Colleague/Boss/Family Member: Hey, did you make any progress on task xyz I asked you look at last week?
You: Oops. I’m sorry. I completely forgot about that.
How often do you forgot to do something that you promised to someone or yourself? Or how often do you feel overwhelmed with all the stuff you need to do?
If you do, you’re not alone. As per study done by families and work Institute on 1000 full time employees in the USA, 55% felt overwhelmed by how much work they have to do.
Overwhelm creates stress in our lives and prevent us from making progress toward personal and professional goals.
Why We Get Overwhelmed and Forget to Do Things?
One obvious reason is work overload.
Other reason is most of us have no system at all to manage the list of things we need to get done. We try to keep everything in our head.
As a result, brain gets overloaded at some point and start performing poorly. Similar to when we fill our computer’s hard drive and also run unwanted applications in the background, it makes our computer damn slow.
With unlimited distractions, priorities and commitments, chances are that your workload isn’t going to get lighter anytime soon.
So, what can you do to make sure you stay on top of your priorities and get important things done on time without forgetting about them?
This is where a task manager can completely change how you manage your life. If you aren’t familiar with what task manager is, here’s a definition of it.
Task manager allows to you to capture all of your to-dos and projects in one place and helps you to manage them effectively with the help of due dates, reference notes and reminders.
Here’s how task manager can help you to keep sanity in your life and keeps you on top of important things.
Your Additional Brain (a.k.a External Brain)
Every day I hear people complaining about how they can only remember so much but they still try to keep everything in their head. As a result, they forget things they need to do to make progress on their goals and commitments.
A task manager can be your external brain that can help you capture everything you need to get done in present or future. It frees up your human brain to generate ideas/solutions for things you are working on and execute them.
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
– David Allen
Inbox feature in most task managers helps you capture things you need to get done at some point in life. For example, let’s say a task comes to your mind but at the moment you are not in a position to do anything about it. You can capture it using a task manager and and go back to it later to make decision when and how it will be executed.
You can dump everything that comes to your mind in your external brain and process it later. This way you don’t need to remember random stuff and you can work on your priorities with a peace of mind.
As David Allen said, keep your mind free to generate new ideas and solutions not holding onto the old ones.
Your Personal Assistant (Cheaper One)
How awesome would it be to have a personal assistant who decides a list of things you need to focus on at any given day?
Most of us don’t have that luxury but we can get somewhat similar results by using a task manager. If configured properly, your task manager can easily show you things that require your focus on any given day.
What do most people rely on to decide what they should be doing next?
With task manager, you don’t have to rely on next email in your inbox to tell you what to do next. Here’s how process looks like with task manager:
- During your planning phase of work day (5-10 minutes in morning), let your task manager show you what you can work on that day.
- You decide to pick 5 items (3 big 2 small tasks).
- You noticed two tasks that are due today (which you didn’t remember. See the power?). You pick these two. Need three more to get to five.
- Look at other projects you have on the go and select your big three.
Now, you have your priorities defined for the workday. You don’t have to constantly check your email to find your next task.
Note: This approach might not work in your professional life if your boss is constantly interrupting you with new requests but it will still work pretty well in your personal life. If you have a bit of control over your time in professional life, then this technique is bullet proof for most of the time.
Your Antidote to Death by Thousand Papercuts
How do most people manage their workload and try to remember things?
When you have a task manager in place which you can trust to keep your life organized, you don’t need sticky notes or random piece of paper to remember things. Everything that you need to get done or keep track of can be done directly via a task manager.
Sticky notes only work to some extent. Given the complexities of our lives these days, it’s very hard to stay on top of things via sticky notes. They also have many limitations. How would you assign due dates to a task if it needs one? How would you track progress on a given task?
What turned me away from sticky notes and paper tracking is how easily they can disappear from your desk. It can very easily ruin your day if you wrote something very important on a sticky and now can’t find it anymore.
If you really like sticky notes, then use them to capture stuff on temporary basis but make sure everything goes into a task manager at the end of the day.
Your Answer to Getting Out of Email Inbox Faster
This is how email inbox looks like for most people. 2 read, 3 unread and 3 more read emails and so on.
Why do you think this is the case?
When we don’t have any system we can trust, we solely rely on our email inbox. We read an email, make it unread because we are unable to take an action on it and we want to come back to it. This is a huge efficiency killer. I’ve dealt with it for so long and thank god I don’t have to anymore.
