How to manage tasks at work

Every day we all work on tasks. From mundane chores at home to tasks at work, most of our days are spent planning, working, monitoring and completing tasks. The ability to create and Manage tasks at work is fundamental to the success of us as individuals and the businesses we work for.

In this tutorial we cover all you need to know to plan and organize your projects by creating tasks, managing them and making sure they are completed on time and on the budget. Every startup should learn the lessons covered in this article.

Manage Tasks:

In the paragraphs below, we have listed what you need to do to manage tasks correctly and seamlessly in your projects. Tasks are the fundamental building blocks of projects and should be treated as business IP.

1-Things to do at Start of a project

When starting to work on projects, it is not always clear what needs to be done and where to start. The project may be small or large, short in duration or longer. The very first thing you need to do in the project is to define what we plan to deliverable.

What is the goal of the product or service you and your team are working hard to accomplish? When the goal is clear, planning to get there is much more obvious and straightforward. After you have set the goal, you need to establish a timeline.

When do you plan to deliver the product or the service? In most cases, the delivery date is dictated by the customer, your management because of business objectives and constraints or by the market.

Now that you know what you need to accomplish and when it is time to figure out the steps you need to take to get there on time.

2-Make a list and create tasks

Make a list of high-level things you need to do to finish the project. Don’t worry about small details just yet, stick with high-level features and functionality.

If you are building a house, you will list all major tasks you need to accomplish to start and finish building the house. Things like getting all permits. Clearing the land, building the foundation, plumbing, electrical work etc.

Spend enough time in creating this list with your team to make sure the list is complete. You want to make sure you have covered all major tasks in your project.

After you have a complete list in hand, it is time to work on each entry in the list. To do this right you need to understand the Work Breakdown Structure or WBS process.

WBS helps you to break down each major functionality to smaller tasks. After you do the first pass breaking down a major feature, keep refining it by breaking tasks you have created into smaller tasks which are called sub-tasks.

Keep doing this until all tasks in your list are small and well understood such that it is easy to estimate how long it takes to finish them.

3-Estimate each task

Now that you have created the tasks in your project, it is time to estimate how long each task will take. This is a tricky undertaking and most new project managers fail at this step. There is a belief for creative work you cant do the estimation.

This is a total fallacy.  You can make accurate estimates by grouping your tasks as follows:

  1. Simple tasks that are well understood
  2. Tasks which are hard, but your team or other teams have done this in the past.
  3. Tasks that need research

The way to come up with right task estimate for each group is different. A well understood and easy task is much easier to estimate for than tasks which need research.

The best way for task estimation is three-point task estimation for all three groups. What is different for each group is the factor that you will use to come up with the final estimate.

For easy tasks, use the estimate you get from 3 point estimation and use them as is. For hard tasks, you need to consider the maturity and experience of your team.

For experienced teams uses a factor of 1.25 X of the number you get from three-point estimation. For less experienced team use a factor of 1.5 X. For tasks involving research, you need to make sure that your team is experienced.

Otherwise, no estimation will be accurate. In fact, if you have an inexperienced team you are better off not working on projects which need research.

For experienced teams who have worked on this type of project/research before use 2.0 X  from the estimate calculations.

For tasks which require research, we usually create a separate project for the research part. If the research is successful then we go ahead to the implementation.

This approach works for cases where the fate of project doesn’t depend on the outcome of the research. In these projects, we could have contingency plans in place. If task A can’t be done, then we will do B or C.

In cases that the entire project depends on the outcome of the research, you are better off to drop everything else and just concentrate on that task. This way you will find out sooner later than later if the project is viable or not and you should continue or drop it.

4-Prioritize your Tasks based on value & effort

Not all tasks are made equal. In most cases, there are tasks which bring more value to the product or service you plan to deliver than other tasks.

If your project in under time constraints as most projects are, you need to choose which tasks are absolutely needed and which tasks could be cut or deferred until another version or sprint.

This is a crucial step to manage tasks by getting the order and priority of implementing tasks right. Tasks which take a long time and have little business value should be dropped first.

In Agile project management, this process is much easier, since tasks which take a long time or those which their value is not clear yet, could be pushed to future sprints for consideration.

5-Track Tasks

Now that you have made your tasks and the project has begun, you need to start to manage tasks and track them.

A good tool for managing and tracking project is essential. Make sure your tool includes interactive Gantt chart software. In my opinion, a Gantt chart is the best tool for tracking projects and tasks.

To have a real and up to date picture of each task, you need a system that allows those working on the task to update the status of the task daily.

In addition, make sure each member writes a brief status report at end of each day about the progress made on finishing the task and if there is an issue the management and the team need to be aware of.

If you are new to project management, task management seems like a daunting and boring endeavor. Using the principles discussed in this article will go a long way to help you to manage tasks and projects correctly and have fun doing it.

Binfire has all the tools you need for managing tasks and projects. At its core it is a powerful task management system, Try Binfire for free and see how it can help you finish projects faster and enjoy the journey at the same time. 

David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.

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