Task Management fundamentals

If you do any meaningful work in life, you do create and manage tasks. It is that simple! Task management is what all of us do at work and home. 

Every day you have a huge list of tasks to manage. Granted, some days more and some days less, but work means working on tasks given to you or created by you.

So if everybody is doing tasks and are familiar with them, why so many few people manage tasks properly? Why so many people are always behind?

Good questions. The problem we want to tackle is how we can manage tasks properly every day?

Hold on and I will cover what is needed to manage tasks properly and efficiently. This process helps to avoid burnout while working and have life/work balance at the same time. 

Sounds difficult or even impossible, right? Not really. The first thing you need to realize is that not all tasks are made equal.

Task Management Fundamentals

When managing tasks you need to consider three factors, Priority, Urgency, and Effort.

Priority- Priority means how important this task is for your business bottom line.

Priority is the most important factor among the above three factors we mentioned above. We use a five-point priority scale in our work as shown below. Tasks with higher priority have a higher weight.

  1. Very High Priority (weight=5)
  2. High Priority (weight=4)
  3. Medium Priority (weight=3)
  4. Low Priority (weight=2)
  5. Very Low Priority (weight=1)

Urgency- The urgency means how urgent this task needs to be done in time. Some tasks if not time is a certain time cannot be done later.

As an example, if a customer needs something by tomorrow and if you can’t deliver, the deal is off, that makes that task high urgency. 

We use a three-point urgency scale to rank tasks. Tasks that take a shorter effort to finish have a higher weight.

  1. High (weight=3)
  2. Medium (weight=2)
  3. Low (weight=1)

Effort- The last factor for raking tasks is the effort. The effort is the time it takes to finish a task.

We use a three-point scale for raking efforts

  1. Long (weight=1)
  2. Medium (weight=2)
  3. Short  (weight=3)

Notice in this system we give tasks which require less effort more weight than tasks that take longer to do.

In contrast, higher priority tasks and higher urgency tasks have more weight than lower priority and less urgent tasks.

The reason for this is simple, it is better to do small tasks as soon as possible and remove them from the list of things you need to do.

This type of task management has the psychological effect that shows progress and encourages you to keep working on your tasks until they are finished   

Starting a Project

When you start a project, take time to list all tasks that need to be done before the project is finished. Make this process a collaborative effort with your team.

If any task is too big and requires a lot of effort, break it down into smaller tasks. This process is called work breakdown structure or WBS for short.  

Now that you have your task list, assign each task a priority, urgency, and effort.

Based on the above prioritization, you create a table which shows the importance of each task as shown below.

Priority Urgency Effort Importance
Task A 5 3 3 11
Task B 5 2 3 10
TAsk C 5 3 2 10
Task D 4 3 3 10
Task E 5 2 2 9
Task F 4 2 3 9
Task G 4 3 2 9
Task H 5 1 3 9
Task I 5 3 1 9
Task I 3 3 3 9
Task J 4 1 3 8
Task K 4 2 2 8
Task L 4 3 1 8
Task M 3 2 3 8
Task N 3 3 2 8

Based on the list you have created and the importance of each task, now you can start working on your tasks.

In most cases, any task having an importance of 7 or less is not worth doing, unless you don’t have anything else to do.  

The tasks with higher weight are done first and then you will work on the tasks with the smaller weight.

In cases when several tasks have the same importance, I will always tend to do first the tasks which have the least effort. 

How you manage tasks with the same importance depends on your preferences and how your organization is set up. 

The important thing for proper task management is to have a system to prioritize tasks and work on them based on their importance.

There are many ways of viewing tasks in a project management software or task management application.

My favorite view is the Gantt Chart view. You all have heard a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Nothing comes close on viewing you tasks graphically spread over the time they start and end. 

This view instantly shows what you need to know. The critical path, the task dependency, which tasks are late, and which tasks are already completed.

If you want to learn more about the Gantt Chart, read this tutorial about the Gantt chart and its benefits for your projects.  

How to estimate effort?

Setting priority and urgency is easy and based on your business needs you know them intuitively. 

But the effort is different, how do you know how long a task takes? Most people guess, but that is not good enough.

There exists a scientific method called three-point estimation for figuring out a task’s duration.

Refer to an article called 3 point task estimation in the Collaboration Corner for details on how you can use this method for better estimate task’s effort.

You can find more information about three-point estimation here too.

When three-point estimation is combined with the identification of the critical path in a project, you get the best insight into your project.

You know when your project will be done and what you need to do to speed things up if you are falling behind. 

I love to hear about your thoughts on task management. Leave a comment below and I will reply. Based on our conversations I will update this article periodically.     

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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