What can you do instead?
When you have a task manager, you can use it hold emails that you need to process later.
Here’s how process works:
- Go through your email inbox.
- Identify emails you are unable to process at the moment.
- Forward those emails to email account associated with your task manager to create a task.
- You can go to a task manager later on to decide how you want to process those emails (tasks).
Tip – If you’re worried about the privacy of email content, just forward the email with the subject line.
This strategy will provide a biggest relief from inbox overload. It will get you out of your inbox much faster so that you can make real progress on your tasks instead of being stuck in an inbox.
Your Guide to Keep You on Track for Your Goals
We all have goals. Even if you think you don’t have any goals, I am sure do. You might not have taken the time to define your goals and officially track them. This doesn’t mean you don’t have any goals in life.
Let’s say you want to go on a date with three different people during next month. That’s a goal. You want to find a new job that’s more aligned with your skills and pays you more. That’s a goal. You want to volunteer for a cancer society this year. That’s a goal.
How do most of us track them?
If you are like me and want to do so much in life (not just work), then you must have many goals as well. A task manager can really help you to track these goals and eventually accomplish them.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say your goal is to participate in a 5K run for a local cancer society. You will need to complete following tasks in order to accomplish this goal.
- Find a local charity run organized by cancer society
- Find registration information for an event and register for it
- Share it via social media so more people get to know about it
- Show up and run
This is very simple example and you might be very well able to achieve this if you just keep it in your head but when you have other goals in life at the same, it becomes so much easier if we have a tracking system.
As the old saying goes, don’t try to eat an elephant at once, eat a piece at a time. When we break a goal into small tasks, we can accomplish it way faster because we only have to complete one task at a time.
Your Personal and Work Life Integrator
How often you run into situations where you have something due at work but you also made commitment in your personal life?
Given the complexities and demands of our personal and professional lives, having a work life balance has become extremely hard. That’s why number of successful people such as Tony Robbins recommend work life integration.
You might have heard about term work life integration. It simply means integrating your personal life into a work life.
How can task manager help you with that?
When you track everything you need to do in personal and professional life in one place, it becomes much easier to integrate them together. It helps you have a 360-degree view of your life.
Let’s understand this with an example. Let’s say you have following tasks related to your personal and professional life you need to get done this week.
- Lunch with friend who’s in town after long time
- Complete Status Report for Boss
- Call tax people to sort your taxes
As we are tracking them in one system, it’s much easier to see what’s coming up. Let’s say your friend is coming to town on a same day when status report to boss is due. By having 360 view of your personal and work life, you can plan for many scenarios like these in advance.
These are some of biggest advantages of using a task manger. It can also provides many little benefits depending on how you put it to use. I hope at this point you are convinced to use task manager to manage your life.
- Pick a task manager. If you use Windows, you can use Asana or todoist. If you use Mac, you also have the option to use Omnifocus. Note: Omnifocus is not free after trial period.
- Take out 30 mins to 1 hour to unload everything from your brain into an excel spreadsheet or piece of paper. Basically a brain dump of everything you need to do in present and future.
- Group your tasks into mini projects. For example, all tasks related to buying a new house can go under project called “New House”.
- Now, enter all your project and tasks into your choice of a task manager.
- Important: If something is not due, do not assign a due date (More on this in future posts).
Here you have a basic setup done for a task manager. Now you can use it every day to plan your day and make progress toward your personal and professional projects.
Some tips on a daily use of a task manager:
- Every task that you need to do but can’t take action at the moment should go to a task manager.
- While processing your email inbox, forward all emails that you can’t action to your task manager (TM) inbox. Don’t leave them unread in your inbox.
- Process your TM inbox once a day to assign newly created tasks to existing or new projects
- Make sure you put enough information in a task to take action. For example, don’t have a task called “Status Report”. Instead say “Send weekly status report to Dave by end of day Wednesday”.
- Don’t overthink on where each task should go. Take your best guess. Remember, TM is there to make your life easier not to complicate it further.
It sucks to miss deadlines or forget things due to bad task management. Stop walking around with laundry list of items in your head. Instead create a system you can rely on and have a peace of mind.
Most people don’t take the time to make an effort to create their system and instead make overwhelm a part of their life. I hope you aren’t one of them and if you are I hope you make an effort to change that after reading this.
Let’s create a system you can trust and rely on. Let me know if you have questions regarding task manager setup.