When a Task Manager Isn’t The Right Tool for the Job

January 24, 2021

Imagine you’re a painter—the artistic kind, not the kind who whitewashes walls. Would you use a task manager to create your next work of art?

Imagine what your task list would look like:

  1. Set up the easel
  2. Mix the paint
  3. Paint the sky
  4. Paint the trees
  5. Paint the flowers
  6. Paint the people
  7. Let the painting dry

Ridiculous! A task manager isn’t the right tool to create art.

There’s no point in saying, “Tuesday I’ll paint the sky, Wednesday I’ll paint the trees”, and so on, “so by Sunday I’ll have the painting done!” Creativity doesn’t work that way. Instead, our painter should probably set aside lots of time for painting—he might allocate Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons for it. He should time block, rather than using his task manager to plan his week.

Many of my students, though, are not painters. They are managers, executives, and business owners—people who have lots of responsibilities and much to keep track of. What was the status of this project again? Oh, right, I still have to review that meeting agenda. And I forget—by which date did I promise my client I’d have his tax return done?

For the managers and business owners of the world, a task manager is indispensable. It offers clarity not only on the status of your work, but it also helps to answer the question: what should I work on today?

Sometimes, time blocking is a better approach. Other times, working through your task manager lists is. Often, you need a little bit of both.

Think about the painter when he is taking care of his finances. After all, he has bills that need paying by a certain date. He needs to reply to emails. He might be working on a new portfolio website—what were the parts again that still needed work before launching it? To track these things, a task manager helps tremendously.

Use a task manager when it’s the right tool for the job. And when it isn’t, don’t.

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