Having a good task and project management system in place is essential for being an effective networker and making time to network and get work done.
In my post on setting boundaries, I talk about having a system for your tasks will make it easier to say no. If you know what you’ve committed to, how much time it will take and your priorities, you’ll be less likely to take on more than you can handle.
So what does a good task management system look like? I use David Allen’s GTD system (and I reviewed Getting Things Done last year). You don’t have to use his system, but he has some excellent points.
One of the biggest is organizing tasks into projects. Many people write down general things on their to-do list (like Create an Estate Plan). That’s not a task, it’s a project made up of sub-tasks. Something that vague will never get done. It’s too big and intimidating. But breaking it down into sub-tasks (like “find an attorney” and “schedule an appointment”) are less-threatening. They are clear and obvious and more likely to get done.
But more important than organizing your tasks is having them with you at all times. I highly recommend that your task management system be portable. Task managers on your computer are fine, but unless you carry your computer with you everywhere, there will be times you don’t have it with you. You need to be able to capture ideas and tasks immediately. Little pieces of paper are one way to do it, but then you have to enter them later in your system. And little pieces of paper tend to get get lost. Using a service like Jott can work well. You can speak your ideas, have them transcribed and then emailed. When you’re back to your computer, you can enter them into your computer system.
It won’t come as a surprise, though, that I recommend using your smart phone as a way to capture tasks. My phone is always with me, so I can enter things as soon as I think of them.
I could write an entire post on handling email, but right now I’ll just say that a number of your tasks probably come in through email. Your Inbox is not a task management system. Capture tasks from email and then file the email as a reference.
Once you’ve got your tasks written down, don’t overbook yourself on a particular day. If you think you have 4 hours to work, schedule yourself 2 1/2 hours worth of tasks. That gives you extra time in case you are interrupted or something takes longer than you anticipated.
Looking at your tasks this way will keep you focused. You won’t get stuck scrambling at the last minute to do something you forgot until something reminded you. If you are in control of your tasks, you’ll know how much time and when you can network.
Finally, use your tasks as the reason to keep your boundaries firm. Now that you know everything you need to do and how long it will take, when someone calls to ask you to do something, don’t automatically say “yes.” Look at your tasks. Look at your time. Make a reasonable decision about taking on one more task.
And use any extra time to go out and meet more people!