Monday, June 22, 2009

A Simple Way to Manage Projects and Tasks

By guest blogger Steve Slaunwhite

Have you ever had a task fall through the cracks? Then scrambled to get it done? Or misplaced important information you needed to finish a project, and wasted precious minutes or even hours trying to find it?

Few things will torpedo your productivity more than disorganization. That's why having an effective system for managing your projects and tasks is so important.

I define PROJECTS as those activities that typically take longer than 20 minutes to complete. For example, writing a brochure for a client is a project. So is putting together a new website or doing your taxes.

A TASK, by contrast, is any activity that takes less than 20 minutes to complete. It's a traditional to-do item. Over the course of a day, you might have several tasks that need your attention (or, in some cases, scream for it) such as paying a bill, returning a phone call, or ordering a new toner cartridge for the printer.

Over the years I've experimented with many systems for keeping track of projects and tasks. I've tried software programs, online to-do lists, project management binders, the works.

What ultimately worked best for me? Some file folders, a stack of 3x5 index cards, and a wall-mounted cork board!

Yep, I know that's about as low-tech as it gets, but the system works. Let me walk you through it. Here's what I do when I get a new project from a client:

  • First, I pull out a file folder and label it with the project name. That's where I'm going to put all the printed project information. I use an accordion-style legal-size file folder because it holds a lot of stuff and prevents papers from falling out the sides.
  • Next, I make a corresponding computer folder -- using the same project name, of course -- to hold electronic project information, such as documents and emails.
  • Finally, I write the project name and any key dates, such as the deadline, on an index card and pin it to the cork board adjacent to my desk. The cork board gives me an at-a-glance view of what needs to get done: projects on the left, tasks on the right.

That's it! When I "go to work" each morning, I simply look at my cork board, decide which project I want (or need) to work on, and simply pull out the corresponding file folder and open the corresponding computer folder. Everything I need to hit the ground running on that project is now at my fingertips. I'm working productively in about 15 seconds!

I have a similar system for completing tasks. If there's a phone call I need to return, for example, and I can't do that right away, I simply:

  • Pick up an index card from the stack I keep on my desk.
  • Jot down the task. "Call Michael back to discuss the revisions for the new website.
  • Pin the index card to the cork board.

When I have a few moments, usually while I'm taking a break from working on a project, I just look at the cork board, pick a task and, as comedian Larry the Cable Guy is famous for saying, "Get 'er done!"

My cork board of projects and tasks helps me gain a big picture of what needs to get done and ensures nothing, especially tasks, falls though the cracks. And it sure feels good to take down an index card and toss it in the recycle bin when a project or task is done!

Try this low-tech system for staying on top of your projects and tasks. It works!


Steve Slauwhite is the author of Start & Run a Copywriting Business (Self-Counsel Press) and The Everything Guide to Writing Copy (Adams Media). You can sign up for his free newsletter for copywriters at

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your posting, Steve. I found your definition of task and project helpful too. I know about stuff falling through the cracks because of disorganization. So thank you for your ideas.