An Old School Method for Task Management

Organizational capability is a core competency for an architect, if not for any human being who wants to be remotely effective.

My colleagues and I opine frequently on the ever elusive goal of seamless task management. Our individual roads to chaos are littered with task management schemes and tools: each proposing to do what the others have not been able to do – to tame the insanity and optimize efficiency. In the end, what I have found most effective is almost the first organization approach I ever employed and one I implemented in a completely analog manner.

For nearly ten years beginning when I was in college, I ran a overnight summer camp. At the time, it was an organizational challenge for me – 100 staff, 12 groups, 300 campers, and roughly 420 weekly activities for 12 weeks. Add to that the expected number of hourly crisis and it was a handful. It took a few years to get my organizational stride, but in the end what really did the trick was 4 pieces of paper and a pencil.

Page 1 was simple list of tasks for the current day or the next few days following.

  • The list started the day in priority order.
  • Items would be crossed out as they were completed.
  • New tasks would get added to the bottom as they popped up.
  • Important tasks would be annotated with an appropriate number of stars.
  • Any task that was not fated to be completed in the next few days, would end up on one of the other three sheets.

Pages 2-4 were each a monthly calendar (the camp only ran for 3 months), with blank boxes for each day.

  • Any “future” task would get added to the day on which it needed to be completed.

The true secret to the method, however, was not the paper, pencil, or clipboard, but the daily review! At the end of each day I would rewrite the task list on a new piece of paper, adding the calendar items for the next few days and re-prioritizing the entire set of tasks for the next day.

That’s it. A frequently reviewed list for immediate tasks and a calendar for future items. The winning element of the strategy is the frequent review and reassessment of the tasks:

  1. A task does not stand alone, but needs to be assessed and prioritized within the context of the other tasks.
  2. The re-review re-briefs you on what you need to be thinking about and doing.
  3. Reviewing the task list often triggers other tasks that should be added.
  4. Reminding yourself that you own your task list can be very satisfying!

The task management “tool” is immaterial and left to personal preference.

My task for next week is to provide some specific pointers for task management success

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Dan Hughes

Was a principal consultant at Systems Flow, Inc.

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