Author Archives: Melina Costi

Work-life balance and 5 ways you can achieve it

Work-life balance and 5 ways you can achieve it
Every business owner, professional or working parent out there knows what a struggle it can be to balance a heavy workload with a fulfilling personal life. Mastering the elusive ‘work-life balance’ can seem nigh on impossible when you’re taking tons of work home with you, cancelling social plans and answering emails at 11pm.

According to a global study by Ernst & Young, one-third of full-time workers say that maintaining a work-life balance has become tougher in the last five years. Longer work hours, lack of job security and new communication technologies make it increasingly difficult for people to leave work behind at the office, and the boundaries between home and work are blurring. But the stress that builds up from overwork and an ‘always on’ mentality can be costly, giving rise to health issues, relationship conflicts and disengagement. The need to unwind from the pressures of work, spend time with family and take care of your own wellbeing has never been more crucial. Indeed, getting the balance right can help you bring your best to all areas of your life.

Work-life balance varies from one individual to the next. Here are 5 tips to support you in finding the balance that’s right for you.

1. Work out your personal priorities

Work out your personal priorities

If you’ve been tipping over on the work side of the scale, then your private life is likely to have taken a hit lately. Take a good hard look at your priorities and consider how you can re-allocate time to the most precious things in your personal life, as well as your business. We all need personal goals to balance out our professional ambitions. To help you create space in your life for family, friends, rest and play, create a project in DropTask just as you would for a work-related goal, and manage it in the same way. Make yourself accountable by scheduling tasks for the next few weeks or months to pursue a hobby, attend your kid’s soccer match, go on a trip, volunteer or host a dinner party for friends. Focus on the people and things that are important to you so that your life reflects your priorities, not anyone else’s. We suggest aiming to give yourself something to look forward to at least twice a week, so you have an extra incentive to manage your time well. Don’t worry about trying to remember everything as DropTask will send you a Daily Summary Email to inform you on what you should be doing and when.

2. Learn to say “no”

Learn to say no
You’ll have an easier time sticking to your personal priorities if you learn the power of saying “no” once in a while. Trying to please everyone all the time is the short route to burnout, so it’s imperative to protect your time. You don’t have to volunteer for everything you’re asked to do. Get comfortable with setting boundaries and decline any energy-sapping requests, errands or meetings that fall outside of them. Have a chat with your manager or team to communicate your limits and agree on how you’ll work going forward – can you delegate or outsource any of your time-consuming but low-value jobs? Any feelings of guilt will soon melt away when you realise how much it can benefit your productivity and work-life balance. DropTask can help you with crafting and maintaining boundaries, allowing you to Assign Tasks to others and customize Notifications so that you don’t get overloaded.

3. Telecommute

Telecommute
If you have the option, consider working from home a few times a week. Freedom from the hellish commute and time-guzzling distractions of the office (impromptu meetings, interruptions by colleagues, and so on) means that your natural workflow can flourish unabated. As a result, you’ll gain much-needed extra time to take care of your personal responsibilities. With DropTask at your service, you no longer need to be sitting in the same office to share info, stay up-to-date on progress or give your full input on team projects. You can be just as productive and collaborative as your office-based colleagues, if not more, while lounging around in your pyjamas!

4. Unplug after hours

Unplug after hours
Here at DropTask, we love new technology. But there are occasions when even we admit you have to pull the plug on it. Checking your emails every 15 minutes when you’re supposed to be watching a movie with the kids doesn’t amount to true quality time and actually injects an element of stress into your evening. Try to completely ban work-related technology when you get home so that you can focus on your family, friends or yourself. Turn off your phone or screen your calls, letting them go to voicemail if they’re not urgent. Now relax and enjoy the moment.

5. Take care of the physical

Take care of the physical
No matter how jam-packed our schedule is, the one aspect we can’t ignore is our self-care. Block out a bit of personal time in your calendar to take a walk, meditate, eat a mindful lunch or do anything that will top up your tank. That way your health won’t get crowded out in favour of other more ‘urgent’ demands. Get out into the fresh air for an hour if you can, or head to the gym for a heart-pumping session. Can’t leave your desk? Then try some deep breathing exercises or stretches while sitting down (roll your neck and shoulders, flex your feet, stretch your arms), or do a 10-minute body-scan meditation. A little rejuvenation goes a long way in helping to bring more balance to your life.

Got any ideas for tip No. 6? What strategies do you rely on for creating a healthy work-life balance? Tell us in the comments below.

4 Reasons why email can never replace a task manager

We’re all guilty of using our inbox as our to-do list. Do you ever email tasks to yourself, ‘unread’ messages or flag items as a reminder to tackle them later, leaving them hanging in your inbox? Bad idea. With a constant inflow of new emails and pressing requests, there inevitably comes a point when our inbox starts to overgrow and we feel bogged down.
28% workweek
Let’s face it, email is simply not a productive or efficient way to manage and keep track of tasks. Inbox management can easily take over your entire workday if you let it. A 2012 study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that the average worker spends approximately 28% of the workweek processing their emails (answering, reading, deleting and sorting); time that could be better occupied with high-value tasks. Using a separate task manager (hint: DropTask) to capture your to-dos in one place, including those arriving in your ever-expanding inbox, can help you avoid wasting time sifting through stacks of emails and frees you up to get more done. Plus, you won’t get distracted by each and every message that pops into your inbox while you’re in the middle of a serious assignment.

