3 Simple Steps for Effective Task Management (Definitive Guide)

Updated Aug 3, 2022.
task-management

Every successful business owner or individual knows one of the biggest ways to get the most out of your day is through properly organizing tasks.

The right task management strategy will help you (and your team) stay on track to reach your business goals, complete projects on time and delight your clients. So how do you create your ideal task management approach? Are to-do lists enough or do you need more powerful tools?

In this quick guide, we’ll look at what task management is, classic and contemporary methods of managing tasks and how to effectively manage tasks.

What is Task Management?

Task management is simply everything involved in overseeing a task from start to finish. Be it planning out a task, setting timelines, assigning roles or keeping track of progress, task management involves all the steps that go into successfully completing tasks.

The best task management approaches help you complete tasks in the most efficient way possible and help you achieve your personal and business goals faster.

Simple Steps for Effective Task Management

For most individuals, task management is as simple as writing down a list of things they need to get done, for others it may be a lot more complex. Often the kind of project and the number of people involved that determine which task management approach to take.

Regardless of what you’re planning, there are some basic steps you’ll need to apply if you want to manage tasks effectively. The steps are the foundation on which you can build a more elaborate task management plan that’s better suited to your needs.

1. Create Tasks

The first step to properly organizing your tasks is to work backward from your big goal. What exactly are you looking to achieve and by when? Break down your big picture work process or procedure into bite-sized chunks or milestones.

Next, further unpack each milestone into smaller, more precise, and actionable steps with deliverables. These will become the building blocks of your tasks. If you’re doing these tasks by yourself, it’ll be good to add checkboxes or reminders to help you stay on track with completing each task.

The last part of creating the perfect task, to add a due date. Due dates that are doable and within reasonable periods will help make sure your tasks get completed in time to allow your main project to reach completion.

2. Organize, Prioritize, and Delegate Tasks

Now that you know what exactly needs to be done, you’ll need to sort these tasks out in order of importance and urgency. A common mistake some people make is to arrange tasks solely in chronological order or in an order that follows one after another without any regard for urgency.

Simple priority matrix
Source: Toggl

3. Monitor Progress and Update

The last piece of the task management puzzle involves tracking progress with each task and getting timely updates. This is a critical step especially when you have delegated lots of tasks and want to make sure everything is on track to being completed by their due dates.

Following up with team members, ticking off checkboxes, or crossing off steps in a task are all ways to make sure you’re progressing towards completing your project successfully.

In situations where a team member is behind on a task, you can reassign it to someone with extra time on their hands. Another option would be to swap tasks between more experienced teammates so that the most urgent tasks are completed first.

And if you’re single-handedly working on it, moving it up your priority list and allocating more time to it are both good options to consider.

Old School and Modern Ways to Manage Tasks

We know task management is an important part of running a successful business or making the most out of your time, but which approach is best for your project? Should you go the old-school to-do list method or adopt the more advanced project management software?

The truth is there is no strategy that single-handedly outshines the other. Both old-school and modern ways of managing tasks work quite well when used under the right circumstances. It’s not unusual to find instances where you may even combine two or more approaches.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to keep the scope of your project and the size of your team (if any) in mind.

1. Write a To-Do List

First up, is the most popular and classic way to manage tasks before technology got involved, To-Do Lists. This way of managing tasks is a classic and effective way to keep yourself on track to complete both personal and business goals.

All you need is a pen and paper. Next, simply write what you need to get done on your paper in order of importance with due dates attached.

It’ll be a good idea to use either a journal or notepad that you refer to frequently so you can keep reminding yourself of pending tasks. Hand-written to-do lists are great for simple, fairly straightforward tasks that don’t need collaboration.

If you prefer a digitized version of your to-do list, there are lots of free apps that will help you stay on track with reminders and sync directly to your calendar to keep things efficient.

Pros

  • It’s free so you don’t need a monthly subscription.
  • Doesn’t require an internet connection or a power source

Cons:

  • Not helpful for complex tasks or managing team projects.

2. Use a Kanban Board

A kanban board is your go-to method if you want to visually track task progress in any given project. It’s great if you have a lot of moving parts to your project but want to maximize time efficiency and human resources.

This method developed by auto giant Toyota involves having a board with columns for tasks and related cards/sticky notes which will give you a bird’s eye view of project progress and pending tasks. You can choose to have a real kanban board in your home or office or choose to go digital with kanban software.

Kanban Boards work by mapping individual work items to sticky notes placed into columns on a large board. Each column has a note representing a task that may either be moved to the next column when completed or marked off as complete depending on the nature of the task.

Kanban Board Infographic
Source : Diagrams

At a moment’s glance, you’ll be able to tell what’s moving on smoothly and what’s stalling and needs to be reassigned or fast-tracked.

So for example, a project like creating a new web page or landing page on your website may need several other small tasks to be completed beforehand, like web copy, graphics, and other content.

A well mapped-out kanban board will let you see how each aspect of the project is progressing to bring the project as a whole to completion.

