Task Management
Dom holding a phone to his ear, smiling.
Dom Maurice
May 16, 2023

When task management becomes a task

Something that I have been thinking about a lot … like A LOT, is task management. When I went self-employed suddenly all prioritisation was down to me, it was paralysing. It was a lot like the Netflix conundrum, there is so much choice it becomes hard to choose. How do you pick a task to do today? What if something I work on actually has no importance at all? Am I missing the one thing I should be doing? Do I think too much about things? (I know the answer to that last one).

The funny thing is that I had a contradiction, whilst working as a project manager and in operations, I was very good at managing the tasks of others, yet here I found myself unable to do the same with myself. So therefore I took all the techniques I would use and apply to my own work. I got my 3 go-to matrices (by the way I love a matrix) and lay them down in front of me. (note: I have taken some liberties so they are not exact to what you may see elsewhere)

Get stuff done

There are times that you just have to get things completed and off your desk. This is where the Eisenhower matrix comes in very useful. Take your to-do list and mark them with urgent/non-urgent and important/non-important. Alternatively, you can score each item (which is what I do) with urgency and importance out of 6.

  • Urgent/Important: Get this stuff done now, don’t wait; get moving.
  • Non-urgent/Important: Decide when this can be done, development can be placed here.
  • Urgent/Non-important: Delegate to someone else, or as a solo worker look for 3rd parties to take on the task.
  • Non-urgent/Non-important: Just get rid of it.

This is great for pressing issues but not so much for things you care about or things that require some amount of effort

Be productive

This matrix can be found from the wonderful Lean methodology. Here we can make teams and individuals super productive by scoring the amount of effort a task will take and scoring the value you can get or offer.

  • Low effort/High value: Get at the top of the list, tasks that are very low effort and very high value are quick wins.
  • High effort/High value: Plan out these larger pieces of work, try and break them down into smaller parts.
  • Low effort/Low value: A task in this area can be referred to as a nice to have. Sprinkle these amongst other tasks to keep things interesting.
  • High effort/Low value: Just get rid of it.

I try to reach high productivity by having a lot of value for little effort. Now some work will just have to be high effort, but this is the place you build good foundations, create scalability and change to more efficient and optimised systems.

Creativity counts

Ok, going to be honest I made this one. The reason is, urgency, value (ergo importance) and effort are superb measurements to use to make decisions, but there are things we are interested in. Many big life decisions have come from a place of how awesome an adventure might be, or sometimes a task just feels good to do. I find this matrix works best with more creative tasks.

  • High interest/Low effort: Make this thing now, you are gonna love it and will be able to create lots of it.
  • High interest/High effort: Bring people in to help with aspects of this, get opinions and check your concept before endeavouring into creation.
  • Low interest/Low effort: Don’t spend too much time here, use smaller outputs to complete the work
  • High effort/Low interest: Just get rid of it.

In the real world

Using these matrices can help you manage tasks so you don’t work in time sinks, or start something that later gives you very little back. Which one you use depends on the context of the list of tasks.

  • Is there a deadline/milestone to meet? [Eisenhower]
  • Is the task list extensive? [Lean, Eisenhower]
  • Do you need to get some wins under your belt? [Lean]
  • Are you looking to start a project? [Creative]
  • Are the tasks there to make operations more efficient? [Lean]
  • How much time do you have available? [Eisenhower]

Over time by referring to these matrices you start to get a sense of when to use each one. I personally conflate importance and value, because if something is important it’s because you get a lot out of it, therefore I just call it value. Pick up a list of tasks for a project and start scoring.

Here are some examples:


Task: Build a website [value:5, effort:2, urgency:6, interest: 5] - Do it now, like right now, drop what you are doing to complete this task.

Task: Make a YouTube video on Task Management [value:6, effort:1, urgency:2, interest: 3] - Plan this out to do at some point, but don’t try and be Steven Spielberg about it; dialogue only and minimal editing that you may outsource.

Task: Decorate the house [value:5, effort:5, urgency:1, interest: 6] - Break down into smaller tasks, apply matrices and make a plan. You are going to love it and get lots out of it, but it may well become overwhelming or struggle to get over the finish line. Enlist help and keep an eye on the target.

Changing variables

Anything + time = change.

This is true, always. Therefore there is no point to just apply these matrices once and forgetting about it. Rather the job of project manager as well as operations is to adjust accordingly to the ebb and flow of stakeholders, clients, team changes etc. Equally, you can also move each variable to get to completion, just think about what does that mean, for example.

Task: Write a report on statistics [value:6, effort:6, urgency:6] - Here you can see that from Eisenhower you have to “do now”, but from Lean is “Plan”. These are contradictory things, so what can you do?

Is it really urgent? From experience, some personality types tend to a sense of urgency by default. Ask what would happen if this was late? if nothing negotiate delivery and lower urgency to move to “decide”

Make it simpler? Lowering effort moves Lean to “do now” as well. Can be accomplished by using templates? Or maybe a short form infographic to get only the required information in front of those who need it.

In conclusion

Task management is a task on it’s own, but having a good system in place and tools at your disposal can help you sort the now from the later.