Drag yourself away from your emails for a moment and take note of these four reasons why email isn’t a good replacement for a task manager.

1. No central ‘hub’ for projects

No Central Hub
All teams need a centralized location for important project information – files, comments, updates – that can be accessed from anywhere at any time. When this isn’t available, workers take to their emails to make requests, assign tasks to colleagues, send attachments or track down the information they need. The next thing you know, numerous messages are flying around and information is scattered between various conversations, folders, labels, attachments or lists. But email wasn’t built for task management, only correspondence. While you can go to all the effort of creating your own system of color-coding and adding stars and flags to draw attention to tasks in your email program, you’ll still have a hard time keeping sight of the big picture and staying in sync with your team when relying on email alone. This is especially true when working together on long-term projects.

Cue DropTask, your one-stop-shop for project management, allowing you to collate and categorize your to-dos and responsibilities in one friendly workspace. Private projects can remain just that – private – while team or cross-departmental projects can be shared for effective collaboration with colleagues. Keeping tasks, files, status updates and comments all together simplifies the way you manage your workload and ensures that everyone stays in the loop – no email required!

2. Emails don’t have start or due dates

DropTask Calendar
An email inbox doesn’t allow you to plan ahead by setting start dates for your tasks or deadlines for completing them. By contrast, the cool tool that is DropTask helps you effortlessly manage your time by allowing you to add Start and Due dates to each of your tasks. These are instantly scheduled within your Calendar, which brings together all of your tasks from across every project you are working on. The Calendar lets you toggle between Start and Due dates so you can choose whether to view your must-do-now priorities or focus on what’s coming up to reach maximum productivity. Scared of falling behind? Set Task Reminders to alert you as deadlines approach and spur you into action.

3. To-dos get buried

Email
In a bid to stay organized, you might try to keep email communications about specific tasks all on one thread. Seems like a decent enough plan, but an email thread for a single project soon grows to an unmanageable length, with task-critical data, questions, team progress updates, FYIs and off-topic chats gathering on top of each other in no simple order. These long, bulky ‘re:re:re’ email threads bury important information and cause untold frustration when it comes to digging out what’s relevant.

The key around this is to separate your tasks from your email as soon as they come in, so they don’t fall off the radar. Whenever a to-do arrives via email, transfer it straight into your task manager. It might seem like more work; after all, you’re adding another step to the process. But the act of freeing tasks from your email forces you to get clear on what has to be done, rather than scrolling through a long list of ‘re: re: re:’ emails to remind yourself.

Turning emails into tasks is a breeze with DropTask – just send the message to task@droptask.com or the special address found in your user preferences. Or, you can move emails from Outlook to DropTask with a single click of a button using our Outlook integration feature. There’s the option to set attributes for your tasks (such as Due Dates and Importance) from within Outlook before mailing to DropTask, and to include email attachments. More than that, you can also delegate responsibilities by emailing them straight into someone else’s DropTask workspace!

If you’re a Gmail user, download DropTask from the Google Apps Marketplace and send actionable items from your Gmail inbox directly into DropTask. As with Outlook, you can set time management and prioritization preferences to your Gmail emails, before firing them over to DropTask to tackle at a later date.

FEATURE FACT: The subject of your email will become the to-do name, and the body of the email will be the task description. Any attachments will be added as a file. When you next log in, you’ll see the task waiting for you in your Notifications.

4. Email distracts

Up to 15 minutes to resume tasks
Keeping your to-dos lounging in your inbox encourages constant email checking, and we all know how much of a distraction that can be! With every new ping, you’ll lose focus. A joint study by Microsoft Research and the University of Illinois found that it took workers up to 15 minutes to resume an absorbing task when interrupted by a simple email alert, whether they responded to it or not. Once you’re in your inbox, you run the risk of getting caught up processing new messages and as a result important to-dos get left behind.

Separating out your tasks into your task manager means that you won’t lose sight of them in a mass of open emails. And you have the added benefit of being able to better define, prioritize, classify and filter your tasks. Unlike email, you can also group tasks and show their relationships and dependencies in visible ways, as well as mark out which activities are complete, in progress or incomplete. In DropTask, you have a clear visualization structure of your work at all times, with options to view tasks in the original colorful Canvas, as a Workflow Board (Kanban-style) or in Calendar form.

While your inbox can offer support for your daily workload, it’s not the place for task management. Detach your email from your tasks by capturing all your actions in a dedicated tool like DropTask. What other good reasons are there not to use email to manage your to-dos? Or are you happy using your inbox as a to-do list? Let us know in the comments.

The planner versus the doer

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Here’s a thought-provoking question for you: Do you consider yourself a planner or a doer?

In the process of developing our new Calendar View, we noticed something interesting. Some of our team showed a preference for viewing their schedule by start dates, while others only wanted to view the due dates of their tasks. We came to the conclusion that those leaning toward start dates were the ‘planners’ of the group, and they liked to be more organized in how they approached their work. On the other side of the scale were the ‘doers’ whose main focus was on taking action to get the job done; so all that mattered to them were their deadlines.

Both planning and doing workstyles are equally valid in the workplace, and the best teams excel by harnessing the strengths of each. That’s why the all-new DropTask Calendar allows you to choose how you view your entire workload – by Start Date or Due Date – so you can manage your time in a way that suits you.

