Like any freelance professional, writers need ways to organise themselves. Essentially, there are two main things to organise: tasks, and information. Today, we’re going to look at why you need to manage tasks, and how to do that.

Why is task management so important? There are three big reasons.

1..It Decreases Stress

Ever feel like your mind is full of a hundred things? Ever had a half-forgotten task pop into your head in the shower where you can’t get a hand to a pen and paper? Trying to keep dozens of tasks at the front of your mind increases stress. It’s impossible to simultaneously attend to many diverse tasks, so your brain ‘forgets’ some of them. And what if it forgets an important deadline, or a phone call to a client that had to happen…yesterday? Stressed now? When your tasks are organised in a system, you don’t need to remember them all the time, and a calm descends over your frazzled mind.

2..It Increases Focus

When all of your tasks are located in a system that manages them, you can focus on the ones that need your attention right now. You need to send out a bunch of invoices in a few days, but you need to write 2 blog posts today. A good task management system will remind you to send the invoices out when you need to, allowing you to focus your brain power on the task at hand – the 2 blog posts.

3..You Look Professional

When all of your tasks are in a system, you look professional to your clients and potential clients. Why? Because part of appearing professional is a sense of calm and competence. By decreasing stress, and increasing focus, your aura of professionalism shines brighter.

So, how should you get organised? There are 2 questions to answer.

What are my inboxes?

Years ago, on any self-respecting professional’s desk sat an ‘in-tray’ and an ‘out-tray’. I still have a physical ‘in-tray’ on my desk. However, most of us have several in-trays, or ‘inboxes’. You probably have at least 5. What is an inbox? An inbox is any location, physical or virtual, that receives information that requires action.

For example, here is a list of my inboxes:

  • physical in-tray
  • box at the post office
  • email inboxes of 5 email addresses
  • voicemail
  • text message app
  • Facebook messages
  • LinkedIn messages
  • bits of paper I scribble on with random thoughts
  • my notebook

All of these inboxes might contain tasks that I need to keep track of. To keep track of your tasks, you need to know what your inboxes are, and check them regularly.

What Do I Do Next?

The second question to answer is “What do I do next?”. So, you know what your inboxes are, but what to do with all the tasks that you find there? Put them in a system outside your head. That might sound strange, but once you put your tasks in a system that is outside your head, your head can start working on more interesting things, like the actual piece of writing in front of you. It doesn’t have to keep remembering everything – the system will do that for you.

Sit down with a nice cup of coffee, and list all your tasks from all your inboxes. You can do this with a pen and paper, or type them out. Then ask the following questions:

  1. Can I do this? Sometimes you can’t do the ‘task’. It might be a piece of information, or a thought bubble that needs further work. File it away or trash it.
  2. If you can do it, then What’s the next action?. If you can do it in under 2 minutes, the do it now! If not, then your task might need one of the following:
  • delegate it: it’s someone else’s task
  • defer it: it needs to happen sometime in the future.
  • plan it: it needs a plan to make it happen

If you want to, you can follow this cool flowchart.

If you’re thinking ’I need an app for that’, then you’re spoilt for choice. From Remember the Milk, Todoist, and Omnifocus, to Trello, Things, and Nozbe, there are dozens of software applications to choose from. If you’re not a task management aficionado, then I would recommend Wunderlist: it works on Mac and Windows and is simple enough for the first timer, but gutsy enough for big projects. But you don’t need an app: you can do it with paper.

If you’d like to find out more about task management, you might want to explore #GTD thinking. GTD stands for Getting Things Done, and is a philosophy and practice of productivity. Check out this summary by the guy who started the GTD juggernaut, Dave Allen.