Results of a completely unscientific survey by CRC Marketing Solutions
When it comes to prioritizing your workday, where do you start? What tools do you use, what is your methodology, and how do you handle urgent requests?
We asked CRC staffers, family, friends, and business contacts to take time out of their busy days to share tools and techniques for managing – yep, you guessed it – their busy days. While no two people are alike, some definite themes emerged.
First, we asked our survey group what they used to help them manage their tasks. Let’s talk tools.
Some manage tasks with email
We all use email (thank you, Captain Obvious), so why not use what we know? Thirty-two percent of respondents mentioned email as a primary tool for managing their day. Some operate under the first-in-first-out principle, and an email inbox is a perfect way to keep track – kind of like a digital take-a-number. Others add a task to their list by sending themselves a reminder email, or check tasks off by removing emails from their inbox.
“Anything that is complete or handled gets filed. Anything that is outstanding stays in my inbox.”
They take control of their calendars
All too often our calendars fill up with meetings organized by our coworkers and clients, but many respondents make sure to block off time for their own tasks. This gives them an opportunity to be realistic (or at least try really really hard to be) about how long tasks may take and schedule them according to their due dates. In addition, many use calendar services that have built-in task management tools (bonus!). Curious about their favorites? Forty percent of respondents use Microsoft’s Outlook Today or Outlook Calendar, Google Calendar, or a paper calendar or planner.
“I try to schedule time in my Outlook calendar to accomplish tasks. That way, I have the appropriate amount of time blocked off to complete it.”
They use a variety of project and time management tools
Do a quick Google search for ‘task management tools’ and you’ll find a plethora of free and paid services for managing and prioritizing your workday. To name a few, trusted respondents use:
- Google Docs
- An Excel file with A, B, or C priority
- Microsoft OneNote
“I rely pretty heavily on tools to help me keep things organized and in mind -- such as a task or reminder program. This way, I can set dates and deadlines where the software will remind me to get something done. This isn't foolproof, but if you're committed to it, it can help tremendously.”
Plus, digital isn’t everything
With computers, smart phones, tablets (oh my), it may seem like we have everything we need online and at our fingertips. But, it turns out, the classic pen and paper still does the trick for many. Forty-four percent of respondents mentioned using a notepad, sticky notes, or a written to-do list. One respondent remarked, “It helps me to physically write down my tasks for the day.” #throwback
Now that we have tackled the tools, what’s the method? Respondents shared a gamut of tips and tricks.
Some check off quick tasks first
Many respondents need to get the ball rolling, both to feel like they accomplished something and to make room for more involved tasks, meetings, and urgent requests (we all know they’re on their way). Some start their day with low-hanging fruit while they wait for the coffee to kick in.
“If I can cross many things off my list, I feel more motivated to keep going.”
“I try to tackle the smaller tasks or the ‘should have completed yesterday’ tasks first. That way, the bulk of my day would be devoted to bigger tasks.”
They know the importance of a deadline
We can all admit that projects or tasks without a deadline, or those with a longer lifecycle, typically don’t get top billing, even if they are important. Forty-eight percent of respondents said these types of tasks fall to the bottom of their list. So, if they want to get ‘er done, they set a due date, even if it’s just a personal one.
“[I] schedule check-in meetings to give myself a deadline.”
They minimize distractions
As previously mentioned, blocking off big chunks of time to complete tasks, especially those strategic, time-consuming to-dos, helps respondents be more productive and efficient. During those blocks, they try quitting out of their email, silencing their phone, shutting their door, and really focusing. (I know, I know, total pipe dream.)
“I simply shut off email, Slack, web browsers depending how deep I need to get into a creative flow.”
They avoid being a bottleneck
When prioritizing, altruistic respondents keep in mind the impact that tasks may have on their coworkers, employees, or superiors. Nobody wants to piss off the boss, or that super sweet colleague in the cube down the hall, am I right? Many said these tasks rise to the top of their list
”Things that are of assistance to others, directly. Especially if it is a deadline-based need, I will put this before other items on my list so as to ensure other's success or, at least, not contribute to a lack of it.”
Many reassess the list every day
Most respondents make lists, whether online or on paper, as an outline for what’s ahead. Pro tip: Reevaluate the list at the beginning and end of each day.
“I make a to-do list every day. If items do not get completed, I move them to the next day's to-do list.”
When in doubt, have a little fun
It’s called work for a reason, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be enjoyable. Amid the two-hour meetings and the unending to-do lists, one respondent mentioned finding time to fit in some fun.
“I think it's important to build fun tasks into my schedule, if at all possible, as rewards for getting things done I don't care for as well.”
Finally, we wanted to know how the best of the best handle those pesky, but inevitable, urgent requests and interruptions. SQUIRREL!
They plan ahead for the unexpected
Many respondents admittedly struggle with urgent requests and interruptions – “I get irritated”, “I have a moment of panic”, or “they throw me off”. However, one respondent takes pride in being flexible, stating, “it’s not a big deal for me”. Good on you!
As much as they may irk us, urgent tasks are a part of our daily work lives, and they always seem to pop up at the most inconvenient moment. The best we can do? According to 12% of respondents, try to plan ahead.
“I actually build time into my daily schedule for these things.”
“I try to be diligent in how I prioritize my tasks to keep the high ones to a minimum (those that absolutely need to get done today) allowing myself bandwidth to attend to those urgent requests and interruptions that will undoubtedly come up.”
They get all the facts before acting
All caps, exclamation points, high importance, red flags. Some requests can look and sound like the most important thing of all time. But, some respondents make sure to take a minute to evaluate the request before switching gears – they look at the requester (Is it a client, customer, or executive?), sort through the facts and goals of the request (Do I have all of the information? Is there a clear impact?), and check on timing.
“Ask the requester if this really has to get done today or if it can wait until tomorrow (when the truth comes out, some seemingly urgent tasks can actually wait).”
And, sometimes they just say no
To quote one respondent, “Stephen Covey said it best: “Integrity at the moment of choice.” Sometimes you just have to say no, I simply don’t have the capacity today. I play this card rarely because I’m wired to want to help (so I often try to find a way), but sometimes this may be the only option. Hopefully, I’m able to offer up an alternative solution or at least another person who might be able to help and not just leave the requester out to dry.”
At the end of the day (when, ahem, many respondents are reassessing their to-do list), there is no right answer or clear and perfect path for how to manage time and prioritize tasks. But, our friends, family, colleagues, and business contacts certainly have many tools and methods worth trying.