Not sure if you’re a planner or a doer? Here’s how you can tell.

“I’m a Planner”

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Planners are a naturally deliberate and focused bunch. These organized types love lists, calendars, timelines, budgets, schedules and charts, and are driven to give order to the world around them. Planners tend to think more strategically and are great at exploring different opportunities or sides of a problem, as well as overseeing projects. It’s all about the where and how for these guys. Once they have the big picture in sight, they prefer to map things out in clear stages, so they know exactly where they’re headed and how they’re going to get there. Goals need to be clear and deliverables outlined at the outset, all carefully thought out to ensure the best possible outcome. Some planners hold on to their plans like security blankets. Predictability and caution is the name of the game, while ambiguity makes them edgy and nervous. Does this sound like you?

If you’re a planner, take care not to get stuck on perfecting the plan to the point that you delay the work getting done. Even the best-laid plans still need to be executed, so planners work well with others who are ready to act. And sometimes, a bit of flexibility could be just what your plan needs to make better progress – after all, things don’t always go according to plan!

“I’m a DOER”

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Doers are masters of action – they make things happen. When handed an assignment, a doer’s first tendency is to dive right in, and they work fluidly and fast to check off their to-dos one by one. In other words, doers are all about the what. The ‘Shoot, Fire, Aim’ approach works well for this kind of worker, without the faff of planning everything out or holding meeting after meeting; and they nimbly sidestep the dangers of analysis paralysis. ‘Doing’ folk can happily ‘go with the flow’ and spontaneously take advantage of opportunities that cross their path because they’re not confined to the mental box created by their plan. They are intensely focused on one area rather than broadly focused like the planner. Often, doers see planning as getting in the way of their actual work, not as part of the work itself. Speed is valued over process, and any snags or obstacles are dealt with swiftly. Do these traits seem familiar to you?

While doers are able to handle truckloads of work, their lack of planning can cost them. Rushing at a doer’s pace, it’s easy to overlook important things or forget to communicate with your team. A plan is a framework for action, and a few minutes’ worth of planning before taking action makes for better and more consistent results.

Whether you’re a doer or a planner, DropTask can help you plan and do more – smartly and efficiently. The spanking new Calendar feature allows you to toggle between Start and Due dates for your tasks, so you can stay on top of your must-do priorities whatever your work style. Have you checked out the Calendar view yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

10 innovative ways to stay motivated at work

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At DropTask, we pride ourselves on being an innovative crew. Our all-visual task management tool is the only one of its kind and packs a powerful productivity punch, and we operate from a really cool, hi-tech space in Wales – Tec Marina. Lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about motivation and the different ways we keep ourselves geared up throughout the day or week. In this post, we’ll be sharing some of our most innovative tips to help you stay motivated (and productive) at work.

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Find a personal ‘why’
Trick yourself into doing a task you dread by linking it to something that matters to you, and get a much-needed push to finish the job. Ask yourself: What bigger goal of mine does this task connect to?

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Have a game plan
Sometimes all that’s needed to give you a kick up the butt is a clear plan. Create an agenda to put your priorities in order and give you something to run with from the get go.

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Be task-driven, not time-driven
Focus on  what you need to do, instead of how much time you have to do it. Breaking tasks down into bite-sized chunks is a great recipe for getting some ‘quick wins’ under your belt.

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Get inspired on a daily basis
What can you read/watch/listen to/play to get a burst of optimism and good feeling each day?

 

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Commit to being better
Don’t just look to get something done, aim to get it done better, faster, easier or with more energy. Not only will you get superb results, but you’ll also see a huge lift in your motivation and self-esteem.

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Look at what you’ve done
Feeling a bit ‘meh’? One quick way to recapture your mojo is to look at your completed tasks. Ride the wave of your earlier successes and keep the momentum going to achieve even more.

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Celebrate – you’re worth it!
Review your progress and celebrate each victory with a small reward, even something as simple as your favorite dessert. Knowing a reward is just around the corner gives you added drive to reach your goals.

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Set ‘to-be’ tasks as well as ‘to-do’ ones
Include exercise and wellbeing activities alongside your usual work related to-dos. By building self-care into your week, you’re more likely to stay on top of weightier tasks and feel energized in the process.

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Get close to your colleagues
Research shows that workplace friendships can increase productivity and job commitment. Spend time getting to know your co-workers. Go to lunch, grab a coffee or even hit the gym together.

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Be positive, no matter what.
Focusing on the negatives of work (the pressure, deadlines) will zap your motivation and blind you to all the good stuff. Practice being upbeat every day and look for the hidden positives in every challenge.

Which of these 10 innovative tips get you moving? Got any special motivational tricks of your own? Then share them with your fellow DropTaskers below.

 

Tackling information overload with DropTask 2

Information overload

Emails, reports, Twitter, news, YouTube videos, reminders, websites, RSS feeds, blogs, Facebook, IMs, texts, Skype….Information is everywhere! We live in a hyper-connected world where the gadgets and gizmos of modern work life make outrageous amounts of information available to us at the click of a button. For the most part, this is awesome because we can find what we need to know, when we need to know it. But as legions of us in the workplace are discovering, you can have too much of a good thing.

It’s hard to keep a straight head and focus on your to-dos while being bombarded by a relentless flood of data, which soon plunges you into ‘information overload’. According to a study cited by Jonathan Spira, author of Overload, a shocking 94% of people have at some point felt so overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacitation. The result? Things don’t get done, or they get done badly.

