Tasks are More than Just To Dos — A Holistic Approach to Online Task Management

| May 28th, 2013 | , ,

Tasks are more than just To dos — A Holistic Approach to Task Management

Online task management software usually approaches tasks in one of two ways. Some apps treat tasks as a to do list, meant to replace the notepad on your desk filled with day-to-day scribbles. The tasks themselves may include some additional attributes, such as comments and documents, but they tend to leave it at that and take a simplified approach to task management. This is a highly effective method of task management for many.

Our own online task management apps, Intervals, approaches task management in a more holistic manner. Our team’s background is in web design and development, where most of the task management software we’d used came in the form of bug tracking and issue tracking apps. While they got the job done, we didn’t need such complexity. So when we built Intervals, our aim was to build an online task management app that wasn’t too simple, nor too complex.

What drove our development was the concept that each task has its own life cycle. A beginning and an end — each task beginning as an open task, and ending once closed. We designed and developed Intervals to be a workflow tool for managing what happens to the task during this life cycle, the in between. Each task feature and attribute was introduced with this goal in mind. So, how exactly do these attributes make task management more holistic? Let’s take a look.

Start date

When you are managing a lot of tasks, start and end date help keep you organized. It’s just as important to know when a task should start, as it is to know when it is due. Instead of trying to tackle every single task on your list, a start date tells you which tasks you can put off until later, so you can focus on the tasks that need to be done now.

A traditional to do list approach wouldn’t list the task until it has started. By including tasks that begin some date out in the future, we are aware of them, our subconscious already working on them.

Owner, assignee, and follower

Managing a lot of tasks across several team members can quickly get confusing. Keeping track of who is responsible for what is a challenge. By associating tasks to people on your team, whether it be as an owner, assignee, or follower, helps the team know who is doing what, and who to go to when questions come up.

The owner is the person responsible for seeing the task through to completion. The assignee is the person responsible for doing the work. And the follower is anyone who wants to be kept  in the loop as the task progresses.  This methodology is common in bug tracking systems and helps the team stay in constant communication. Attributing roles to each task keeps a team organized while working from one master task list, avoiding unintentional overlaps in their efforts.

Task status

As a task is worked on by each member of the team, they leave the task in a different state. The task status tells the other team members where the task is at in its life cycle. Does it need assistance from other team members? Is it ready for the client to review?

The task statuses represent each step the task should, or could, go through before it can be closed. The basic to do list approach would buckle under the weight of too many ongoing tasks. Attributing a status to each task enables us to segment them into workable chunks, so we don’t get overwhelmed. We can focus only on the tasks that are currently relevant.

Estimated number of hours

How long should the task take to complete? A simple task estimate tells the team how much time they should expect to spend on the task. It is also useful for prioritizing tasks. You will want to get a head start on tasks with a high estimate. And tasks with a small estimate are great candidates for when you are in the mood to quickly knock out a few small tasks.

Instead of working through our task list from top to bottom, we can pick and choose the tasks based on their estimates and the number of hours we have left in our day. We can make an informed decision early on regarding which tasks to do today and which to leave for another day, instead of grinding through a to do list only to end the day with a list of tasks we thought we’d get to.

Module

A task module is simply a way to classify tasks into meaningful categories. Attributing tasks to a handful of modules gives us a powerful way to organize our tasks and generate detailed reports.

For example, modules could represent different services your agency offers. Creating a module for web design, logo design, and marketing, will allow you to pull up lists of tasks and generate productivity reports for any one of these services.

Milestone

When a project becomes too cluttered with tasks it needs to be organized idnto smaller, more more manageable lists of tasks. Milestones are a way to group tasks together by a common due date. For example, each phase of a project could be a milestone containing the tasks necessary to be completed.

In addition to just grouping tasks together, the milestone provides aggregate information about its tasks. The milestone will show the project manager how many tasks have been completed, a breakdown of tasks by assignee, and estimated vs actual effort. Milestones are a great way to break down projects into smaller parts, especially when there are a lot of tasks.

Task history

The task history provides the team with a chronological record of all task activity. This information will show who made edits to the task, when the status was changed, and so on. It will also contain all of the comments the team added to the task. This information is extremely useful while working through a task.

Once a task is finally closed it’s best to keep it around in a non-obtrusive manner. Intervals ends the task life cycle by pushing closed tasks to the background where they won’t clutter the current task lists. When we need to go back to the task for any reason, it’s just a click or two away.

Holistic Web Based Task Management

The Intervals approach to task management is based on over thirteen years of web design and development agency experience. It’s a natural fit for creative agencies working with the web, where tasks can last anywhere from days to weeks and when accountability and details matter most.

Photo credits: Marcus Jeffrey, Benjamin Desham

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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