“There is nothing so fatal to the character than half-finished tasks.” – David Lloyd George
What is a task?
A task is something that must be completed to achieve a greater goal. A lack of tasks or incremental steps to achieve something greater is often why people never accomplish the things they want to in life. Goal setting in life has been historically linked to being more successful.
The task list has a history, believe it or not. A man named Charles Schwab, a steel tycoon, and a guy who was obsessed with increasing economic efficiency, wanted to find a way to make his workers more productive. He sent out a memo and stated that he would award handsomely any individual who could improve the productivity of his employees. This led to a meeting with PR Guru Ivy Lee who suggested that each employee write down 6 tasks and rank them according to priority. After 90 days of testing this method, productivity improved and the task list was born.
Let’s talk about the importance of assigning tasks in the right way. It’s quite simple to walk over to Joe’s desk and tell him he needs to pull and analyze the financials from the last quarter. But to get Joe to actually do that job and do it properly is a whole other ball game. Task lists are not fun but they are important. Here’s why.
- They help us keep track of things
- They help us visualize our priorities in order
- They keep us motivated
Marketing Guru, Simon Sinek talks about a chemical called Dopamine. It motivates us to achieve incremental goals. It rewards motivated behavior. It makes us feel good when we check things off the “to-do list” or reach project milestones. This chemical is the main reason why task lists work in the first place and why they are such an important part of project management.
Best Practices for Assigning Tasks
Assigning tasks can be tricky and simply giving a task to the wrong person could cause a lot of problems. Here’s are some common mistakes that managers make and how you can overcome them.
Assigning tasks without consent. Just like we did with Joe earlier, many managers have the mindless habit of handing out tasks like Halloween candy ( except on Halloween kids actually want the candy). This method won’t fly with millennials either – they don’t appreciate authority and top-down approaches and feeling like they are being forced to do things they don’t want to do. It’s more important to take a collaborative approach and ensuring that assignees are confident that they can complete the work. Use time estimation techniques, and take an agile approach. (Which BTW if you haven’t seen the video you need to stop right now and go watch it!) You’ll feel more confident that the task will be completed and the assignee will feel great about completing the task.
Mismatched skills: Hard vs. Soft When you think about mismatched skills, you often think about hard skills right away. You wouldn’t put your marketing person to take care of accounting – that’s a given. But the less obvious mismatched skills are soft skills. For example, maybe you have a social media guru in your office who’s an absolute genius at attracting attention for your company online. Let’s say you include them on your roster of people to man the booth at a trade show. Unfortunately, your social media person has zero, real-life social skills and so sending them to a trade show where they have to meet people face-to-face may be uncomfortable for them and a waste of time for you. Keep an eye on soft skills when assigning tasks.
Assigning multiple people to a task. Here’s one we hear about all the time at workplaces and at school. When two or more people are assigned to a task, and nothing gets done. In this case, it’s important to be clear about each person’s responsibility in completing the task. For example, let’s say the task is to create a marketing plan. You’ve assigned it to two people. Now you can’t say, “Ash and Alex – go make me a marketing plan” but that won’t work because you were not specific enough. Alex and I will be sitting around wondering and possibly even arguing about who’s going to do what. The best way to approach it would be Ash, you do all the research required to build the marketing plan and Alex, you put it all together. This way, the subtasks are clear and there will be no confusion.
Make it hard to see current and upcoming list of things to do with clear priorities. Here’s the deal. If task lists are not in people’s faces, they have a hard time staying focused and on track. Make sure that everyone can see the task list in a centralized location, plus make sure that they can see the dependencies that have an effect on their tasks etc. Knowing that someone is waiting for them to complete their task by a specific time will help keep your team accountable.
Take action and make it a group ritual to cross off the tasks from the list. whether you use the whiteboard, PM software or stickers – doesn’t matter, as long as people get their daily dose of dopamine.
It will keep the team feeling great about the tasks that they were assigned and keeps them both accountable and happy to work.