DropTask’s visual display can clean up the clutter

Cleaning up clutter

The fact of the matter is linear, top-down lists don’t cut it as a tool for managing dizzying quantities of information and tasks. Under the crushing pressure of ‘infomania’, our brain has a tough time processing text and separating the trivial from the important. And even a to-do list of only one page can become unwieldy if there’s no obvious structure to it. Plus, let’s be straight, it’s bland. A visual representation like DropTask’s colorful, shapely dashboard is much less taxing mentally and helps to simplify info and to-dos with crystal clarity. Dr. Dimitrios Tsivrikos, business psychologist at the University College London (UCL), highlights the value of visuals for getting to grips with complex data: “Research has proven that by visually presenting information, data processing demands on the brain can be reduced”.

To avoid drowning in a deluge of tasks, use DropTask to pull everything together in one place so you can see the whole view of a project, from the bigger picture right down to the smaller details. In other words, both the forest and the trees! Unlike linear, text-heavy tools, DropTask allows you to build an eye-catching and coordinated framework around the contents of your task list, putting you in firm control and warding off overwhelm.

Let’s take a closer look at how the all-new enhancements in DropTask 2 can help shrink the clutter and give your brain the breathing space it needs to be super-productive.

1. Filter through the flood

Filter through the flood

For a simple way to cut through the noise and find what matters most, use the new Filter feature to (you guessed it!) filter tasks, either by Assignee, Importance, Keywords, Effort, Tags, Attachments or even Status (tasks not started, tasks in progress and tasks on hold). By narrowing down your field of vision, you get a clean glimpse of only the things you need and want to see, whether you’re tracking performance or sifting through priorities. If you want stress-free task management, this is it!

2. More ways to manage – Workflow Boards and built-in Calendar

Workflow and Calendar

The latest rendition of DropTask offers not one, but two glistening new ways to view and organize your information, projects and tasks:

  • Kanban-style Workflow Boards – Pave a clear path through your tasks and track your progress with ease. By setting staged categories like ‘To-do’, ‘Doing’ and ‘Done’, you can model your workflow along vertical swimlanes and get an instantaneous view of where you are and where you’re going. As you work through your to-dos, your completed items stay visible giving you a sense of sequence and mucho satisfaction.
  • Built-in Calendar – The key to combating information overload is to be organized. With DropTask’s new Calendar feature you can stay on top of what you should be doing today, and what’s due in the future. Need to reschedule? Simple. Just drag and drop to reprioritize your tasks in the right order, so you always know what needs immediate attention.

3. Sometimes less is more – Collapsing Categories

Collapsing categories

While it’s essential to capture all the details you need to remember, there are times when you just need a quick snapshot of your current situation. This is where DropTask’s nifty new tool for collapsing and expanding project categories comes in. It gives you the added flexibility to keep your eye on the bigger picture at all times, without getting flustered by the bitty errands and chores still on your plate. With your most critical data consolidated into one compact space, it’s easy to locate key information and concentrate your efforts, minus the strain.

Rather than letting an influx of information get the better of you, use DropTask to organize and bring clarity to it. All your tasks are brought together on a single eye-grabbing dashboard, putting you right at the center of the process so nothing slips through the cracks. You’ll spend less effort trying to find what you need and more on getting stuff done. How do you conquer information overload?  Offer up some tips in the comments below.

New to DropTask? Learn more about the benefits by signing up for a free account today.

Can shorter workdays mean higher productivity?

Shorter workdays

More work hours = more output. Right? New developments in Sweden suggest otherwise.

A growing number of Swedish employers are moving to a 6-hour working day in a bid to lift productivity, counter burnout and make people happier. These organizations (which include Toyota service centers, retirement homes and hospitals) have found that a shorter workday can decrease staff turnover, enhance creativity, inspire loyalty and boost profits as well as efficiency. Impressive benefits by anyone’s standards!

But will this 6-hour workday model catch on in nations like America, where clocking long hours is the norm and ‘presenteeism’ sees workers burning the candle at both ends to prove they’re up to the job? This ambitious, workaholic mentality is as much a part of US culture as hot dogs and baseball, and is worn proudly like a badge of honor. Yet research shows that cranking out more hours at your desk doesn’t necessarily pay off when it comes to output, and the Families and Work Institute discovered that working longer can even damage productivity as people are more likely to make mistakes and get sick.

Clearly there is a link between wellbeing and productivity, so how do we create a workplace that nurtures a balanced relationship between intense work and time to chill? Here are some ideas for making the shift.

1. Set the tone

Set the tone

If you’re a leader, it’s up to you to set a positive tone for your company culture and embark on active steps to create a healthy work environment for your team. People take their cue from you, so send a clear message that wellness matters. Praise teammates who work sensible hours, go on full lunch breaks, use their annual leave and take time to rest after a busy stretch, and rap the knuckles of those who don’t. Practice what you preach by stepping away from your desk once in a while, and openly discuss the ways you take care of yourself with your team. But don’t stop there. Make the most of internal communication channels to raise awareness about work-life balance by circulating blogs, factsheets and informative websites; and use posters, noticeboards and company newsletters to promote your message in visible ways. The more people are educated about good work habits, the more likely they are to take measures to improve their own situation and to look out for those they work with.

