There is something timeless about the scratching of a nib across a pristine textured page. From ancient papyrus to the humble post it note, it seems we cannot get enough of it. Until, it comes to task lists! In this post, I detail the transition I have made from pen pusher to software based task management and the advantages that have come as a result.
In bygone times I meticulously maintained a written to do list in my notebook. As tasks were completed a proud tick was placed beside them and as more tasks came, the list spilled over onto fresh, crisp pages. This continued for years until a point came where the number of tasks I had to track caused this pen and paper system to creak and groan under it’s weight. Clearly something had to change and it was more of a journey than a revelation that lead me through various different ways of tracking and managing tasks, usually against the context of project activities. All of those methods were software based and even from the outset I could see the advantages that offered. Now, years later, it is time to reflect on the on the advantages that I have personally seen by ditching the pulp in favour of a software based task management system.
- I can find things.
This goes beyond merely putting on my glasses. When tasks are put in electronic format the text becomes searchable so anything can be found in seconds. This is a huge advantage over notebooks where one may have to do a serious amount of flicking to get the required information.
- I enter tasks once.
Back in the days when I had paper task lists I often found myself having to copy incomplete task lists across to new pages when most if the tasks had been completed. With software you enter the information once and if you really need to move it around the list a simple copy/paste will suffice.
- I can share tasks/work easily with others
When all tasks are in electronic format they lend themselves easily to adding responsibilities and sharing out the workload. In the modern era of collaborative efforts this is a must and since electronic lists can be easily shared this is certainly an advantage over recording the tasks on paper and then having to relay them to others.
- I can easily generate reports
With the software I use, Abstractspoon Todolist it is easy to search the tasks that I had completed over a certain timeframe. This enables very quick and easy report generation for all completed tasks. Try that with a notebook!
- I can collect and collate tasks easily
Software lends itself to collection of tasks from multiple sources by simply importing them. This could be pulling across tasks from emails, manual entry of tasks, importing project plans or copy/paste from other task lists. This enables one system that can handle all the “stuff” you have on your plate. Much preferred instead of having a paper list for some actionable items, email for others, referring to project plans somewhere else etc. The latter involves much more reviewing and maintenance.
- I have no idea what I will do before arriving at work
Believe it or not this is actually a good thing unless you one of those uber-efficient types who wakes at the crack of dawn for a spot of meditation and then formulating the activities for the day. If everything is well organised in a good system it is not necessary to keep stuff in your head. A quick look over my task list on arrival at work quickly determines the tasks to be completed for that day. I use an approach based on GTD for that. This enables the proverbial mind like water, enabling focus to be placed on the task at hand.
7. I can resume tasks quickly
If you wish to move between tasks quickly you need to be able to pick them up and put them down quickly. In my case I may need several electronic files to perform a given task. To enable quick resumption of the activity I place links to all files related to the topic in my electronic todo list which means they can all be opened in seconds allowing a quick resumption of the task. More detail on linking for productivity.
8. I can plan my day effortlessly
With software based task management all manner of information can be entered for each task allowing quick and easy selection of tasks to do for that day. That may include giving priorities to tasks, setting start and due dates or even setting reminders or calendar bookings for the tasks.
9. I can collaborate
With the new raft of online task management tools new ways to collaborate are possible over a personal paper based system. In fact, the former makes the latter look archaic. Some advantages of these tools include,
- Team chat – local based communication to supersede email
- Task based information storage including linked files, notes and comments from team members
- Reports generated at the touch of a button
- Access anywhere across multiple platforms including mobile phones and tablets.
- All of the normal search and filtering tools one would expect from software solutions.
- Up to date notifications when certain changes happen. For example you can be notified when someone in the team completes a task or changes a task.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
10. I can track progress in completing objectives/projects
Putting intended tasks into project planning or task management tools immediately gives a lot more foresight as to how and when they can be best done. Some task management tools include basic Gannt chart functionality which is a good visual tool to map out when tasks can be done and the relationship between them. As tasks get completed and we progress along our Gannt chart we are afforded some element of visibility as to how the activities are progressing and if they are likely to be completed on time.
OK, that’s my take on my experiences since leaving pen and paper behind and adopting a software based task management system. No doubt many will use paper and indeed there are instances when it makes sense, such as noting down items in meetings or scribbling diagrams. For me though, I like the software based advantages I have outlined but I keep a notebook handy for these instances where it simply makes sense.