Everyone has felt that drowning feeling you get when you can’t seem to get through your task list. Sometimes it can be hard to pull yourself out of the slump, get organised and get your motivation back, but how can you make it happen?
There are many tips and tricks floating around the internet that can help you increase your productivity and organisation. These may be in the form of ways to set out your 'to do' list or ways to track your progress. An important step that is often forgotten is organising your tasks and prioritising your work effectively. So how do you do it?
Ask yourself a few questions
An important part of organisation is knowing what needs to be done and in what order. Before you do anything else, map out your deadlines.
Question 1: Are there any deadlines I have? When are they?
Make sure you know exactly when your deadlines are. Do they coincide with any other deadlines? How far away are they? The last thing you want to happen is to have an important project deadline creep up on you. If your task does not have a deadline, it could be good to create a deadline for yourself. This will prevent it from being constantly pushed back and never completed.
Question 2: How long will each of my main tasks take?
Make sure you know how long a task might take and include a buffer in case it takes longer than expected. You never know what might crop up on a day-to-day basis that could pull you away from your task or project. Knowing approximately how long a task might take could save you from having to rush your work.
Now that you’ve answered these questions you can start prioritising your work effectively. Begin with ordering your tasks by deadline date. Generally, you want to complete tasks that are due earlier first and then work through the list. However, sometimes large tasks require a small amount of work completed each day. Make sure you allocate a small amount of time to that task every day in your planner. The last thing you want to have to do is complete a huge task all in one go.
Another great way to prioritise your work is to consider the length of time it will take you to complete each task. If you have a bigger task due before a smaller task, it might be worth doing the smaller task first. If your bigger task takes longer to complete than expected, you won’t need to rush and reduce the quality of your work on the smaller tasks.
These are two of the best ways to prioritise your work. However, this is more easily said than done. Make sure you create a back-up plan just in case things start to get out of control and you get more and more “urgent” tasks added to your list.
Create a backup plan
There is nothing worse than having your perfectly-planned day turned upside down by additional, urgent tasks popping up. You are not alone in thinking that one of the hardest parts of organising your tasks is when your 'to do' list is constantly chopping and changing. The best way to overcome this is to come up with a way to prioritise your work quickly.
The first thing to think about when this happens is the stakes that are involved with each task. What happens if each task is not completed on time? Does it have an ongoing effect on you and your business? Does one task rely on another? Quickly jot down these points and base your prioritisation on this. Make sure you also consider when each task is due as this can make a huge difference to when you should complete it.
Second, consider the length of time each task will take. Just like earlier, you can prioritise quick tasks first and work on the longer ones later to make sure you don’t run out of time to complete your list.
If you're having trouble prioritising your tasks this way, you can try going into more detail by mapping out your tasks. This way may take you longer to do, but it will get you into the habit of prioritising your work.
Map out your tasks
If you’re having trouble deciding which tasks to prioritise because they are all due at the same time or are of similar length, try mapping them out with a quadrant graph as shown below. This can take a while if you have many tasks, but will help you organise yourself easily. The more you use this method the quicker it will be and the sooner you'll be an expert in prioritisation.
To map out your tasks, consider the stakes and the length of time for each task. Using a scale of 1 to 10 you can plot each task on the graph.
For example, if you have a task that will only take 10 or 15 minutes, it may be a 1 on the scale. If you have a task that will take a few days, it might be a 10. Do this for each of your tasks.
Next, plot this task in terms of the stakes involved. Consider the questions you asked yourself earlier. Who does the task affect and how important is the issue? How far away is the due date? If the outcome of the task affects many people and has a close due date it may be a 10 on the scale. If it doesn’t effect too many people or you have lots of time to do the task it may be a 1.
Once you’ve worked out where each of your tasks sits on each scale, plot them out like you would on a normal graph. The quarter of the graph that the task falls in will help you identify how important each task is and in what order they should be done.
To plot your tasks on the graph, simply find the two values you decided earlier based on the scale of one to ten. In the example below, the stakes were given a score of 10 and the length of time was given a score of 2.
Draw a line through the score for each axis and add your task where the lines meet. Continue to do this with all your tasks.
You can see in the example below that there are 4 tasks plotted on this graph. When you map your tasks, colour code or label your dots so that you know which task is which.
Once all your tasks are mapped out you will be able to prioritise your work. To do this, list your tasks in the order that they fall in the graph, following the quadrant numbers shown in the below example.
Now that you have prioritised your tasks, you'll need to keep your tasks ordered and easy to reach. Here are a few basic organisation tools you can use.
The tools you choose to use for your organisation are entirely based on your own preference. It’s important to find which tool suits you best. Here are a few tools and tips you can use to keep yourself in order.
A classic tool that many people continue to use is the notepad and pen.
Pros: writing down your tasks slows down the process and can help you think about what you need to do. 'To do' lists are a great way to keep track of what you need to do and what has already been completed.
Cons: written 'to do' lists can get messy quickly. By the time you write a few tasks, cross some off and write some more, your list will have become completely disorganised. A quick fix for this is using colour coding and keeping it fresh by writing out your list each day.
OneNote is a Microsoft program that is available with Office 365. It’s a great little tool that can help you keep your tasks and meetings organised using virtual notebooks.
Pros: creating a 'to do' list is easy - with one click of a button you can add checkboxes to your tasks. Simply tick them off or delete them as you go.
Cons: sometimes you need to stop looking at your screen and look at a piece of paper instead. If this isn’t a concern of yours, OneNote is a great option.
Sometimes one solution alone just won’t work. Using a mixture of both OneNote and a notepad might be best for you. This way you can keep an extensive list of everything you need to do on OneNote and a daily 'to do' list in your notepad.
Pros: stop your 'to do' list from getting messy and confusing by having all your tasks in one place on OneNote and write down your daily tasks in your notepad to help sort out your thoughts. This way you get the best of both worlds.
Cons: not everyone likes having things in multiple places. If you like to see everything in one place at all times, this method is not right for you.
Need more ideas on how you can increase your productivity in the workplace? Collaboration tools could be the answer for you. Read the blog 'increase productivity with these collaboration tools.'