2. Take frequent ‘pulse checks’

Take frequent 'pulse checks'

Schedule regular one-to-ones with team members to check how they’re doing and catch any early signs of stress. What’s their energy like? Are they feeling overwhelmed? How’s their morale?  Did they come back refreshed after their recent vacation? Remember that being super busy all the time doesn’t mean that person is more productive or engaged. They may have fallen into bad habits such as multitasking or being constantly plugged in to technology which disrupts their focus. It’s also worth keeping an eye on people who always volunteer for extra tasks, as they could be taking on more than they can realistically chew because they’re hungry for more brownie points. To supplement your one-to-ones, use DropTask to drop subtle hints to colleagues who might be slipping when it comes to their wellbeing. All it takes is a quick comment urging them to re-align or take a break from a task.

3. Be flexible

Be flexible

According to The Harris Poll, 89% of Americans believe employers should offer flexible work hours so long as the job gets done, and over half of American workers (52%) feel they would perform better at their jobs with more flexibility. Let’s face it, one-size-fits-all policies are too rigid and don’t account for the fact that people are individuals and work optimally in different ways. Encourage your teammates to figure out what kind of schedule works best for them and be open to ideas for alternative approaches, such as remote working or 4-day workweeks.

Job satisfaction soars when people feel valued and are given the opportunity to make small shifts in when, where and how their work is done without being micro-managed every step of the way. Putting people in charge of their time motivates them to knuckle down and give their total attention, dodging distractions like nonessential emails, social media or meetings – meaning more work gets done. DropTask is an ideal tool for ensuring work stays manageable in a flexible environment. In-app notifications keep teams and managers up to speed with every project, so the ball never gets dropped. And completed tasks are all cataloged in one place, making it easy to review performance based on what people have achieved and not the number of hours they spent in the office.

How do you encourage personal and professional balance within your team? Do shorter workdays or other flexible arrangements work for you? We’d love to hear your experiences and advice in the comments below.

New to DropTask? Learn more about the benefits by signing up for a free account today.

Don’t have time for time management? Think again

Managing your time

4 Small tips for getting big things done

People often think that they don’t have time for time management. Small business owners and managers commonly fall into this trap. They’re so busy being busy, that they never sit down to adequately plan or even look at their to-do list. If this sounds like you, then it’s high time you acknowledged that this could be what’s standing in the way of you and your team getting ahead.

Not meaning to go all deep and philosophical (we know you’re far too swamped for that!), time is the most precious currency in life. Once spent it cannot be replaced. With a finite number of hours in the day, you can’t buy or hoard time ready for when you need more of it. Doesn’t it make sense to manage how you spend your time to ensure that you use it wisely? Without some form of time management, you can easily lose time on the wrong things or end up running in circles, trying to do everything all at once. Worse than that, you might even delay getting started on the big projects that count. According to cognitive psychology research by John Bargh and colleagues, your brain will attempt to ‘simulate’ productive work by avoiding heavy projects and tackling lots of menial, low-value tasks to fill your time. It cleverly tricks you into thinking that you’re super busy, but the real work that produces measurable results remains undone.

At DropTask, we’ve long been fascinated by how entrepreneurs, professionals and businesses of all sizes manage and make best use of their time. Through our observations, we’ve discovered that time management doesn’t have to be a massive burden or effort to execute. The biggest gains in productivity often come from the small investments you make, the minor tactics and habits that only take a portion of your time. So far from being a waste of time, a good time management system can be the ultimate time saver.

Here are four little things that you and your team can do to deliver more value in less time, pronto.

1. Carry your tasks with you

DropTask Calendar

Keep your to-dos and calendar on your smartphone or tablet, so you can access them at a moment’s notice. Unless you have superb powers of recall, trying to store numerous tasks and meetings in your working memory is a recipe for disaster. And there are inevitably going to be times when you can’t make it back to your desk or notebook to retrieve your to-dos. Take advantage of the portability technology can offer so that you’re always prepared. DropTask is available on Android, iPhone and iPad for you to access anytime and anywhere, so there’s no excuse! The app supports real-time collaboration on tasks too, with changes automatically synced and updated while you’re on the go, guaranteeing that you’re never out of step with your colleagues.

2. Use a template

Project Templates
Rather than wasting time writing out your recurring activities each day, create your own Project Template which includes your most common to-do items. This ensures you don’t forget all the small odds and ends you need to do, especially when unique or unexpected demands call for your immediate attention and crowd out your day. Even better, create templates for your bigger initiatives as well, and you’ll avoid that overwhelming feeling that can sometimes paralyze you at the start of a new project. This is incredibly easy with DropTask’s Template feature, which allows you to set up multiple projects, break them down into standardised steps and keep track of each phase of development, from initial brainstorming and task allocation through to completion and evaluation.

3. Set start and due dates for your tasks

Start and End Dates

Just as you set dates for meetings, make sure you set dates for getting started on tasks as well as deadlines for getting them done. Don’t wait until you can “get around to it”, make an appointment with each important task in your calendar, so that it doesn’t slip off your radar. DropTask’s built-in Calendar allows you to schedule tasks by Start Date or Due Date, so you can really focus your attention and stay on track to meet all your major deadlines. Identifying start and end dates forces you to realistically consider how long your tasks will take and helps you put your priorities in order. This simple trick makes time management in the workplace much easier as you can tackle the things that need to be done on a time constraint before moving on to tasks with more flexible timescales. Using DropTask, any shifts or changes in priorities can be accommodated in an instant by effortlessly dragging and dropping your tasks around the Calendar. Aim to fill up your calendar with meaningful work instead of endless meetings, and be reasonably disciplined with yourself to power up your productivity. Research by MIT and INSEAD business school professors in 2002 found that students who imposed strict deadlines on themselves for assignments performed far better and were more consistent than those who didn’t. Challenging deadlines can buck us up to achieve more and are a practical strategy for curbing procrastination. So create manageable start and end dates for your tasks – and stick to them!

