Home Forums Cool Tools & Tips The Personal Productivity Toolkit Forum Tool No. 1 – Task Managers – How to Use Them

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    • Phil Rouble
      Post count: 19

      “Your brain is for having ideas, not for holding them.” – David Allen

      A task manager is the place to capture and organize ideas. It is the heart of a Productivity Toolkit and should be high on the list of tools to add / master. This first of five tools is where you look to see WHAT you need to do.


      My main uses for a task manager include:

      1. Capturing ideas, thoughts and action items on the fly. Typically, these are brief and often transient “sound bites” of things to remember or do.
      2. Using as a daily / weekly planner to track immediate next step tasks and move them forward to completion.
      3. Storing and/or sharing simple lists and action items – project next actions, grocery lists, movie lists, printer cartridge codes…


      A task manager workflow follows 3 steps: Capture > Organize + Review

      1. Capture

      • Capture items from:
      • Thoughts and ideas
      • Emails and texts
      • Other project workflow / management tools
      • Meetings, phone calls and discussions
      • Reading…
      • Some best practices include:
      • Capturing should be simple, fast and frictionless.
      • Because you capture on the fly throughout the day, everyday, capturing is easiest on a mobile device.
      • Start actionable tasks with an action verb.
      • Commit to using your task manager all day, everyday to capture 100% of your ideas and tasks. Anything less will leave you wondering what you forgot to write down!

      2. Organize

      • The key is to organize information by moving it out of the task manager as much as possible and sorting it into the “buckets” where you will use it.
      • Move items into other relevant workspace applications such as documents, presentations, spreadsheets, note taking…
      • Move time-specific tasks into Calendar to schedule when and where to complete.
      • Email to delegate tasks. (You may be able to share these directly from your task manager app if your collaborators use the same app.)
      • Finally, sort remaining items into task lists within your task manager
      • Add a due date / reminder date when appropriate
      • Flag recurring tasks
      • Some best practices include:
      • Use the 2-Minute Rule – If you can complete a task within 2 minutes, just do it.
      • Because this involves moving items between multiple applications, this is often easier to do on your laptop.

      3. Review

      • This step unlocks the real power of task managers as a productivity tool. Tasks and task lists exist in a constant state of flux and are intended to be worked towards completion:
      • Curate items remaining in the various task lists within the task manager to update, re-organize, streamline, complete and/or delete. The frequency of review will depend on the actionability of the lists.
      • Work your lists by moving forward on any remaining action items. This usually involves a daily / weekly planner feature and your Calendar
      • Your choice of task manager should facilitate daily / weekly planning:
      • List your “might-do” items at the beginning of each day / week.
      • Prioritize one or two daily highlights – the most important “must-do” items to complete that day.
      • Schedule time in Calendar to work on the tasks over the next day / week. This “timeblocking” is key to moving good intentions to active work.
      • Revisit the daily planning list during the day and at the end of the day to note progress and course correct.
      • Some best practices:
      • Cull completed, unneeded or obsolete tasks from your task lists. Mark them completed (for future reference) or just delete them. Then forget about them!
      • Your task manager + Calendar work hand-in-hand in the review step.
      • Task manager tracks WHAT to do.
      • Calendar schedules WHEN to do it.
      • Implement a simple, consistent and intuitive organizing structure to group your tasks and lists to make finding items and reviewing lists more efficient.

      Key Takeaways

      • A task manager is the heart of the Productivity Toolkit
      • The task manager workflow follows 3 steps: Capture > Organize + Review
      • Capture your ideas to write them down and get them out of your head
      • Organize the ideas where you will use them
      • Review your tasks and to-do lists to work them and get more done
    • Rich McEvoy
      Post count: 66

      Thanks, Phil.  This is a great synopsis.  I use my Email & Calendar (Outlook 365) in combination with a notebook to manage key tasks at work.   I sometimes capture personal ideas/ tasks on my mobile phone for future reference.  Is there a app within Microsoft that brings it all together that you would recommend?

      • Phil Rouble
        Post count: 19

        Thanks for the feedback, Rich. It’s interesting that you mentioned combining Email, Calendar and a notebook to track tasks. The integration of productivity tools is a key part of a successful Productivity Toolkit. You might want to look into combining Outlook Email and Calendar with Microsoft Todo, a task manager. This might give you the results you were hoping for. In the follow up post “Choosing a Task Manager Tool“, I provided some links that you might find helpful in trying to decide if Microsoft Todo is the right fit for you. It is actually my preferred task manager and I am working on another post detailing how I use Microsoft Todo. Have a look and let me know if this helps or if you have additional questions.

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