Too much stuff to do? 3 useful task management skills at workplaces

When manage time and tasks , multiple frameworks and techniques are needed. Single framework won’t fully applied.

Just want to document some tips and theory I discover during my first job as a QA Engineer in a scrum team. Before writing, I did some research on many theories and frameworks, along with comments saying some frameworks are hard to follow.

The key point is that reality is far from circumstances you can imagine —
list some common obstacles you would probably faced

  • Technical constraints
  • You can’t do it, cause Your Boss don’t like it
  • A emergency requests coming from another department unit

In order to manage time and tasks well, multiple frameworks and techniques are needed. Single framework won’t fully applied, and often not considering real life situations. Moreover, scenarios vary depending on what job you do. Your profession plays a big part on making decisions as well. But here we’ll put profession aside, I’ll suppose you have adequate profession knowledges to handle your job.

To start, first is to filter tasks by asking questions, understanding the whole picture of your tasks gives you more accurate estimation and to execute more efficiently . Next is to manage people, don’t underestimate political issue, you will need plenty of time to engage with your co-workers. Finally, after you get fully control on both tasks and people, train your brain like a CPU, determine executing sequences base on remaining time and priority….

Asking the right questions

It’s a big topic, yet this is the first thing to do. Since tasks are overloaded, you will have to ask questions to yourself or to others in order to remove tasks not needed. We are all human, and human make mistakes, asking right questions can help not only to reduce your task amount but also to eliminate and predict potential issues upfront. Before taking over a job here are a few things to remind. Take this request for example

Build a website for an anniversary sale, which customer can see our latest discount and merchandises. It has to be bright themed and its mainly for social media marketing usage.

Whether information is correct ?

Whether more information is hided and not yet discovered?

This is tricky, people tend to hide the dark side from others. Is this project officially approved? Campaign details may still in discussion, not sure how complex will this project be. Do confirm with others and work on online research as well.

Avoid information that is unclear

In the beginning of a project, ideas are blur and often need specification. When hearing words like good looking, fast, wrap this up….. and so on. Remember to ask for further detail. In this case, does latest mean one week, yesterday..?Social media can include tweets, instagram post, instagram story and so on.

Why this task is needed ? If alternative ways exists?

Should task be divided into smaller tasks first ?

Sometimes tasks are created but not thoughtful enough. Is a website really needed for this campaign? If it has multiple functional pages which page should release first?and why ? Thousands of “WHY” could be asked, think of multiple solutions and compared to select the best choice.

Read more : https://www.amazon.com/Asking-Right-Questions-11th-Browne/dp/0321907957

Managing stakeholders

Mendelow’s Power Interest Grid for mapping different stakeholders

The Power Interest grid is one of the mostly seen framework in project management , for those who seen this for the first time read here.For now we’ll only use it to help you realize how much effort and time needed to spent. When time is limited you should always satisfy stakeholders in the first quadrant, then think of the second cause they are often not involved in projects.

  • If tasks involved more stakeholders in the forth quadrant “Inform” you can take actions faster or even inform them after task has finished.
  • The second quadrant often relates to cross functional team managers or higher position managers. Spent some time for them, but not too much. Make short reports, or prepare some open options for them to decide. These kind of actions may frequently disrupt your work. Be aware and can be viewed as a single task execution if you felt a lot effort.

Prioritize your tasks

There are many popular online tools for recording tasks, like trello, evernote, notion…but sometimes I felt recording all the stuffs takes too long and task details change often, especially when communication or meeting its frequently ongoing . So I prefer to only record some big task goals as for the rest…..your brain could prioritize for you. Understand the logic with task executing sequence, priority and time limit help a lot. After some practice you can flexibly switching mode between tasks (not recommended of course but you will need this :) ), remember task you can do next and even with alternative choice when things are not going well . Its like working very busy in the kitchen I suppose.

For prioritizing , you need three steps.

UnderStanding your goal

Knowing whats the most important task right now, often related to personal KPIs or company vision

Time estimation and deadlines

How much time you need to finish a task, including meetings, researching …. and which task is more urgent.

Dividing tasks

Small tasks can be complete easier and easier to control, tasks that includes a lot of people can be view as separate tasks .

Don’t worry if you find your estimate inaccurate in the beginning . After period of times and more trying, you would be familiar with your tasks and can handle more, including knowing what possible issue you will face.

Time for the key part:

Deciding what to do NOW

Its like a twist version of Priority Queue + GTD , sorry for the nerdy term :-) , here are some criteria for selecting a task

  • Highest priority
  • Nearest deadline
  • Pending from others ( Involving stakeholders approval, discussion)
  • Quick Tasks (15 min)
  • First in First out

A single task may meet multiple criteria at the same time. Sure there are tasks that is pending and important and urgent and you want to kill yourself first. Moreover everyone has different habits , someone likes to pile up all little stuffs together and finished it in the end ,in the other hand , there are people who likes to finish in fragmented time. There is no correct answer. But I’ll provide my process of thinking , which I found most useful to me.

Some framework suggest to assign ratio numbers or classified task into many category , in order to calculate or to follow some sort of sequence . Trust me, you wont have enough time to calculate and process a lot of logic.

Follow big guidelines will do.

  • Pending,important, urgant tasks go first, when you are waiting for someone you could do work on other tasks, prepare for 2–3 tasks you could normally switch with. Once a task run into pending stage, switch to another important task right away.
  • For tasks that are important but not urgent, normally related to long term goals, can be done if urgent tasks have been controlled.
  • Quick and important tasks go before long period tasks
  • If tasks are not important but urgent, just procrastinate till the last minute. Tasks often refers to someone else’s request. Finish them just on time, not spending too much energy on them, or simply reject by asking questions.
  • Not Important and not urgent, throw it to the backlog, and execute them by first in first out sequence

When there is a new task, first you will have to examine your list and see if there is spaces for new tasks, if not, some tasks must be throw into backlogs.

Still lots of details are not fully described, soft skills require a lot of experience, and hard to convert into text expression. If you want to know more please let me know. Welcome to share and leave a comment of your technique too.

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