6 powerful ways to categorize your tasks

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 12

Over the course of my career, I’ve attempted to find the best way to stay organized. And by organized, I mean putting tasks into categories and/or projects and then be drawn to use those lists to get things done.

I’ve failed.

I finally came to realize that there is no “one best way” to stay organized. Instead, that “best way” changes as a result of what your goals are at the time and what life presents to you. During 2014, I changed the way I organized my tasks at least five times. It’s disruptive. It’s frustrating. But necessary to change so as to continue to stay organized. I even, for the first time in my career, did the “zero inbox” by deleting all of the email in it. Scary as hell, knowing there were tasks just waiting for me somewhere in the 1,200+ emails in the inbox with over 500 of them unread.

When there is no one best way to stay organized, how do you organize your tasks?

As noted, it depends. But there are some common approaches that could work for you depending on the circumstances. In no particular order, here are some approaches…

Everything by project

By day, I’m every manager’s favorite project manager. It says so on LinkedIn. Thus, I have a tendency to organize my tasks around the projects I’m on and their milestones. And much of what I do outside of work can really be broken down into projects — especially if you define projects like David Allen who says that a project is anything that requires at least two tasks.

Organizing by project is great for focus. It’s not so great for knocking out a lot of tasks in a given context (email to send on different projects are not organized by an email context, for example).

Geography

Geography is, I think, an under-utilized way of grouping tasks. If you deal with a multi-site company, organizing your tasks by geography can be very helpful. After all, your site resources are together, you can follow the sun through time zones as a prioritization method, and you can really develop nice relationships by concentrating on one site at a time.

Even if you don’t primarily organize on geography, it is a useful way to tag tasks so you can go to a view of a geographical site for the tasks needed there.

Technology

David Sparks is Apple-centric with his devices and work and one of the ways he categorizes tasks is by the type of technology the task can be completed with out in the wild. Some things cannot be done well on an iPhone due to the size of the screen and/or keyboard. But the task can be completed well on an iPad.

In many ways, contexts have evolved from “at a computer” to you being with a computer at all times if you have a smart phone. So categorizing tasks by the type of technological tool you can best use makes some sense.

Energy

Time is the same for everyone; energy is different for everyone. Categorizing tasks by energy level — what to do when I’m brain dead versus awake and fully focused — can provide a good way to attack what work needs doing by how much energy you feel you have to do the work.

People

Organizing tasks by people is a common subset of many standard contexts — it is the “Agenda” context in the classic Getting Things Done methodology. But if you’re a manager of people, categorizing your tasks by who is responsible for the task or who you interact with makes a good amount of sense. Not only can you track who is doing what, you instantly have everything you need to discuss if you talk with that person.

Timeline

I don’t know if timeline is the right description, but the approach organizes tasks based on how soon the task needs to get done. Now. Next. Soon. Later. Someday. By organizing your tasks this way, you do the Now tasks first and when done, move on to the Next tasks. This gets revised every day, of course, but the idea is that you should be working on the most important (or urgent…) tasks right away.

I tried this method for a while, but I never got past the Now tasks and hardly looked at the Later tasks. But if you review consistently, you could get this to work well, especially if you don’t have hundreds of tasks that you are tracking.

What works for you?

There is, of course, the hybrid of all of these — use all of them at the same time. The important thing about organizing your tasks is getting them set up so you actually DO the work and cross stuff off the list. If you are not doing that, your task organization isn’t working and you need to change it.

How else have you organized tasks that helped you be successful?

Photo by alborzshawn

Follow

About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.