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Task planning: how to action your to-do list

Last updated on
October 11, 2021

Most of us have experienced that sinking feeling when we look at our to-do list and realize just how much there is to get done. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when large tasks and projects loom over us—and once we start worrying and fretting, it’s even harder to actually get to work.

But there are ways to make your to-do list seem far more manageable—and as result, make ploughing through it way more enjoyable, too. By breaking big tasks up into smaller, bitesize tasks, your workload will be much easier to manage and track, and you’ll be able to work through it at a steady pace. Here’s how to get started with easy task planning.

What is task planning and why is it useful?

Task planning is the act of breaking down long-term deliverables into practical chunks that are easier to tackle and can act as lead measures to help you stay on track. There are lots of advantages to task planning, a few of which include:

Building focus and presence in your work
Ensuring you protect time for all your commitments
Tracking your progress and getting insight into the ways you work

Task planning is so useful because it allows you to encode your priorities into your week. Breaking up bigger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks makes it easier for you to protect space for your most important work, and makes it almost impossible to stray from them. In doing so, it helps you build intention into your week; setting goals, creating space for them, and then striking them off your list will give you a sense of fulfilment and achievement, and allow you to make meaningful progress throughout your week.

Task planning is also extremely useful for managing your capacity across multiple commitments. If you’re working on more than one deliverable, it’s easy to feel pulled in too many directions. But when you use task planning, you can map out the effort required for all deliverables and work harmoniously across all of them. Aside from ensuring everything gets its due attention, this is essential for keeping a healthy workload and feeling balanced—as well as signalling your availability to the rest of your team.

How task planning works

Here’s how the theory of task planning actually works in practice:

1. Collation

Break down all the constituent bits of work you need to complete in order to meet your goal. If you’re delivering a new website to a client, for example, that means laying out all the tasks that belong to each design, copy and coding phase.

2. Estimation

Once you’ve mapped out all your tasks, you need to set boundaries around them. Estimate the amount of time you’ll need to complete each bit of work and then give it a deadline—factoring in time for associated communication and admin. This ultimately allows you to define how much effort each task involves. Time blocking your work this way helps you be intentional with your available resource, and protects Parkinson’s Law from setting in.

3. Prioritization

There are lots of methods to help you structure your task to-do list. Deadline is a common one, but it may not always be effective—since, what’s most urgent may often not be what’s most important (read this 👉 time management matrix). Without turning it into a massive task and creating more work for yourself, try to sketch dependencies between tasks and work out what must be completed first.

4. Planning

Finally, you need to work all your time-boxed tasks into your schedule and fit them around any existing commitments. Keep an eye on your daily capacity and be realistic about what you can achieve in a day. Don’t overload yourself (burnout is real) and remember to factor in productive breaks.

Simple, friendly task planning tools

Task planning shouldn’t become a task in itself. A ton of smart, simple tools can help you reap the benefits of task planning without sinking too much. Here are a few best-in-class examples worth checking out.

Timely

Timely’s Tasks feature pulls all of the steps detailed above into one painless experience. You can tasks to create a prioritized to-do list, and then drag and drop them onto your schedule. Timely’s intuitive timeline feature also lets you fluidly map out whole project deliverables for multiple people.

As you plan and log time to tasks, the progress bar of each piece of work will automatically update, keeping the status of your work visible to you and your team. Timely will even flag when your tasks are running behind schedule to keep you on top of your deliverables. The this is the real magic: the whole experience is powered by automatic time tracking—meaning you can effortlessly record and report all the time you actually put into your work, and use those insights to optimize future plans.


Todoist

Todoist can also be helpful when it comes to task planning. You can use the Upcoming view to preview the week ahead and see all tasks that are due—and from here you can reposition your tasks into a schedule that works for you. Include deadlines for tasks that are time-sensitive and add reminders to make sure you don’t forget, which will help give you peace of mind.

On a day-to-day basis, you can use the Today view to see all the tasks that are due across multiple projects, and from here you can make a realistic plan to get things done. Once you know what your priorities for the day are, you can mark them—which makes it easier for you to know what you need to focus on. It also helps you be realistic about what you can achieve.

Trello

If you like using Kanban boards to stay organized, you might want to think about using Trello for task planning. You can use Trello’s Butler automation to help streamline your daily task management: simply add all the tasks that you want to work on—whether you intend to them today or next week—to the “Backlog”. Then, each day just drag the tasks you want to focus on into “To Do Today”.

Every morning, Butler will rename the “Done today” list you worked on the previous day to one with yesterday’s date, so you’re clued up about what you did and when—and then a new “Done Today” list will be created with the next batch of tasks. This is an easy way to keep your tasks organized and on track with due dates.

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