Managing tasks - for who for what

(This is a repost of a previous blog article for reference purposes)

When is a task not a task?

In the world of productivity there’s always a running debate around task management.  Should they have reminders?  Do they get scheduled?  How do you track them?  How do you follow-up?  Before delving into that type of discussion let’s focus on helping define exactly what tasks are to you and how you can get a grip on them.

The term “task” is a loaded one in my dictionary, because it immediately conjures the image of something hard, something that needs to be “managed,” and something that needs a “manager.”  Let’s change the definition a little and see if that helps grant us a better perspective.  Instead of a task being focused on work to expend, let’s focus it on objective to be accomplished.  Each task we complete should be an accomplishment, no matter how minor.  (You have no idea how often completing the task of “getting my morning coffee” is the biggest accomplishment of the day.  Now, with our new outlook on tasks, we can change even more rules.

When we look at tasks there are really two types in my book: tasks you assign yourself and tasks assigned to you by someone else.  The biggest difference is the second type, assigned by someone else, involves just that…someone else.  Part of the task accomplishment process then has to include the other person in the mix to be considered an accomplishment when complete.  Let’s take a closer look at a basic userflow (one of my favorite terms) for the two types of task:

Task A – Assigned by me

Identify the task –> Document the task –> Plan –> Execute –> Document accomplishment

Task B – Assigned by someone else

Receive assignment –> Review assignment –> Acknowledge assignment –> Capture the task –> Document the task –> Plan –> Execute –> Document –> Report accomplishment –> Confirm or review accomplishment
If you are in a situation where a task takes longer than planned, you add in a loop for “Report Status –>” after Execute and go back to Execute to continue working.  See how much more complicated things get when we introduce another human in the equation?  This is where so many of our “task management” solutions fall apart.  As professionals, we strive to find the one system, the one miracle pill, to address both Tasks A and B.  They’re a rare beast by any measure.  So how do we do this?  There has to be a way.  My opinion…it all comes from a change in perspective.

Communication vs. completion

Let’s take Task B from earlier since it’s the complicated one and break it down into two main areas: action and sharing.
Receive assignment –> Review assignment –> Acknowledge assignment –> Capture the task –> Document the task –> Plan –> Execute –> Document –> Report accomplishment –> Confirm or review accomplishment
Interesting change in what the task effort looks like, isn’t it?  Out of the 10 steps to carry out the task, only two focus on the “doing” of the task.  The rest are either receiving, sharing, or documenting (for future sharing.)  When we look at our tasks this way, we can see putting energy into the task itself is not where the bulk of the work is derived.  The heavy lifting comes from the communication back and forth to keep both parties engaged.  Now this is just if you’re working with one person on a task.  Think about what happens when we add two, three, or more.
Creating the stages in a solution for managing tasks from others must include steps to close the loop on the communications.  Updates, snapshots, etc. are all part of the accomplishment of the task, but for more than just the “doing.”  If you are going to establish a reputation for being the type of person who gets things done, others have to know you are doing just that.  It’s up to you as part of your solution to make sure information about the successes are getting back to the right people in a timely manner so your reputation for quality work grows, rather than just becoming the person who can really crank out the widgets.
When you’re designing your “task management solution” always keep this in mind; the work you do is only a fraction of the work you share.