief overview of what I found to be the best tips to help get things done.
With every task you must first decide what to do with it. Parks suggests four main options: Discard, Delegate, Delay, or Do. Making this decision should be done as soon as you get the task and update your task list as necessary as part of regular daily/weekly planning. Parks recommends the following four questions to help you determine what to do with a task:
- Does this task move you or your company towards achieving goals? Or are you passionate about the task? If not, is its completion legally required?
- Does the task require skills that you are exclusively qualified for or can others complete the task in an acceptable manner?
- Could another person gain useful experience by completing the task?
- Does this task really need to be done immediately?
To automate is to delegate.
Delegating does not always mean assigning the task to another person. You can also use technology to automate some tasks, like scheduling social media or blog posts and email filters to automatically move certain emails to different folders for later viewing or automatic filing. There are even some online services that use the simple format that if a certain action happens then you can have the service automate another action. For example, if you’re tagged in a photo on one website then you can have the same photo posted to another website.
Make it manageable.
Now that you are left with only the necessary items on your to-do list, here are some tips Parks gives to make the list easier to manage. First, break larger projects into smaller tasks and always give a task a due date even if it’s a month into the future. Next, group similar items together, like blocking off a section of time to make all of your phone calls for the day or clean up and respond to emails instead of going back and forth between tasks. She also proposes have a list of small action items that only take a few minutes, like making a phone call or reviewing an invoice, to be completed during small time blocks, like waiting in carpool or waiting for a meeting to start. Lastly, be realistic about what you can complete in a day. Parks says that on average you should only schedule to complete 3-5 tasks each day depending on your meeting schedule for the day.
Prioritize to stay focused.
Next you have to prioritize your task list, which for me is one of the more difficult things to do. Sometimes we are faced with emergencies and last minute requests, but Parks has strategies for those unexpected tasks, too. She advises two concepts for prioritizing tasks. The first is the Urgent & Important Matrix:
It is suggested that Urgent and Important items be completed first, followed by Not Urgent but Important items, then Urgent but Not Important, and finally Not Urgent and Not Important items.
Another concept which can be applied in conjunction with the Urgent & Important Matrix is the Rock vs. Pebbles vs. Grains of Sand. The idea is that tasks that are Urgent and Important are Rocks, Urgent but Not Important and Not Urgent but Important tasks are Pebbles, and Not Urgent and Not Important tasks are Grains of Sand. Each day’s tasks should be a good mix of all three items. Think about it like this: A Rock can be something big and important like spending time with your family, then a Pebble can be something like finishing the laundry, which you would like to do today but ultimately can wait until tomorrow, and then Grains of Sand can be watching the newest episode of your favorite show.
Schedule for success.
Finally, you should plan your schedule of tasks weekly and revisit the schedule daily. Parks suggests that once a week you should create a schedule of 3-5 tasks for each day of the following week. Start with any tasks that were not completed this week and coordinate around meetings or other projects due in the coming week. Remember to plan out your Rocks, Pebbles, and Grains of Sand evenly. Parks goes on to recommend doing a daily wrap up at the end of each day. She suggests you take 10-15 minutes to review completed tasks and tasks that need to be rescheduled. Make sure you are prepared for the tasks scheduled for the next day, and request updates from team members as needed. She also advises tiding up your work space for fewer distractions the following morning.
Finally, she says to celebrate the work that you were able to accomplish, even if you didn’t actually “finish” anything. Remember, they say starting a project is often harder than completing it.
For more tips about organization and information about Emily Parks, visit her company website: www.organizeforsuccess.biz.