4. Stay notified

Notifications

Being organized saves tons of time. But you don’t need ultra-complicated systems to keep on top of your work; you can boost business efficiency simply by automating how you and your team stay informed. Notifications and Reminders are great for alerting you to any note-worthy changes or looming deadlines, so you and your colleagues never miss a trick. Instead of trying to mentally and physically manage everything yourself, let DropTask track your work for you. Every morning, DropTask will send you a Daily Summary Email to let you know which tasks you should be working on, as well as which ones are overdue, due today, and due tomorrow. You can even set multiple reminders on important tasks so you can delegate, action or follow up as needed. Shaun Kennard, CEO of Vestack Group describes how he witnessed a “20% increase in each person’s productivity, and an even bigger influence in business effectiveness” by using DropTask to keep tabs on the core activities undertaken within each company unit.

Whether you’re working solo or with a team, these four little actions can have a BIG impact, helping you optimize your time and squeeze more out of your day. Have some time management tips and tricks of your own? Please share them in the comments below.

New to DropTask? Learn more about the benefits by signing up for a free account today.

Do, doing, done – how Kanban helps your flow

Workflow

What do you look for in a productivity system? Here at DropTask, we believe that the best productivity methods are those that keep your to-dos in front of you and give you full visibility into what’s happening with your workload. The Kanban approach does just that, enabling you to plan work, monitor progress and review completed tasks all on one visual board (a ‘Kanban’).

The name ‘Kanban’ derives from the Japanese word for ‘signboard’ and the method has its roots in automobile manufacturing. But don’t let that intimidate you, it’s actually one of the simplest tools around for supercharging your day-to-day productivity. With Kanban, tasks are organized in columns, usually by progression (e.g. To-do, Doing, Done). As you power through each of your action items, they are moved along to their new columns, helping you sustain a smooth, continuous workflow. Kanban is ideal for professionals and teams who like to see the big picture at a glance. When using this technique, you have a full view of everything on your plate – all your tasks, due dates, priorities – so you’re never at a loss as to what to work on next.

Getting started with Kanban is easy, as there are only two fundamental ‘rules’ to follow.

1. Visualize your workflow

A Kanban board gives you a simple space in which to lay out and organize your to-dos. Tasks are arranged in vertical columns representing different categories or stages of your workload, so you always have a clear picture of what you need to act on, the progress you’re making and what you’ve accomplished. As an example, for your blog you could set up for columns for Writing, Editing and Published, and each task would relate to a specific article. While for launching a new product, your columns might be based on different marketing activities, such as PR, Advertising and Events. Kanban is super practical for projects that cycle through stages, such as auditing, recruitment and product development. During a recruitment drive, for instance, you can track job applications as they make their way through each step of the process, from CVs to Shortlisted to First Stage Interviews, and so on.

As well as helping you master your individual output, Kanban really comes into its own when used for team collaboration. A public Kanban board is a powerful visual aid for viewing the entire status of a team project and getting a handle on all its phases. Working together, teammates can quickly highlight priorities, allocate manpower where it’s most needed and identify any bottlenecks in workflow. The upshot is that teams spend less time discussing work and more time doing it!

DropTask’s Workflow Board is built around Kanban-style task organization, with columns automatically created for all your to-do categories. Moving tasks is as simple as dragging and dropping them into the right column to visualize your progress. You can add as many details as you want to each task, including visual cues for priority, due dates, checklists, reminders, notes and attachments. Before you know it, you’ll have a visual collection of action points you can readily dive into.

2. Limit what you take on

One of the biggest advantages of Kanban is that it helps you avoid taking on too much in one go. Each task moves through standardized stages so you can track your progress step-by-step. If tasks start piling up in one of the columns on your board, then you know you have too much on your plate! Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry, authors of Personal Kanban: Mapping Work / Navigating Life, recommend applying Work-in-Progress limits to restrict the number of things you work on at the same time – around three ‘in progress’ items should be about right to stop you getting overwhelmed. This capping of tasks keeps a tight rein on your workload so that you focus on the to-dos that matter most, without the inefficiencies of multitasking. The clear sequential structure of DropTask’s Workflow Board means you can quickly see how your categories are filling up, nudging you to concentrate on finishing your current jobs before starting new ones. Not only will you stay out of crisis mode, but you’ll never miss a deadline.

Step-by-step: Create a Kanban Board with DropTask

Now that you know what Kanban’s all about, give it a go using DropTask to get your to-dos under control. Here’s a step-by-step guide to build your board from scratch:

Step 1. Create a project

First things first, click the + Create Project tab under the Menu to set up your project. Give it a name and add any other team members who will be working with you. We’ve called ours ‘Personal Kanban’ and we’ll be using it for at-home tasks.

1-create-a-project

Next, click on the Workflow option in the top right of the main navigation bar to view your Kanban-style board, which will be empty of categories or tasks at this point.

