When managing tasks for yourself or especially for others, there are three questions you need to answer for each task. These questions make sure you have the minimum amount of information needed to successfully complete the task. These questions are:
What is the task?
While this may seem obvious, defining what the task is in a clear, concise, and measurable manner can make all the difference between success and failure. For example, “Send the TPS reports” and “Send the TPS reports to Dave” contain a small difference in information but a huge difference in success criteria. Always write your tasks as if someone else was going to complete them for you without access to you for clarification.
Who is responsible?
This doesn’t necessarily mean who is completing the task. This often can be the person to whom the responsibility falls to make sure the task is completed. This could be a manager, co-worker, family member, etc. In many cases the doer and the responsible person are the same, but don’t assume that is the case. Many digital tools, such as Todoist, allow you to assign labels to tasks. I use the labels to identify who is responsible for making sure the task is complete. In this way, I can display all the tasks sharing a person’s name label and see immediate what I am expecting from them.
When does it need to be completed?
Not all tasks have deadlines, but any task without an estimated completion date and time is a task begging to be left undone. Scheduling a task for “completion” even when it doesn’t have a hard due date is an excellent way to provide a reminder for the task status. Tasks multiply rapidly and if they are not managed in a timely manner will be pushed off further and further.
What, Who, When
Ask these three questions of every task you capture. The answers will give you at least a minimum of information needed to complete the tasks. There is one additional question you can add if you want to smooth the flow of your tasks. If you often find yourself completing tasks and then not being sure how to proceed, ask “What’s next?” as part of every task definition.