My System For Delegating And Keeping Track of Tasks

Ok, what's one BIG problem all project managers have? Sure, they have too little time, massive workload, difficult stakeholders, etc.

But the one BIG problem I see many project managers (junior ones especially) is the inability to delegate.

And what's worse, those who CAN delegate have problems keeping track of who has done what.

In the following, I'll share with you my approach for successfully delegating and tracking tasks you've given to others.

1. What You Need

Here's the list of stuff you need to set up this little delegation and tracking system:

  • iPhone (version 4 or later preferred)
  • Things (an iOS app)

Now I'm sorry that this approach requires an iPhone 4 or later and also the Things app. If you have another smartphone and can an app that's more or less like Things, it should work equally well.

Get the two items above. Done? Great! Let's continue.

2. Set Up Your System In Things

Once you've downloaded Things into your iPhone, you should see a main screen like the one below.

Now, go to Projects and set up a new project. Call it "List of Delegated Tasks". Now, incidentally, projects in Things are basically folders which let you contain tasks to do. So you can create folders for all other areas of your life "Personal", "Family", "Project A", "Project B" and so forth.

Done? Good. Let's continue.

3. Add Tasks To Delegate

Now, go to Things and start adding tasks you want to delegate.

For each task you think of, do the following:

  • What is the task? Type the task name into the Inbox in Things. You can add notes and tags to the task as well, if you wish.

  • Next, decide who should you delegate it to. Usually, I type the name of the person I delegate it to as part of the task name. This makes it easy to see who the task has been delegated to.

  • Once done, decide when the task should be done. Is it to be done today? If so, tag it to "Today". If it is to be done sometime in the future, tag it to "Next". You can also specify the task as "Scheduled" - meaning it is to be done at a specific date in the future.

When you tag items to "Today", "Next" or "Scheduled", it is removed from the Inbox. The Inbox is there to faciliate quick brainstorming of tasks to do.

Tip: I usually only use the "Today" or "Scheduled" options. If I want something done, it is either done today or at a specific time in the future. I don't like having tasks which are fuzzy whuzzy like "to be done sometime in the future".

Furthermore, if need be, you can make use of the Tag and Notes attributes for each task. For example, if I have detailed notes that can't fit into the task's name, I will key it into the Notes section of the task. I can also tag the task to tags, e.g. "Family", "Personal" - different tags to reflect what category the task belongs to.

The power of these come when you do a search. You can search for the "Family" tag and all the tasks labelled with this tag come out. You can also search within the text keyed into your Notes.

You should also file the task into an appropriate Project folder you set up previously.

Once you're done, you should have a list of all tasks delegated to your resources stored in Things.

4. Monitoring Delegated Tasks

Now, here comes the killer move ... how do you know who has been assigned what task? Here's what you do.

Go to the main Things screen. Now, pull down the screen to expose a Search bar. Click on "Name" to tell the app you want to search by task name. Then enter the name of your resource. All tasks with this person's name in the task name will be retrieved and displayed.

This is powerful stuff! Imagine being able to know exactly what each resource of yours has been delegated.

Tip: For me, I like to walk around my project room with iPhone in hand. Then as I interact with each team member, I whip out Things and check what tasks I've delegated to him or her and remind them of the completion date.

5. Regular Clean Up

For this system to work, you have to devote time to regularly check your delegated tasks and update them in the iPhone.

You need some kind of checklist, e.g:

  • Pull back all "Today" tasks in your Things app. Run through each task one by one

  • For each task, if it is done, check it off. If it is not done, drop an email or call the person you delegated it to and remind them it is to be done by today.

  • Continue in a similar fashion down the list of "Today" tasks until you get to the end.

  • Next, you need to go through your "Scheduled" tasks. Go into the "Scheduled" line in Things and review each task one by one.

  • For tasks that are to be completed soon (e.g. in the next two or three days), you may want to drop a reminder email or a phone call to the person it is delegated to.

  • You can also approach it from one more perspective. You can view your tasks from a project point of view. Go into each of your Project folders and check the tasks in there one by one, reminding the person assigned to complete it if appropriate.

However, for myself, I usually just check through the "Today" list and the "Scheduled" list.

6. Extending The System

As you can imagine, this system can be extended beyond task delegation and tracking.

You can use it as a powerful To-Do list manager, for things you have to do YOURSELF. Just create Project folders, create the tasks and file them into the appropriate folder.

In fact, I picked up Things because it is very closely aligned to the time management principles of Getting Things Done (GTD) by Paul Allen.

While I do not subscribe fully to all of his techniques, I do like the idea of tracking every single task you have to do and regularly reviewing them.

Case Study: Trust me, Things is a fabulous tool. It takes some getting used to - I've been using it for over half a year and it's been great!

I used to put my tasks into hardcopy notebooks or even type them into an Excel sheet on my laptop. Those approaches did not work for me. Imagine - typing tasks into your laptop means switching it on, and recording your tasks into notebooks means scratching and re-writing from time to time.

It got worse and worse. I tried many different systems, moving from one idea to the next. Each time, I'd try the latest "task management technique" for a few days or weeks, then give up.

Things gets past all of that - it is super convenient to enter tasks. My random musings and thoughts are also entered as tasks and filed into a project called "List of Notes".

Try This Exercise ...

To help you implement this system, I suggest you go through this exercise.

  • Retrieve all your loose scraps of paper, Excel files and other storage items containing tasks you have to delegate to others.

  • Open up Things and key all the tasks into the app and file them under "Today", "Scheduled" and the correct Project folder.

  • Put the name of the person to whom the task is delegated as part of the task name.

  • Make time (e.g. every night) to run through and review each task in your "Today" and "Scheduled" lists. Remind the person to whom the task is delegated to complete it.

Wrapping Up ...

If you implementing this system of delegating and keeping track of tasks, you will find that your productivity will increase tremendously. But you have to stick with it. The power of the system comes with regular use and regular review. Keep at it and you will reap the productivity rewards.

I hope you will try out the above technique - if you like the approach, do let me know. I can give you more advice on how to use Things and also GTD. Good luck managing those tasks!

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