 2-workflow-view

Step 2. Set up your categories

These represent how your to-dos will be grouped (i.e. your Kanban columns) and can take the form of ‘work topics’ or progressive stages of your workflow. We recommend that you start small with three simple columns labeled ‘To-Do’, ‘Doing’ and ‘Done’ (or ‘Backlog’, ‘In Progress’ and ‘Complete’ if you want to be more formal about it) until you get a feel for the system.

  • To-do – work waiting to be done.
  • Doing – work in progress right now.
  • Done – work completed. Done and dusted!

To create your categories in Workflow mode, start by clicking the Create a category option in the left-hand column.

3-categories

Type in your category name and select a color, and your first column will appear. You can add as many columns as you like from here by simply dragging the Category bubble from the top navigation bar and dropping it into an empty column. We’ll be using three for this example – To-do, Doing and Done.

4-workflow

If you ever find you need to re-order your columns, click and drag the re-order icon, situated next to the category label.

5-re-order

Step 3. Add your tasks

To add a task to a column, click on the Task bubble from the top navigation bar and drag it where you want it. This will open up a box for you to input your task and any other details that might be needed, such as members, start date and due date in the appropriate fields.

6-task

Keep repeating this step to fill your board with tasks. At any point, you can edit or add more detail to a task by clicking on it to open up an information box. You can red flag your high priority tasks, add notes or attachments, and even define the Effort (small, medium, large) needed to get it done.

7-task-details

Step 4. Keep things flowing!

Now get to work! Use drag and drop to move your tasks across the board in keeping with your progress. Set your own policies or rules for how you manage your workflow. For instance, every time you move a task into the ‘Done’ column, make a point of pulling in the next task from the ‘To-do’ column to keep things moving. And be sure to set a task limit for your ‘Doing’ column so you only juggle x number of tasks at the same time.

8-keep-flowing

Try turning your own ‘to-dos’ into ‘dones’ with the Kanban method and see if it helps lighten the load, or use it with your team to manage the flow of your projects from start to finish. The Kanban view is exclusively available to members of DropTask for Business. Upgrade from just $99/year. Learn more.

Got Kanban experiences of your own to share? Let us know in the comments below. 

Back to School with DropTask

DropTask canvas view

4 Simple tips to kick-start the new semester

School is back in session! It’s time to hit the books and get productive. But before you settle into class, remember there’s one tool you definitely shouldn’t be without this semester – we mean DropTask of course. For students who need a helping hand juggling academic schedules and incoming assignments, DropTask is the ultimate all-in-one task app that will see you back to school with confidence. And as it’s conveniently available on any device – smartphone, laptop, tablet and online – you’re guaranteed to stay ahead of the learning curve.

Here’s your first lesson. Follow these 4 smart study tips to get the academic year off to a flying start.

1. Get ready for class

Categorized tasks
Right, so there’s English, History, Biology, Algebra, Music, Geography, Languages…Whether you’re heading to high school or college, you’re going to have several different classes to manage each week. Use DropTask to keep track of your syllabus and you’ll easily be the most organized student on campus! First thing’s first, create a separate Project for each of your main subjects. This acts as ‘folder’ to contain all your info and to-dos for that class.

Next, add Category bubbles to represent the various topics or activities you need to get a handle on for each subject. For instance, you might have categories for Homework, Reading List, Group Work or Exams. By picking specific colors to code your categories, you can bring a sense of calm and order to how your school work is organized, as well making it easy on the eye. Once you’re all set up, start inputting your tasks as and when they begin to roll in. This entire process takes only minutes but gives you quick at-a-glance overview for each subject that you can access from anywhere.

2. Keep on top of homework

Task details
Homework is a fact of life for every student, and you might need some help staying on top of it. To make homework as painless as possible, make sure you add it to DropTask as soon as it’s assigned. By that we mean straight away, so you can avoid a last-minute panic when you realize that papers are due in tomorrow. To do this, simply drag a Task bubble into your Homework category and type a brief description. You can even add your own comments or instructions from your teacher (as notes or file attachments) to capture all the details in one place.

Now it can feel daunting having a huge homework task staring you in the face. One great way to relieve the pressure and make it more manageable is to break it down into sub-tasks. Say your assignment is to ‘Write a 2-page essay on Macbeth’. This could be divided into smaller, more doable pieces such as: ‘Gather background research,’ ‘Prepare an outline,’ ‘Write introduction’ – you get the gist. This is easily done in DropTask as you can add a checklist of items needed to complete each task, and get a buzz of satisfaction each time you check one off.

3. Take control of your time

Time management
As the semester picks up speed and assignments mount up, some students can fall behind. Make sure you’re not one of them by setting Start Dates and Due Dates on your tasks, and use Reminders to give you an extra nudge when a deadline’s approaching. Don’t wait until the last minute to get started on a class report. Block out specific times to dedicate to your homework, group projects or exam study in your DropTask Calendar, which you can schedule according to start or due date to keep tight control of your tasks. By building a routine around your workload, you can quickly get back into the swing of studying and bang out those term papers on time.

