The Keys to an Efficient Task List: Differentiating Tasks and Projects

© iQoncept -
© iQoncept –

We all make task lists – and no matter how you manage them, whether online, with an app, or with a post-it note, eventually there are tasks that just keep getting rewritten. As these guilt-ridden tasks follow us from week to week, we feel conflicted as to when we'll find time to get them done.

The problem may be something you haven't thought of. Perhaps the task that follows you from week to week isn't actually a task. Ask yourself with each task, “Is this really a task? Or is it a project?”

• Tasks are singular in nature. “Take out the trash” or “file papers on desk” are clear tasks that will take a specific amount of time with a definitive set of skills.
• Projects are compounded – multiple sets of tasks that come together. “Strategic Plan for 2014” or “clean the house” aren't singular tasks you can do in any one moment.

After you’ve differentiated which items on your to-do list are tasks, and which are projects, here’s how you break the projects down into manageable, schedulable tasks.

1. Break projects into minuscule tasks. What are the small tasks you would need to complete in order to get the project off the ground and completed successfully?
2. Order your tasks. Know where you need to start and where you need to go. Picking up a project in the middle of the list may leave important tasks undone. First things first.
3. Note the time it takes to complete each task. If the first step in the project is a time consuming task, but the rest of the project is quick and easy, you know you'll need to set aside a larger chunk of time at the beginning to complete the project successfully.
4. Press the start button. To complete a project, you must actually start the project. Add to your task list the first task in a project immediately, and you’re more likely to finish the full project.

By identifying your “didn't do” items as tasks or projects and laid out the key steps to making a project easily digestible, you might just find that your task list gets done every week and less of those items are making it from list to list.

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  1. Take the great advice in this article a step further. Once you have identified the projects and tasks and outlined them as shown above, commit yourself to completing them by actually scheduling time to complete them during your day. Set specific dates and times to accomplish each task or each step in a project. Make sure to be realistic, it is natural to not be able to get every little thing done in one day. Set reminders for your tasks and project items and then follow through by actually getting doing them. You will feel much more productive when you are able to look over your calendar and see the mountains of small things you were able to accomplish. This can also be a great project to enlist the help of an organized (virtual) assistant.