Pros

  • Great for visually tracking project progress
  • Clearly shows due dates and project timelines
  • Ideal for small to medium-sized, moderately complex projects.

Cons

  • May look too busy and confusing for large or multiple and complex projects.

3. Use a Professional Task Management Tool

If you have a large team that’s handling lots of small to large projects at a time, perhaps it may be worth considering a task management tool. Task management tools combine the best of both worlds. They’re digital and so support team collaboration irrespective of location.

Professional task management tools also give a visual representation of project progress using everything from color-coded cards to checkboxes. You can customize your task management tool to look and work the way you want it to.

You can even attach documents, add links and work together to make edits where need be thanks to cloud technology.

Each member on your team gets their own account when you sign up for a task management tool, and can instantly see their assigned tasks and when it’s due. Most even allow for in-app conversations or chats so you can share task updates as the project progresses.

Professional task management tools also allow integrations with your favorite third-party business tools and applications.

Pros

  • Ideal for large teams that need to collaborate on multiple projects
  • Supports planning multiple tasks based on capacity
  • Possibility to integrate with work tools

Cons

  • Professional task management tools come with monthly fees for their premium versions.

Advantages of Using Task Management Software

Getting tasks completed on time and in the most efficient way possible is crucial to successfully manage your schedule. But what are the major benefits of using task management software as opposed to standard post-it boards or to-do lists?

1. Task Management Software Helps You Prioritize

Task management software is your go-to tool when you’re trying to get the most important things done first. We all have 24 hours a day to get things done be it for work or personal projects.

The right tools will help you handle and complete the most important things first. You’ll be able to set and manage goals, create deadlines, and set reminders to keep you on track to complete what needs to be done on time. No more forgotten deadlines.

2. Better Manage Time and Skill Resources

When teams are collaborating on multiple tasks, chances are there’s more to be done than available hands to help. Task management software gives you a bird’s eye view of who is doing what at any point in time.

Thus, you can assign tasks to those with the most expertise or with the most time to spare to help get the most tasks done in the shortest possible time. You’ll also be able to tell which tasks are lagging behind and need to be reassigned.

What’s more, task management software comes with a customizable interface that you can tweak to suit your workflow and include any third-party apps needed to maximize output.

3. Improved Organization and Focus Especially When Multitasking

When it comes to assigning multiple tasks, knowing what needs to be done simultaneously and matching it to the right folks makes all the difference. For any project that has multiple moving parts, it’s easy to get lost in the details.

Task management software will help you keep track of what tasks you’re creating, all due deliverables, high priority tasks, and who is doing what. It’ll also help you evenly distribute workloads so you don’t overburden some team members compared to others.

How to Choose the Right Task Management Tool

Now you know how helpful task management tools can be. Perhaps you’re ready to move from an old-school task management approach to something newer and scalable. But now the question is how do you choose the best task management tool that’s right for you?

Since not all task management tools are created equal, it helps to pay attention to the specifics of your task management needs. Usually, the task management process is part of project management strategy and this directly influences the type of tool you choose.

From the basic standpoint though, you’ll need to consider a few of the factors below.

1. Flexibility and Customization Options

The first and most important factor (aside from budget) is the kind of projects you intend to use your task management software for. Most professional task management software can handle a variety of projects but may not do much in terms of offering full customizability.

Your ideal task management tool should support creating as many tasks and subtasks as needed per team member on a project. Apart from supporting multiple tasks, you should also be able to customize your dashboard and workflow in a way that helps you complete tasks faster.

2. Team Size

Another important factor to consider is how many team members your tool of choice supports and at what price. Most task management software have pricing plans on a per-user basis or for a fixed number of users.

Comparing what features are available and for how many team members will help you choose a tool that gives you the right combination of features with user pricing.

3. Third-party App Integrations

The goal of task management is to improve efficiency, save time and streamline your workflow. Being able to fully integrate existing tools you’re using into your task management software will go a long way to cut down on time spent transitioning between apps.

It’s worth taking time to make sure whichever tool you choose supports your current list of work apps without needing coding experience to integrate into the tool.

4. Onboarding time and Ease of Use

Every software is only as good as how well you are able to maximize its use. Thus, your task management tool should be both user-friendly and have a short learning curve. The user interface should be intuitive and easy to navigate.

It also helps to let your team members take any task management tool for a test drive before fully signing up for it. At least, you’ll be sure a majority of the team are comfortable with using the tool and they may also spot some drawbacks that you may have missed.

This is especially important if you have team members working remotely or collaborating on multiple tasks at a go. You can check out our comprehensive list of project management software that requires no training to get started with.

5. Reporting and Time-tracking Features

Is being able to visually see your productivity and project progress stats is a big deal for you? Then it’s worth making sure your task management software offers comprehensive reporting and analytics features.

Progress reports analytics features will help you identify weaknesses in your existing task management approach so you can improve them. You’ll also be able to tell who’s doing the most work and who isn’t doing enough.

