Category Archives: Execution

Beyond Task List – Add a duration column

The Need: Task List

We have already seen that work is best executed using the Task list folder. But just making a list of tasks with deadlines is not enough. We need more information – how much time will each task ACTUALLY REQUIRE to execute. Duration can then be used to sort / filter pending tasks and choosing the right task depending upon time available at hand.

Here is how you do it…

Continue reading Beyond Task List – Add a duration column

Arrange meetings with yourself = Time Management

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This article is a part of a series about proactive work management. Please read the following articles before reading this article so that you understand the context clearly.

  1. The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?
  2. Tasks folder is your best friend!
  3. Never delegate work using email: Use Outlook Tasks
  4. DO NOT flag mails for follow up. There is a better way…

Recap

  • You must proactively plan and execute your own work
  • The best way to keep track of your work is to create tasks in Outlook
  • Delegation and monitoring is best performed using Assigned Tasks
  • Work sent to you by others by mail should also be converted to Tasks
  • Finally, we have a long list of tasks which is clearly demarcated

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Now you clearly KNOW what is the pending work. This is a great start.

The next step is to ensure that the work is done on time. Let us see how…

The problem: lot of work but no time to do it!

Time is already blocked in meetings – most of them called for by others Steaming mad

Solution? Find time to do the work.

Exactly how?

Tasks + Calendar = Execution

Very easy…

Open Calendar – ideally weekly or work week view

Right click on Task folder and choose Open in New Window. Change the view to Active Tasks.

Make the Tasks window smaller so that you can see the tasks and the calendar together.

Drag a task and drop it on the calendar. Choose the date and time which you feel is convenient.

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We know the expected duration of each task (we created a special column for it). Adjust the duration accordingly in the calendar. If you do not see the Duration column in this view, go to Field Chooser and drag-drop the column once. See this article for details.

Good news: Now everyone knows that you are busy Smile

Do this for as many tasks as you can…

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This is called Time Management!

Few more things

When you drag and drop the task to calendar, there is NO linkage between them.

Just creating a meeting request does NOT mean that you have finished the task in the allocated time.

When you finish the task, you must mark it as complete MANUALLY.

This method works! Try it! Share it
Let me know your thoughts…

DO NOT flag mails for follow up. There is a better way…

This is the fourth article in a series about managing YOUR work using Outlook tasks. Flag mails for follow up is a common action. Unfortunately, it is not a very efficient way of handling and monitoring work delegated to you by others using an email.

Please read these three articles before you read this one for a clearer understanding of the thought process.

  1. The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work? : 2 Feb 14
  2. Tasks folder is your best friend! : 3 Feb 14
  3. Never delegate work using email: Use Outlook Tasks : 4 Feb 14

Recap

  • Till now we have seen that we must focus on our work proactively.
  • The best way to do that is to put your own work in Task folder
  • Delegation is also best performed by using Outlook Tasks
  • In short, Task folder is your work execution engine

What about work which others ask you to do?

These requests land in your inbox. Immediate reply is not expected – the sender wants you to do some work and usually there is a deadline.

What do we do in such cases? We just flag mails for follow up. The red flag is the default.

Why not flag mails for follow up?

If you were not using the task folder as described above, that flag mails for follow up was a good enough method of remembering (or rather, trying to remember) pending work.

But now that we have all our work nicely organized in the Task folder, why do you want to monitor two different places?

It would be much better to CONVERT such mails to Tasks.

How to convert mails to Tasks?

Drag the mail by pressing the RIGHT mouse button and drop it on the Task Icon (or Task bar).

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Right drag drop does not do any action – it shows you possible actions.

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Choose the last one Move here as Task with Attachments

If you want to keep the original mail in Inbox for whatever reason (to keep track of that discussion thread, for example), then choose the second option Copy here as task with Attachment

Now it is converted to the task.

If required, repair the subject line to describe the task more explicitly and add the deadline. Save it.

