Task management is the key to executing a business strategy. Every time you create a new plan, you trash your current processes and systems.
That’s because your old processes were built to support old goals – not your new ones. More importantly, processes don’t run themselves. This means all new processes mean all new habits.
But you barely had the time to make a business plan in the first place. How are you going to find the time to turn your strategy into daily actionable tasks? And even if you find the time to break down your strategy into a to do list, how are you going to manage your workflow?
We can’t make more time, but you can always find more. The easiest way to find it is by doing a time study.
Finding More Time Means Improving Task Management Processes
We don’t want to admit it – or even think about it – but most of what we do is unproductive. It’s not our fault; it’s our processes. About 99% of any process in any industry doesn’t help us hit our goals – produces defects.
If you feel like every day is a battle to get a couple of tasks done, this is why. To start getting things off my to-do list, I need to know where I can increase my productivity.
Productivity is simply process improvement. The first step of process improvement is tracking with you’re doing now.
What’s A Time Study
A time study is a simple method to show you where you spend your time. Anyone can do a time study. You don’t need a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt or special tools.
You can use a stopwatch or the timer on your phone. Examples of processes you can measure with a time study:
- how long it takes to find a file
- time to route a call to the right customer service rep
- how long it takes to load a truck
Because I’m looking for productivity gaps in my day, I’m going to track all daily tasks.
Use A Task Timer To Analyze A Productivity Gap
If you’re improving a process while doing it, you need an easy way to measure it without disrupting your work.
Since I’m improving my own business process, I’ve got a couple of options:
- Task time tracker
- Google calendar
By using my Google calendar, I can see a color-coded version of where I’m spending my time. We love visual tools in Lean Six Sigma because it’s the fastest path to insight.
If I use task time tracker like Toggl, I can time each task and make notes. The problem with this I’m not currently using it.
This is an essential trick to managing your work – don’t add more software. Software is a prepackaged set of processes. Maybe I get lucky, and it’s a more efficient process, but I have to retrain myself and set up new habits.
I’m already using Google calendar to schedule my day, so I’ve set up that habit. To keep it simple, I’ll use it to track my workflows.
Finding Productivity Gains Means Better Morning Habits
I wasn’t surprised to find out I could better use my morning. I used to wake up before the sun to work out and work on my side hustle.
Unfortunately, life happens, and that habit is long gone. But historical performance is a great start for process improvement. While tracking my time, I learned:
- Before tracking, I started working at noon.
- After tracking my daily tasks for 2 weeks, I started work at 11 am.
- Now, I start work at 10 am.
Set Productivity Goals Using Available Working Hours
As I’m measuring processes, I noticed I have blocks of time I really can’t count on as productive time.
After adding it up, I have a total unavailable time of 3.5 hours per day. Assuming I’ve got 8 working hours in a day this leaves 4.5 hours.
But I wasn’t surprised by this because this is another tool for continuous improvement: available working hours. Available work hours, or available production time, is part of a takt time calculation. I don’t need to know my takt time because I’m not solving a customer demand problem.
For now, I’ll just stick with calculating available working hours. When scheduling resources in project management or a manufacturing plant, we take time out for:
These all could add up to taking over half your day. I’ve even scheduled time for relationship building as it was a key task needed to accomplish my development goals.
The dream of process improvement is to remove all process waste. We can all agree meetings and emails are mostly waste, but we can rarely control how many take up our workday.
That means getting creative in how we do our work but when we do it.
Change The Order of Operations For Better Task Management
Order of operations is a fundamental concept of operations management. If you want to improve the quality of your output, you look at the order in which you do things.
After analyzing my work I found:
- I left the most challenging work to the end of the day
- My goals weren’t realistic if I looked at my past performance
- Left work at the end of the night to finish in the morning
You know the quote to “Eat the frog”. I don’t know about you but I choke down frogs all day long.
Every frog is a hard decision. Every hard decision takes discipline. We’ve all got a finite amount of decision making energy and disciple energy. Look at how many times we eat out, skip the gym or fall into a TV coma after work.
We have the most discipline and decision making energy in the morning after we fill up our tanks at night.
To preserve my energy I need to order my work from the most to least energy drain and remove as many daily decisions as possible.
This means standardizing the living hell out of my processes. Based on this my new plan is:
- Don’t leave work from the previous day for the morning
- Do Marketing first – the highest energy drain
- Do client work last – it replenishes my energy
- Standardize every decision path in my process so I don’t have to make the decisions
Continuous Improvement Is Successful Workflow
Continuous improvement isn’t about cutting costs or gaining efficiency. It’s about people. People should be set up with great habits and processes to help them hit their goals. Task management is another way of improving processes to hit new goals.
But bad processes and bad habits don’t just steal our time, they steal our energy. They steal energy we desperately to keep going during the day.
Fortunately, bad habits are only temporary process problems. So take the time to invest in yourself and your future by finding your gaps.
You’re always worth the investment.