From the January 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

January 1, 2008

On Track

How would you like to sleep better, have less stress, have more time and get more done?

And all of this without psychiatric medication, treatment or group therapy!

All you have to do is follow Dr. Good's non-medical advice.

The CureOver the years, I have struggled with the fact that I can think up more things to do than I can do. At various points in my life I have been vain enough to imagine that I don't have to write stuff down. I have tried paper-based systems, such as the Franklin Planner. I have also used various computer programs beginning with Microsoft Outlook, lists kept in Microsoft Word, various project management systems, and on and on.

I finally had to develop my own spreadsheet. It's been working now for some time. And I thought I would share it with you.

The ProblemThe problem for me is getting all of the things I want to do written down in one place. Obviously I have things I'm doing with my family, my kids, finances, taxes, errands, fix-it projects, and more. I am involved in some church activities. I have a book to publish, plus a business to run.

All these areas of life get pushed forward by setting goals, doing the tasks that accomplish the goals, and trying to do my best to make certain nothing slips through the cracks.

Basics of Task ManagementThere's more to task management than just making a "To Do" list.

Suppose you write down: "Go to the store."

Immediate questions occur: Why?

Well, to pick up some dog food.

When? Well, how about today. Dog is hungry.

And if you are really into managing tasks so that they add up to something, you can ask, "For what purpose?"

To which you might answer: Maintain friendly relations with my spouse by promptly doing what is requested.

So in the spreadsheet I have created, I have a column for each attribute of a task. The beauty of doing this in Excel is that if I (or you) want to make a change, no problem. Just add a column.

You can of course do this yourself without downloading my spreadsheet. But I have formatted it so dates appear as a date. I have verified that certain features I will describe below work. And I have created a couple of little tutorials to show you how to use "advanced features," such as the AutoFilter.

Important note: As we begin this, you will notice there are no examples of tasks that need to be performed for specific clients. Such tasks should always be entered as actions in the database and should be attached to the record of the client for whom they are being done. This is just basic Database Management 101. The tasks I am talking about here are all the other things you have to do in managing a business or even managing a life. You have to keep track of those too.

Here are the columns of my spreadsheet. I will explain them below:

As I create a task, I first decide: What is the physical action I must perform when I execute it?

For years, I have known that if I can group together similar activities, i.e., physical actions, I can create a "roll."

So I plan my day in time blocks. I'll make all my calls together, have my meetings back-to-back, and handle all my e-mail in their own block as well as other activities.

So I have a column labeled "Activity."

The "activities" I use are:o Call o Meetingo Admin (an administrative task other than writing, e-mailing, or online research or reading)o Writeo E-mailo Onlineo Errando Reado Chore (generally something some-one else wants me to do that I don't want to do)

Next I try to relate my task to some broader goal I am trying to accomplish. So I created a column labeled "Goal." In the sample spreadsheet (which you can download at www.billgood.com/stuffdone), I have set up three goals as examples:o Taxes ready to file by February.o Improve client contact.o Be able to find stuff.

Using a wonderful feature of Excel called "AutoFilter," you can easily view only the tasks related to a particular goal.

The next column is "Task." This describes the action you're going to do. Ideally, it should be something you can perform in a relatively short period of time and should only include one thing to do. For instance, a task such as, "Set up a filing system," should be broken down into:o Go to the store and buy some new files.o Clean out the top two drawers.o File the stuff on the left hand corner of my credenza.o File the stuff in the box under the desk.

"Start Date" is a column I use for every task. You might not care when you thought up a particular idea. But I like to know. So I use Start Date for the date I actually entered the task into the spreadsheet. "Due Date" is obviously the date you have for completing this task.

In my spreadsheet, I have approximately 170 things that I want to accomplish. So far, I seem to be completing, and in some cases canceling, tasks at about the same rate I add them.

"Status" is the current state of a task. If I leave it blank, I haven't started it at all. If I have assigned it to someone else, I mark it "Pending." And when it is completed, I mark it "Done." I normally set my AutoFilter so it does not display actions which are "Done."

I went through the Franklin Planning course probably four times. I failed miserably in setting up their system for prioritizing actions. They want you to set up your As, Bs, Cs and then go back through and decide which is your A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, C1,C2, etc. I never could do that.

As part of my own daily planning, I mark some actions as A priority. Then I use my AutoFilter to view only those. Then I will even hide some of the columns (another feature of Excel), copying my A-Priority list to the clipboard, paste it into an e-mail and e-mail it to my iPhone (love the iPhone).

Finally, the column "Assigned" is obviously the person to whom the action is assigned. Most of the tasks are assigned to me. But I've created a couple of reports that show me who is responsible for how many tasks and what kind of tasks they are. How nice to get a big picture review.

Three Key ToolsThere are three key tools that I've used in managing my own tasks. Rather than give you a bunch of technical writing here, I've created some simple demonstrations to show you how to use the AutoFilter, the Data Form (which makes it easy to enter a bunch of tasks) and the Pivot Table Report which I have always considered the crown jewel in Excel. With this report, you can get different snapshot views of what you're doing, when it's due, how the tasks break down by goal and lots of other stuff.

You can see them at www.billgood.com/stuffdone. I've also placed there a white paper called "Get Organized," which is from earlier Research articles updated as of just a few months ago.

---

Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing Systems in Draper, Utah; see www.billgood.com

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.