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A Task List on Paper

Task and Priority Management Systems For Entrepreneurs

Having a system to manage tasks and prioritize those tasks is an important system as your business continues to scale. This is one of those systems that’s easy to get along without as you’re just starting out, but as the task list grows and your time gets shorter, at a certain point, a system to manage tasks and priorities becomes a necessity.

A Subset of Managing Information

Having a system to manage tasks and priorities is an extension or subset of information management that I covered last week. Tracking tasks includes taking note of what needs to be done and relevant data points such as when a task needs to be completed or dependencies on other tasks. If you’ve got a team, you’ll also want to keep track of which team members are working on which tasks.

You might have files that you want to keep with the tasks as well including ideas, drawings, or other documents that define or clarify each task.

Similar to systems for managing knowledge, task and priority management systems will contain an element of technology. Much of the software geared towards managing tasks and priorities falls under the umbrella of project management. Applications like Trello, Asana, Basecamp, and others are great for helping you keep track of everything.

Keep Track of To-dos

At it’s most basic level, a task and priority management system must keep track of the “to dos” of your business. Like most systems, they can start out very simple and grow over time as your business gets more complicated.

You can start by keeping a list of to dos in whatever notes application you prefer. OneNote, Evernote, Google Sheets or Excel are all good options to just get started with a to do list. There are many purpose built apps as well to build lists or track to dos, such as Trello, that have free options that will work well.

On the simple end, this to do list could be a list of tasks with little else. On the extreme end, each task will have due dates, dependencies, requirements, associated team members, wireframes, and more.

You Must Prioritize Work

Having a list of to-dos is only 1/2 the battle. A prioritized list helps you focus on doing the right work at the right time. Prioritization is going to work slightly differently for each business depending on the goals and desired outcomes of the business, the industry, short and long-term needs, and available resources among other things.

Because every business has limited resources and a seemingly endless supply of to dos, prioritization becomes critical for staying focused on the tasks that are going to give the biggest return and make the most progress possible.

Without prioritization, time and money could be spent working on things that provide little value.

Another thing to keep in mind related to prioritization. You have to make some hard choices to put real prioritization to the work you need to complete for your business. All too often I see business owners prioritize months or even years of tasks as all important. This does nothing to help actually prioritize the tasks and complete the work. It’s important to remember that if you prioritize everything, you have actually prioritized nothing.

Eisenhower Matrix to Manage Priorities

One mental model you can use to help prioritize your work is known as the Eisenhower Matrix. President Eisenhower is quoted as saying he has “two types of tasks, ones that are important and ones that are urgent.” This was later taken and used to create a matrix that pits urgency against importance to help you prioritize tasks.

  • Tasks that are urgent and important should be done first.
  • Tasks that are urgent but less important should be done second.
  • Tasks that are important but less urgent can be done third.
  • Tasks that are less important and less urgent can be done last.

This is a very simple interpretation of the matrix, and you’ll have to apply some of your own thinking to get full use out of it. There are no hard/fast lines on how to define a task as urgent or less urgent, so you’ll have to apply some of your own thinking here.

In addition, some of these tasks might not be worth doing at all. At some point, a task’s importance drops to a point that it isn’t worth the investment to complete.

One last thing to keep in mind here is that tasks that are important but less urgent today often become more urgent as time goes on, so you can delay these only so long before they become urgent and need to be prioritized higher.

Effort vs. Reward to Manage Priorities

Effort vs. Reward is another way to help you prioritize tasks. Similar to the Eisenhower Matrix, pitting effort vs reward is a good way to indicate which tasks should be higher priority and which should be lower.

If a task is low effort and high reward, it should be done first.
Tasks that are lower in effort with a lower reward or tasks or tasks that are high effort but high reward should be prioritized next.
Last in line would be tasks that are high effort and low reward.

Similar to the Eisenhower Matrix, there are no hard and fast rules here, and you’ll have to apply your own logic to use this tool effectively, but it’s a good way to think about the work you have in front of you to start prioritizing work within your business.

Where to Go from Here

Building out a task and priority management system should be on your list of “urgent and important” if you don’t already have something in place. Again, it doesn’t have to be crazy complicated to provide good value to you and your business. Start small with a list written in your favorite note taking tool and give each task a stack rank representing priority and the order you’re going to tackle them.

You can always expand functionality over time and add more to your task and priority management system as your business continues to grow.

As usual, if you get stuck or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Brian

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