The benefits

This approach is much better than flogging the flags Winking smile. Here is why…

  1. Flag actually means Flag for Follow Up
  2. Clicking on the flag means makes it dark red color – which means DUE TODAY
  3. Tomorrow it will be shown as delayed. In reality each task may have a different deadline. But we never right click on the Flag to choose the appropriate deadline – defeating the purpose.
  4. Soon you will have so many flags that even sorting on them requires you to scroll multiple times – leading to confusion rather than faster execution
  5. When you finish the work related to the flagged mail, you are supposed to click on the flag – which marks at as done. We almost never do that (guess why!)
  6. Due to this, sorting on flags gives you a false sense of pending work
  7. Finally, flags do not have sophisticated features which tasks have – like the reminders, % complete, ability to delegate, grouping, custom fields like duration and so on

In short, use Task folder. DO NOT use flags – however “comfortable” you are with them.

Delegating work which was delegated to you

You got mail. It was delegated work. You converted to task. But you realized that you are not the one who is ACTUALLY going to execute it. Someone else in your team will do it.

No problem.

Right drag drop to convert it to task as shown above. Specify the deadline and choose Assign Task to delegate it to the person concerned.

Of course, you are still responsible for getting it done. So you will have your copy of the task to monitor execution. But you have delegated it to the right person now.

Best of both worlds!

Color coding work delegated to you

Now you have three types of work in your task folder

  1. Tasks you have created yourself – your own work
  2. Tasks which you have delegated to others
  3. and Tasks which others have delegated to you (which we just covered)

It is important to visually identify the third type of tasks because the task icons for 1 and 3 is the same.

How to do this? Simple… use Color Categories.

Create a color category called “Delegated to me” or DTM for short if you like acronyms.

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As soon as you convert a mail to task, mark it with that color. This way, you can prioritize the work you do.

Now you can clearly see three types of work.

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  1. My own work
  2. Work delegated to me by others
  3. Work which I have delegated to others

If you have limited time – obviously you will give more importance to your work rather than work delegated to you by others!

When should we use the flags?

There are three scenarios where you SHOULD  flag mails for follow up.

  1. While using mobile devices
    Most mobile devices do not allow mail to be converted to Tasks. Therefore, if you view such a mail on your mobile phone, Flag it temporarily. When you are back to full version of Outlook on the PC or Laptop, convert the mail to task.
  2. Ad-hoc, temporary prioritization
    There are some mails which are lying in the inbox and you want to take immediate action. However, you are not going to initiate the action at the moment you saw the mail. This is another place where you can flag it. It just indicates that the task is immediately due. Execute it and then remove the flag or delete / archive the mail.
  3. Important mails which you want to filter quickly
    Most mobile devices provide a filtered view which shows Flagged messages. For example, flight tickets, movie ticket QR codes, some important mail you want to quickly refer to during a discussion or read while traveling. These mails can be flagged. This is just an identifier and does not in anyway indicate that the mail is a task.

Try this. Teach this to your team. And let me know how it works!

Of course, there is a minor problem still pending…

What have we achieved so far? Just created a very nice list of work to be executed. Now we need to find time for it and then execute it on or before the deadline.

We will solve that problem in the next article…

Never delegate work using email: Use Outlook Tasks

This article is specific to Outlook and Exchange. Task delegation may not be available in all messaging platforms.

In order to understand this article, you must read these two articles first.

  1. The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?
  2. Tasks folder is your best friend!

Best way to delegate – use Outlook Tasks

Here is how you delegate work.

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Go to the Task folder and Create a new task.

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Specify subject and due date. Click on Assign To

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Specify name of the person and Send

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A copy of that task is now kept in your Task folder as well

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The icon for this task is different. This way you can differentiate between your own tasks and delegated work.

Remember to monitor these tasks and follow up if there is a delay.

You can directly create a Task Request by choosing this menu item. It is a good idea to add it to Quick Access Toolbar – because you are going to use it frequently.
Right click on the item and choose Add to Quick Access Toolbar.

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What happens at the other end?

The other party receives it as a Task Request – with Accept / Decline buttons.

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When the person clicks on Accept, it becomes a task in that person’s folder automatically.

When she marks it as  complete, you get a notification in your inbox.

When you open the notification, the equivalent task in your task folder is also marked as complete.

Press Escape to close the notification… it destroys itself so that your inbox is not cluttered with such notifications.

