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Learning to Manage Your Work Tasks

A red and a blue plate balanced on sticks beneath trees

Last time, I shared how a day I had planned for doing tangible tasks like editing turned into a day of shepherding projects along. The universe had dictated my day, because I hadn’t paid attention to its earlier signals.

In her book, Juggling on a High Wire, Laura Poole emphasizes the importance of managing your tasks in order to achieve a healthy work-life balance:

Task management doesn’t equal life balance, but it can support you in creating it. If you have a lot to do, you want to get it done effectively! …

Note that I use the phrase “task management” instead of “time management.” That’s because time isn’t really manageable—it marches ahead for everyone at a fixed rate. How you make use of that time is where task management comes into play.

How can you manage tasks instead of them managing you?

  • Keep track of your projects and deadlines. Use calendars, to-do lists, and other time-management tools to help you stay focused and on top of the details.
  • Group similar tasks or topics. Take advantage of your current mindset by blocking off a good chunk of time just for editing or just for answering email.
  • Limit interruptions. If you’ve set aside two hours to edit, turn off social media, email, and other distractions.
  • Schedule breaks. No one can work nonstop without negative results. Reward yourself for that two-hour editing session with a 10-minute break. Get up from your desk and move around.
  • Schedule social media and email times. Rather than just reacting to social media or email when it happens, plan a time to attend to them. You’ll focus on the task better and feel less stressed because you’re not doing something else.

In her book Poole recommends the following:

  • Schedule your priorities. Whether it’s an edit or your daily workout, adding it to your calendar or task list makes it a higher priority, increasing the chance that it will get done.
  • Leverage your most productive time of day. Each of us has a time in the day when we can just bang out the work. Schedule your highest-priority work for this time.
  • “Delete, defer, delegate.” When there aren’t enough hours in a day, decide which tasks won’t get done (delete), which can be done later (defer), and which can be done by someone else (delegate).
  • Keep to-do lists short. It’s tempting to put everything that needs to be done on a list. Be realistic about what you can get done in a day.
  • Make your daily to-do list the night before. Avoid forgetting important appointments or spending your pre-caffeine wakeup time trying to remember what you needed to do.

Finally, realize that sometimes the universe will dictate your day, no matter how organized you are. When it does, it can be less stressful and more efficient to just go with it. You’ll live to fight another day.

A version of this article originally published on Copyediting.com on January 15, 2016.

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