How To Get The Most Out Of Your Task Management Tool (I): Creating Tasks The Smart Way
To make the most out of your team’s time and improve your productivity, having the right tool to manage your tasks is not enough. You need to learn how to properly use it to maximize the advantages and benefits it can bring to your business. Your team needs to start creating tasks the smart way. This post will be useful for your team regardless of what task management tool you use.
A good task assignment culture in your company is really important to avoid misunderstandings or having to elaborate on what you meant to say when assigning a task to someone. The whole point of having an automatic tool to manage your time and tasks is allowing you to easily assign some tasks to your teammates or be assigned tasks by them, in an automated way, ideally in a matter of seconds. If you need to spend time with your colleagues explaining them their tasks, that’s a failure scenario for the tool you are using.
In the case of The Task Ninja, thanks to “Links”, this is even more critical, as your contacts, customers, or people from outside your company may potentially be allowed to create tasks that will integrate into your whole team’s workflow. It is a powerful feature, but also comes with the need of setting good practices for creating and assigning tasks.
The importance of creating tasks the smart way
Being correct and following some guidelines on how your team defines tasks might not seem necessary when your team or company has a small workload, but as the number of tasks assigned to each of you grow in number, this lack of correctness may cause your teammates to need to explain the tasks they created some days or weeks ago, consecuently loosing time and removing the benefits of using an automated tool.
In this article, we want to describe how adopting a set of best practices when assigning tasks to our teammates have helped us focus on our work, while reducing the communication time needed to explain or elaborate on tasks that could have been specified better.
So, let’s start creating tasks the smart way by explaining the ideal characteristics for a good task’s description, alongside some examples of good and bad tasks:
The ideal task
The first step for creating tasks the smart way is knowing the characteristics that make up a good task description. Let’s discuss some of them.
A task needs to describe one concrete action that has to be performed by a member of your team, without ambiguity. It should be understood by the person in charge of that task without needing to ask you any additional info. If more info is required, it should be specified in a document and linked in the description of the task.
You need to take into account that some time might pass between the time you assign the task and the actual moment in which the person in charge of that task starts working on it. That means that any verbal communication that might have complemented the task when you created it is probably forgotten or unclear now.
This is an example of a task that it’s not clearly described:
@JohnSmith please finish the documents for @AlanAnderson and send me an #email when finished
Here, even though John knows that he needs to write some documents for Alan Anderson, he might not remember, right now, which documents you were referring to. A better description of the task would be:
@JohnSmith please finish the documents of the market research conducted from the 20th of April to the 28th of April for @AlanAnderson and send me an #email when finished
Here, no matter how much time has passed since you wrote that task, John Smith will probably know for sure which documents you were talking about.
The task has to be described as briefly as possible, with enough information to offer your teammates everything they need to finish it, but without entering in unnecessary details. If needed, attach links to external documents in the cloud instead of embedding them in the task’s description.
So, instead of writing a task like this one:
@JohnSmith I was wondering how the meeting with @AlanAnderson went, can we possibly meet anytime today, say, at 3:30pm? He looked really excited about the possibility of making some business with us. I took these notes during the previous meeting: “… (a long description of the meeting follows)…”
Write it more concisely, and add links to additional information:
@JohnSmith meet me at 3:30pm to let me know how the meeting with @AlanAnderson went. Here are my notes of the previous meeting: https://link-to-file.com/document
A task has to convey an action that needs to be done. Never ask a question as a task, even if the task implies that your teammate needs to give you some information you need.
Thus, instead of building your task like this:
@JohnSmith how many customers’ reports do we have left?
You should write your task like this:
@JohnSmith let me know how many customers’ reports we still have left, 23rd of March 2017.
If you are describing dates or places, be specific. Don’t leave anything to ambiguity. Even if we are able to correctly identify relative dates like “tomorrow” or “at noon”, it’s always easier for everybody if the date is precisely defined.
So, instead of writing this:
@JohnSmith let’s meet maybe tomorrow at the plaza.
@JohnSmith let’s meet tomorrow at 11:45am at the plaza in front of the Bureau café, that’s 15th Remington Ave.
A common mistake some teams do is creating a big task whose description contains several actions to be performed. A task needs to convey one and only one action that can be completed atomically. If more actions are required, you should separate them into different, smaller tasks. A clear, focused goal for a task is essential for creating tasks the smart way.
Thus, instead of creating this task:
@JohnSmith please write the invoice for @AlanAnderson and call him to let him know about it, also, call @JoanHolmes too because she needed some guidance with the last changes on her website.
Write two separate tasks:
- @JohnSmith please write the invoice for @AlanAnderson and call him to let him know about it
- @JohnSmith please call @JoanHolmes to offer her some guidance with the last changes on her website
This separation not only allows for a more clear, easy to follow tasks, but in the case of The Task Ninja, it also allows you to track the activity of your team regarding both customers more precisely, as each task will appear separately in the timeline of each respective contact.
Always be respectful with your teammates when assigning tasks to them. We’re all busy doing our own work and feel like our stuff is the most urgent or important one but, when writing a task for someone, you should keep in mind that your colleagues are busy too with their own work, and they will appreciate being treated with the same respect that you would expect from them.
So instead of writing a task like this:
@JanetGray I told you last Friday to finish the documents for @AlanAnderson and still haven’t heard from you. I need these documents RIGHT NOW so I expect them finished by today
You should really write something like this:
Please @JanetGray finish the documents for @AlanAnderson. I certainly will need them soon, so it would be great having them by today, if possible
Small things really make a difference at the workplace. The benefit of spending just a second thinking how to describe a task is allowing your team to stay focused, do your work without unnecessary interruptions, and enjoy a relaxed, respectful and friendly working environment.
In this article, we described how to get the most out of your task management tool by just changing how you describe or write the tasks to your colleagues. Creating tasks the smart way can really make a difference in your team’s productivity. By following some simple guidelines, you can improve the effectiveness of your task management tool.