Management Principles >> Technology

Only ONE person can be delegated work to using this method. This is GOOD because it makes that person accountable.

Multiple level delegation is allowed. But one person at a time.

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Last person in the chain is responsible for execution. When she updates the task, everyone up the chain gets notifications and updates.

Viewing tasks by person responsible

Your tasks and delegated tasks are mixed up in the Task folder.

The solution? Change the View to Assigned

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Now you can see only delegated tasks. A new column called Owner is added.

Right click on the Owner column and choose Group by this column.
Right click on the column header for any person and choose Collapse Allall column headers to view a concise picture of whom you have delegated work to…

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Open the group header to view pending tasks at a glance by person responsible.

Share this with everyone in the organization

If everyone uses this method of delegation of work, the execution speed will double instantly across the organization. Try it.

Best is to start top-down!

The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?

This article assumes that you are using Outlook (and Exchange server) for managing mails. However, the concepts explained here are applicable to any mail / messaging system. However, the remedies mentioned are specific to Outlook-Exchange only and may not work with other products.

Here are some (obvious) facts

  1. We spend a lot of time handling mails (replying to mails)
  2. We also spend a lot of time attending meetings
  3. Most of us are running against time – there is always significant backlog of pending work
  4. Even though we are capable of doing all the pending work, we simply do not seem to have enough time to execute it
  5. Due to this, our capability is not fully actualized – it hinders your growth

Here are some – not so obvious – facts

    1. Everything in Outlook requires at least two parties (sender and recipient)
    2. It is an interaction between YOU and OTHERS (everyone else who can interact with you including all your staff as well as external people like customers, vendors, etc.)
    3. You send mails and others send mails to you. Naturally, the number of mails you mails you RECEIVE are going to be more than mails you SEND.

When you send a mail you are trying to do YOUR WORK. When you reply to someone else’s mail, you are helping OTHERS do their work.

  1. Similarly, the number of meeting requests you SEND are bound to be much lesser than the number of meeting requests you RECEIVE.When you arrange a meeting, you are trying to get YOUR WORK done. When you attend a meeting called by someone else, you are helping OTHERS get their work done!
  2. When you say I spend so much time cleaning inbox, do you realize that you are spending that time helping helping OTHERS ?

Question: When do you do your work?

Very important question. The answer is surprisingly depressing.. the answer is…

Whenever I get time!

And whatever time you have you are literally WASTING in helping others!

Of course, I am not against you helping others. Everything we do is teamwork. But this is a highly skewed version of teamwork.

You are helping others at the cost of your own work!

This is what I call Outlook Paradox

Now let us try to pin down the root cause.

Root cause: false sense of “free” time

When you or others look at your calendar, the time which is not blocked for formal meetings is considered as FREE.

Others are free to request a meeting with you during the FREE time!

The question is – are you really FREE during that time? Is it not the time you get to do your own work?

But somehow, your actual work is never visible in the calendar. That is the root cause of Outlook paradox.

It is surprising that this simple and obvious fact is ignored by billions of people every day.

Solution to the Outlook Paradox

The solution is simple. Stop using Outlook the way you currently are.

Turn the tables. Be focused.

Do your work first and then help others!

That is the concept. In reality we have to follow more specific steps. We will cover these steps in detail in upcoming articles. Here are the steps:

  1. Realize that TASK folder is the most important one!
  2. Focus on your work
    1. List down all the work (personal as well as professional)
    2. Specify the estimated time you will need for each work item
  3. Even if others ask you to do some work, monitor it in Task folder (not in Inbox)
  4. Find time to do your work
    1. Allocate time for your work in the calendar
  5. Delegate work in an efficient and effective manner
    1. Use Task delegation features of Outlook
    2. Use SharePoint Task list
    3. Use Microsoft Project for complex projects
    4. Use OneNote to capture and delegate tasks DURING meetings rather than AFTER meetings
  6. Prioritize mails which you respond to – don’t read and respond to every mail which arrives
  7. Learn to manage mails and tasks across multiple devices

Next article

In the next few articles, we will learn these steps in detail.

For now, just go to your task folder, create a new task and see all the options! Get ready for action…