A Simple Task Management System That Actually Works

A Simple Task Management System That Actually Works

Over the past twenty-plus years, I've used notebooks, to-do apps, and full-blown task management software to try and manage the work that is part of running a small business.

The problem with notebooks or apps is that tasks can be separated over multiple pages or buried in sub-folders. Things can get messy fast. Worst of all, the essential tasks that will make a difference to your business get buried or overlooked. As a result, you often end up just doing the smaller, more mundane tasks at the top of the list.

I've accidentally created my own task management system. I was tired of all the digital options and managing it all, so I went back to pen and paper, and over the next 6 months, it was slowly refined. It wasn't intentional. I just tweaked it as I went, so it worked better for me.

And I have to say, nothing I've used has worked better than what I'm doing now. I've been using it for the past two years, and it's had an enormous impact on my working life.

If you're looking for a way to focus on the things that matter, this could be the perfect system for you.

In this article, I want to share the details with you, and I hope it will help you in the same way it's helped me.

Simple Task Management System

You might wonder what this new breakthrough task management system is. Well, let’s dive in and find out.

For the past two years, my task management system of choice is… post-it notes.

Yes, plain old post-it notes. Although I like the ultra yellow colour, they pop nicely against my green wall.

Before you roll your eyes and close this tab, let me explain.

My desk sits against the wall in my home office. The space above the monitor is the perfect place for an overview of what I need to get done.

I write a single task on a post-it note and place it on the wall.

I don’t put every task on a post-it note. Only tasks that will make a difference to the business get put on the wall. This is really important. These are usually tasks that will generate revenue or move the business forward.

How it Works

Tasks are ordered from left to right on the wall. Post-it notes on the left are in the “Backlog” area. The centre spot is reserved for the “Current” tasks you are working on. This can be up to 3 or 4 tasks. No more, as it can get overwhelming, and your focus is lost. Ideally, you want 2 or 3 at most here.

As the stickies move from left to right, they gain importance. Tasks can easily be re-arranged or discarded at any time.

Once completed, tasks can be moved over to the right into an imaginary “Done” column. This works so well. Not only is it highly visual, but it also gives a sense of completion.

Here’s a diagram of how the system works:

Simple Task Management System

Weeks get busy, and it’s hard to remember everything you’ve accomplished by the time Friday rolls around. Having a “Done” area is a great reminder and a nice end to the week. No other tasks management system has even given me this level of satisfaction.

If the tasks are indeed done, and I’m not waiting on any feedback, I’ll remove the done pile of post-it notes at the end of the week.

You might be thinking to yourself that this just sounds just like a simplified version of Kanban, and you’d be right. It is. However, I’ve stripped it back down to just the essentials making it perfect for how I work.

Smaller Tasks

You might also be wondering what happens to those smaller, less essential tasks. Where do they go?

Smaller tasks that won’t make a difference to the business or further my personal goals don’t get placed on the wall. Those stay on my desk. I put multiple smaller tasks on a single post-it note and cross them off as they get completed.

My Setup. The desk has been tidied and some tasks were removed for privacy!

These smaller tasks can include making an appointment, replying to a customer, or ordering more coffee. The entire system is simple and always visible and right there when working.

You might be thinking, this entire article is a joke, but I assure you it’s not. I’ve been working this way for many years, and it’s changed my life for the better.

Here’s a high-level overview and recap of how the system works, should you want to start using it. I’ve also included a list of ways this system should and shouldn’t be used.

Rules of the System

  • Only write one task per note.
  • Use three columns, Backlog, Current, and Done. Don’t be tempted to overcomplicate this. You’ll end up getting bogged down micromanaging tasks.
  • Limit the number of “Current” items you’re working on to three of four at most.
  • Only place important items on the wall to help move your business forward.
  • Review your tasks daily and see if any of your priorities have changed. This is easy to review as your tasks are always right there in front of you.
  • If you’re looking to increase revenue for your business or make more money on your side-gig, put the items on the wall that will help you reach those goals. The more focused you can be on the tasks, the better the results.
  • Ignore the rules. Change the system, so it works for you.

DON'T use this system for:

If your needs are complex this is probably not the system for you. Here are a few examples you shouldn't be using this system for.

  • Freelancing with multiple clients. This can get messy fast!
  • Working on many different projects. Again, this can get confusing and messy.
  • Building software. Use a proper ticketing system like GitHub.

DO use this system for:

If you're focused on a single project or have straightforward needs this system is perfect. Here are some examples of where I think this works:

  • Starting a new business.
  • Working on a side-hustle away from your 9-to-5 job.
  • Running a small business (this is how I use it).
  • Self-improvement/personal goals.
  • Small projects.

Conclusion

This system won’t help you get your tasks done faster because no app or system can do that. But, it will help you prioritise and focus on the things that will make the most significant difference to you or your business.

As should be clear, this is very much a single focus system. However, there’s no reason you can’t use a digital to-do list alongside this for the less critical tasks or projects in your life.

Feel free to change this system to work better for you, but don’t overcomplicate it. This lightweight task management system aims to help you focus on the tasks that will help you reach your goals.

I know this method isn’t for everyone. But if you’re running you’re own business or just starting out with a side-hustle, I can’t recommend this way of task management enough.

Give it a try, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me on Twitter.