4. Organize your school notes

Notes on tasks
At school, there’s always a reason to take notes, and you want to make sure they’re as organized as possible. More and more students are taking advantage of Evernote; a super-useful app for capturing and storing lecture notes, class handouts, research, reference lists and other material (photos, screenshots, audio, web pages) on your subjects. DropTask features two-way integration with Evernote so you can turn your Evernote notes into actionable tasks to get your school projects underway, or plan the content of your study sessions before that big test. And vice versa, you can send your existing to-dos from DropTask into Evernote where you can collect everything that matters and further develop your work. Then, as you make progress, use Tags in Evernote to update a task’s Status in DropTask. DropTask’s sync with Evernote connects two powerful productivity apps together, so students no longer need to juggle their notes manually and can easily track their next steps for getting things done.

FEATURE FACT: The name of your notes will become the task title and the body of the notes will become the task description.

An awesome tool for school. From outlining your syllabus to planning your homework to scheduling study time – with DropTask on your device, you’re in good shape to start the semester and ease yourself back into the school swing. We’d love to hear what works for you. Tell us in the comments below how you use DropTask for study success.

New to DropTask? Learn more about the benefits by signing up for a free account today.

As Labor Day dawns, empower your team to achieve more

Labor Day
The first Monday in September marks Labor Day – an annual tribute to the success and contributions of American workers. For businesses large and small, the coming of Labor Day represents a clear opportunity to celebrate achievements, re-energize teams and reinforce the promise of an even greater future.

Why not show your appreciation for your team this Labor Day by empowering them to be and achieve more? Spread a mood of optimism and provide ample opportunities for teammates to grow so that everyone can find satisfaction in their work, while at the same time helping to meet the organization’s goals. Here are 3 clever ways to empower your team for success.

1. Help people build their strengths

Assigned Tasks

Aim to designate and delegate tasks with the strengths of your team in mind. Research by Gallup indicates that workers who have the chance to use their strengths every day (rather than focusing on their weaknesses) are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and 8% more productive. When you design your teammates’ work around their strengths, you enrich their jobs in ways that help them feel good and want to perform better. Try and ‘work in’ people’s strengths by involving them in interdepartmental teams or giving them extra assignments they’ll enjoy. Be careful not to just dump any old chore on a colleague or bury them in meaningless errands because you know they can handle it. Delegate important responsibilities and visible projects, ones where team members can get recognition and satisfaction as well as build their skill sets.  When handing over duties, ask yourself, “Is this task an opportunity for someone to develop their strengths in…?” DropTask supports strengths-based work allocation among team members, helping you clearly define responsibilities for the workers most suited to a task. Be explicit about timings and expectations, and supply any other useful information or resources using notes or attachments. Then simply drag and drop a co-worker’s profile onto a task and let them drive it forward. For added guidance and motivation, you can set the Importance (with a red flag) and Effort (small, medium or large) of tasks too.

2. Reveal the bigger picture

Task Dependencies

Engaging your teammates to work on their strengths is one part of the equation, but if you want to inspire people to even greater heights, then you need to unveil the big picture. Show your colleagues how they contribute to the bigger purpose in the work they do and they’ll open up to more opportunities and challenges. As positive psychologist Robert Emmons says, “Seemingly small tasks can have tremendous meaning if they are framed as connecting to something larger.” In DropTask, projects can be shared with an unlimited number of people, so everyone is working from the same page and toward the same major goals. Invite team members to collaborate on your most high-level projects, and let them combine their individual strengths and expertise for an optimized outcome. DropTask’s captivating visual canvas allows everyone to ‘see’ the status of a project clearly and presents a uniquely beautiful way to communicate with others and grab their attention. Kate Harthan, Operations Director at a leading promotional products company, highlights how valuable it is to have all information available at a glance in DropTask: “It is refreshing to have a visual representation of what is going on in the office that all employees are able to edit. It has helped reduce my boss’s time spent managing employee projects, and it has increased our response times and overall success of follow-up with customers.” As an added bonus, the daily summary email sent out automatically by DropTask each morning gives increased visibility on progress and kick-starts motivation, so day by day, your teammates are fired up to raise their game.

3. Share decision making and goal setting

Permissions and visibility

Foster an alliance with your team members by letting them have input into the decisions and goals that affect them. While it’s not practical in all circumstances, you’ll be surprised at how much turning over some of your power will engage the troop. Involve your people in looking at new ways of understanding their tasks and possibilities for moving forward, without poking your nose into every aspect of their decision making. Encourage them to set their own goals and challenges for their work, even if it isn’t required. On the other hand, if a goal is fixed and non-negotiable, allow team members to determine how they’ll get there. Holding people accountable for results creates a deep sense of responsibility and ownership, as well as focus and determination – with minimal pushing from you. Worried about losing control and things getting out of hand? Member permissions can be set in DropTask, giving you full control over what others can see and edit. This ensures the right people always remain accountable and responsibilities aren’t muddied. For instance, you may decide to give someone the ability to only see and edit the tasks that they’ve been assigned to, or merely grant them read-only access. Advanced settings also allow you to prevent members from deleting tasks and groups that they didn’t create, as well as restrict their ability to invite others to your project without your consent. Combined with DropTask’s other project management capabilities, you can empower your team in all the right ways so they fully understand their goals, the tasks they’re assigned to and can make sound decisions on their given responsibilities.

This Labor Day we’re giving you 1 year free when you upgrade to any 2 year plan from as little as just $1.42/month*. Save big and go long with our limited time offer.

Redeem Offer*Price based on 36 months, when paid upfront. Offer ends Sept 23rd.