It’s crunch time, and you’ve got a lot on your plate. Where do you start? What do you push to later? How do you keep your head on straight when you have so much to do in so little time? Task management skills are the answer – they take all the stress out of hitting deadlines and enable you to produce your best work. Below are eight key task management skills you should master.
- What are task management skills?
- Essential task management skills
- Tips on how you can improve
- Apps to help with task management
What are task management skills?
Task management skills encompass the actions and mindsets behind best using your time to complete a list of pressing (and less pressing) tasks. Anyone in any field can learn them – they’re soft skills rather than concepts you learn in classroom settings. They result in you spending a shorter amount of time on minor tasks and more time on more important, in-depth tasks.
Stay on top of it
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Essential task management skills in the workplace
Task management skills help you get everything done no matter how big your task list. They help you save time on all your tasks while still doing the best possible work. Below are eight of the most important task management skills you should know.
- Task scheduling
- Task prioritization
- Workload management
- Task delegation
- Confidence with apps
- Problem-solving and critical thinking
1 Task scheduling
With all your tasks listed in one place, you’ll know what you need to do – but you might not immediately know when. That’s where task scheduling makes a big difference. When you set realistic timeframes for your tasks, you stand a better chance of reaching maximum productivity and turning in great work on deadline. Try planning your day every morning and, at the start of the week, doing the same for your week and month. More productivity could result.
2 Task prioritization
Task prioritization and scheduling go hand in hand. Think about it: When you prioritize tasks, you both determine your essential tasks and decide how to manage your time. The result is more effective task management – and plenty of time to produce higher-quality work without rushing.
3 Workload management
With your tasks scheduled and prioritized, you’ll have a concrete workload on your hands – possibly a hefty one. That’s where the key skill of workload management comes into play.
Workload management involves remaining tuned into your capacity for work. Ask yourself: Are you feeling burned out? Can you focus on the tasks at hand with this many on your list, or do you need to pare things back? You should adjust your list based on your answers. It’s better to spread more work out over the long term than risk burnout.
Chances are you don’t work in a bubble, which means your team’s needs change pretty often. That means you might have to make space for extra tasks on a moment’s notice. You can’t know that without communicating with your team.
You should check in with your leadership every few days to ensure you’re tending to their full vision. Similarly, you should make a daily habit of asking your team members if they need you to approve certain things you’ve overlooked.
5 Task delegation
No one person can do it all – if that were true, why would you be working with a team? Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re feeling overloaded or stuck with tasks simply out of your wheelhouse.
Delegating tasks effectively is one of the most important task management skills you can learn – it prevents burnout and promotes teamwork. Plus, when tasks go to the person most qualified to complete them, the result is typically higher-quality work.
6 Confidence with task management apps (and plenty of others)
Task management apps – along with team communication tools, project management software, and plenty more – are the bedrock of modern teams. Getting comfortable with how they help you schedule, prioritize, delegate, and communicate about tasks is key to keeping your team on the same page. Just take it from digital productivity consultant Deb Lee – leaning on apps is a boon rather than a cheat code. As she puts it:
“Productivity for me means regularly working on the right things at the right time. Sometimes we need to do that with a little help from apps and other tech tools. And coffee.”
7 Problem-solving and critical thinking
Let’s say you look at your task list and notice that everything is due around the same time. That can make things pretty hard to schedule. Your problem-solving and critical thinking skills will help here: Which clients or customer segments matter the most? Which of these tasks due around the same time might take the longest? Which tasks can take a backseat if new, pressing tasks roll in? Problem-solving and critical thinking can give you the answers.
Completing lots of tasks in a short amount of time can introduce feelings of anxiety, like you’re racing toward a finish line without enough time. That’s understandable, but your worries might cause you to somewhat sacrifice work quality to meet deadlines. Remaining patient as you assemble and work through your task list can help you counter this challenge. Task completion is less stressful – and more likely to yield great work – if you go step by step.
Tips on how you can improve your task management
It’s easier to foster the above task management skills when you can take concrete steps to start flexing them. The below tips, which range from immediately actionable steps to longer-term changes, are great examples.
- Work when you’re most productive
If you’ve really drilled the classic nine-to-five into your head over time, stay the course – you’re likely most productive then. Conversely, if you experience creative bursts at night and have a flexible work policy, don’t be afraid to work during the wee hours. The goal is to work when your body and mind are best wired to produce great results. Only you know the right times.
- Set time blocks
With a big task list at hand, you might feel tempted to jump between tasks throughout your day to do the most work. That’s effective for some people, but for others, it can feel like rushing work – the opposite of the patience explained above. Time blocking can effectively counter this unhelpful tendency. During your time blocks, you’ll focus solely on one task or similar group of tasks without looking at notifications or switching to other tasks.
Charlie Gilkey, author of Start Finishing, summarizes time blocks as follows:
“Time blocking – especially using what I call focus blocks – is my go-to practice. It mitigates the efficiency drain from task-switching at the same time that it allows me to get real about what I can and can’t accomplish.”
- Track your progress on each task
Just because a task is on your list for the day doesn’t mean you have to complete it today. As long as you start it, you’re in good shape. But you do need to track your progress on it so you know where to begin when you return tomorrow.
Tracking your progress can also help you determine how long certain recurring tasks take you to complete. With this knowledge, you can more accurately schedule future workdays and workweeks to accommodate a variety of tasks. Planning your days now can help you plan even better days in the long run.
- Start your day with a to-do list
At the start of each workday, revisit your task list. Take the most important tasks for the day and fashion them into a realistic to-do list. “Realistic” is key here – if you can’t get to a certain task today that isn’t due for a bit, push it to another day. Conversely, if you put together your task list and see extra time available at the end of your day, make space for some smaller tasks.
- Set realistic deadlines
As you put together your task list, use what you’ve learned from tracking your time to give yourself realistic deadlines. Does a certain administrative task due tomorrow usually require half an hour of your time? Get it done this morning, then check it for accuracy this afternoon. Or if you’re looking at a massive project that will require several hours of work, give yourself some time while still staying on schedule. This way, you stay productive without getting overwhelmed.
- Focus on one task at a time
With a big task list in front of you, the temptation to multitask is understandable. But resist it! Seriously – studies show that multitasking isn’t good. Multitasking divides your focus in ways that lead to low-quality work – how can you do the job right when you’re not paying attention to it? Ditch multitasking in favor of reasonable task lists and deadlines. Chances are that something on your list – or maybe many things – can wait a day or two.
Apps to help with task management
Apps can help you reinforce and build on your task management skills. These apps typically enable you to add projects, tasks, and deadlines to a dashboard. You can also assign these tasks to team members and tag team members in comments on these tasks to ask for updates. Many task management tools also include popular project management views such as Gantt charts and kanban boards.
Some tools that pertain primarily to a non-task function also have powerful tools for task management. Fellow is a great example: It’s a meeting management app that includes tools for assigning and following up on meeting action items. When you’re looking for apps to help with any number of work functions, consider their task management options as well. Your productivity stands only to improve.
Now get to work!
Congrats – you’re ready to manage your tasks and get to work! You’ll be in tip-top shape if your task lists are reasonable but not threadbare and you use apps to assemble them. And to make sure your meeting action items make it from the conference room to the computer, Fellow can help you create and track them. You’ll check another box off your list before you know it.