Time-tracking support will help you make sure your team is doing what they’re supposed to be doing when they say they are doing it. Apart from that, you’ll be able to maximize working hours so you can achieve more in a workday.

Effective Task Management Strategies for Modern Project Managers

To successfully complete a project means to make sure all tasks within a project are completed within the shortest possible time without compromising work quality. Having a great task management strategy is the key to always achieving project success.

Project managers often have to juggle many variables like task types, team competencies, task duration and have great organizational skills to keep projects on track all the time. Here are some effective strategies to help you make sure you successfully manage all your projects.

1. Well-Defined Roles and Tasks

The best way to get the best out of your team is when everyone knows what they’re supposed to do. Letting everyone know what they’re supposed to do, when it’s due and how it influences overall project progress is key to successfully completing a project.

You don’t want a situation where there’s confusion over who does what or a task gets left behind simply because everyone thought someone would do it. Properly defining roles also helps everyone to be accountable and responsible, knowing where they need to focus their attention for teamwork.

2. Complete The Most Challenging Tasks First

It’s natural to want to avoid the tasks that you find most intimidating or challenging. People naturally avoid doing difficult things. The trouble is, giving in to that natural instinct to avoid the most difficult task runs the risk of the task getting left behind or forgotten altogether.

By focusing on doing the most difficult tasks first, your team is more likely to think creatively and come up with a fast method to complete the task. It’ll also motivate and build confidence amongst your team members in their ability to deal with challenging situations.

3. Set Deadlines

A goal without a definite timeline and plan is not likely to be achieved. Likewise, creating tasks without definite timelines will delay overall project completion. To effectively manage tasks, you’ll need to create milestones that have realistic deadlines.

Realistic deadlines ensure the best use of time in terms of productivity and also help you to manage time effectively. You’ll know what is supposed to be completed at any given point in time and also will influence how you assign new tasks so you don’t overburden your team.

Be sure to prioritize each task and assign a deadline in order of importance and urgency so that the most important things get taken care of first. Well-organized tasks with an achievable timeframe are more likely to be completed as opposed to tasks with vague and unclear timelines.

4. Keep Communication Clear and Ongoing

How do you know if a task is behind, on schedule, or has hit a snag? Communication. Having a well-established and clear-cut line of communication is critical to keeping projects progressing smoothly. You should create room also to provide and receive feedback to 

Your team should have well-organized communication channels amongst themselves and with those in supervisory roles. Setting time aside for task updates and encouraging team members to ask questions and share challenges is a great way to avoid any communication gaps.

This is even more important if you’re managing a remote team with people working from different time zones yet handling multiple deadlines.

5. Have a Visual Reference Point or Overview of All Tasks

Handwritten lists, post-it notes, and even spreadsheets all work when you’re managing tasks, but nothing beats having a centralized visual reference point. Having a visual overview of tasks lets you instantly see which tasks are progressing and which ones are lagging behind.

Using visual project management software or kanban software is a great way to have a visual overview of project progress and what needs to be sped up, reassigned, or canceled altogether. Such visuals will help you better organize your time and share the workload amongst your team.

6. Choose The Right Software

If you’re really looking to effectively manage tasks, you’ll definitely need powerful task management software. Task management software helps you keep track of and organize all project-related tasks to ensure they’re completed on time and successfully.

Task management can also be integrated into a workflow management tool so you can further boost your team’s efficiency and output. Better yet, if you’re already using project management software, you use your task management software alongside it.

No more getting overwhelmed with updating spreadsheets and checking multiple to-do lists. Having a dedicated software tool also improves collaboration on tasks and in some cases even provides built-in messaging channels to help with updates.

Every team member gets their own account and so can update progress as they go along. You can also restrict information or grant access to certain tasks where appropriate. For example, if you need to separate the finance team’s work from sales and marketing.

7. Have a proper tracking and filing system

Creating and managing tasks comes with a lot of documents and paperwork. Between multiple document edits, version updates, and changes you’ll need a simple yet well-planned filing system.

A filing system will also support tracking task progress and completion because you’ll know what percentage of any given task is left at any point in time. Having a centralized hub where you can track tasks and keep all task-related documents in well-labeled formats is critical to completing tasks on time.

You don’t want to have to redo or recreate a new document just because the old one got lost in the archives. It’ll also save your team from endlessly searching for file versions and losing track of any edits that are made.

8. Complete One Task At A Time

When managing a project, it’s easy to try and “multi-task” by trying to get several tasks completed simultaneously. This may seem like a smart use of time, but the truth is multitasking is a myth of time efficiency in a lot of situations.

Trying to spread your team thin across multiple tasks only slows the completion rate of all the tasks they’re working on. Conversely, if your team focuses on completing one task at a time in relation to a project, they’re bound to finish it quicker and in the most efficient way possible.

Take big projects or tasks and break them down into smaller tasks, which your team can focus on completing one after the other.

Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.