Reinventing task management during Covid

I surprised myself. I thought I had nailed task management ages ago. But in 2020, I reinvented how I manage my time.

Photo by Paolo Chiabrando on Unsplash

So, what’s different during Covid?

  • More meetings that have no or little time between them so I can complete actions items or record outcomes.
  • Digital transformation accelerated due to Covid pressures, increasing the pace of all work without mental breaks.
  • Personal commitments are harder to schedule and are growing (family support, restricted business hours, etc.).
  • People, who are new to working remotely, are putting in longer hours that in turn leads to the team also putting in similar hours.

“‘People are afraid — the fear around your job and around the economy — I want to make sure [managers] know I’m constantly responding to emails and messages and am always on Slack,’ said Cali Williams Yost, founder of the workplace consultancy Flex Strategy Group.

5 ways to manage productivity

  1. Decline meetings with vigor.
  2. Ruthless daily prioritization of your calendar.
  3. Excessive followup on everything, knowing folks are swamped.
  4. Exercise, personal care, hydrate, eat.
  5. Bonus: don’t forget to brush your teeth!

Decline meetings with vigor

For years, I’ve been a huge advocate of declining meetings, so much so that I’ve already blogged about it. Find out how to do this.

Ruthless daily prioritization of your calendar

With so many meetings stacking up on my calendar, I have to juggle where I can have the most impact. And I’m sure you’ve had urgent meeting requests pop up within the last eight hours. That’s why at the end of every day I comb through my next day’s agenda to see what hits the “urgent vs important” upper-left quadrant. My prioritization steps:

  1. I look for any meetings that should have been an email or a Slack conversation. See tips above to simply decline the meeting in the first place.
  2. Low priority meetings get shortened or rescheduled.
  3. Double or triple-booked meetings are rescheduled to the same day. Or, I delegate these meetings to teammates.
  4. Blocks of time on my calendar give me time to catch up on individual work items, eat lunch, and fit in urgent meetings.

What’s not as obvious about juggling a busy calendar is how to make time for the important, not just the urgent. So that’s where I make a concentrated effort to show up for one-on-one’s, select educational meetings, and working sessions. All of those can seem like something that could be delayed or canceled. But eventually, they too need to move forward.

Excessive followup on everything

When everyone is in a rush or have multiple projects in flight, I know I must be even more diligent with followup. Others often appreciate clear followup for projects and for meetings.

What’s followup?

  • Summary of meeting outcomes, even if the notes are only for me
  • Action items with deadlines that are sent within 8 hours (or less, please!)
  • Reminder emails, slacks, or even follow-up meetings with individuals who own those action items

Task-tracking tools, such as ZenHub or Trello, help you keep up with goals, projects, and even small tasks. Those same tools are excellent for team collaboration, notification, and awareness of what’s needed and when. I’m currently switching from ZenHub to Trello. I’ve also been refreshing my OHIO practices for personal tasks. So more to come on that front.

Board example, courtesy of Trello

Exercise, personal care, hydrate, eat!

In a roundtable chat with Lysa Banks at IBM, we talked about how you survive and thrive these days. I immediately thought of my lunch hike the day before. First, I had a goal —enjoy more of the gorgeous fall color and weather we have very briefly in Austin. Two, I could make it happen during lunch, when I let my brain take a breather. Three, I made a plan by scarfing lunch during a meeting (with a lot of mute/unmute). Payoff: I got in a 40-minute vigorous hike, in 80 degree weather, seeing bold yellows, pinks, and dark reds.

Photo by me, Vanessa Wilburn

And yes, don’t forget to brush your teeth.

Product manager for IBM Cloud. Food and travel lover. Sometimes found on the water. Opinions are my own.