Generating new ideas with DropTask in 2017

Despite the fact that it’s the shortest month of the year, February can be seen as just as challenging, if not more, than it’s blue predecessor. Sure, the days are getting shorter. But with grey clouds still lingering over our heads, it’s difficult to find the drive that’s going to play a pivotal part in your work-based performance. But don’t stress, with the aid of DropTask you’ll be able to transform February into the month of generating powerful ideas so you’ll be rearing to go for the prosperous year ahead.

Don’t let the creative spark burn out. Ditch the mundane thoughts and follow our tips to ignite your brightest ideas for 2017.

1. Don’t worry about being ‘creative’
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When asked to define creativity, Steve Jobs answered: ‘Creativity is just connecting things‘. But, this is easier said than done if you’re juggling an array of tasks across your home, personal and social life without any clear view of the bigger picture. By overloading your brain with information, thinking ‘creatively’ can be a huge challenge, and studies have shown that the signal that handles how we process our thoughts and decision making temporarily shuts down when we’re feeling overwhelmed. To avoid this feeling, simply create a project in DropTask and have a brain dump on the Canvas of all of the possible ideas that you could put into action. Further explore possible opportunities and ideas by using the iMindMap Integration, and spend time analyzing and preparing which ideas you’re looking to bring to life.

2. More heads are better than one
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An innovative idea is often the combination of smaller collaborative ideas combined into one. There’s often a stigma attached to asking others for help as this is perceived as a sign of weakness. But by building a positive rapport in the workplace as someone who helps others, you’ve already distinguished yourself as a team player. And as a result, others will want to help you to get your job done. Collaborating with the whole team can speed up the process of generating new ideas and bury the negative thoughts of them not being accepted. Invite your colleagues to your ‘ideas’ project so they can browse through all of the possible areas that you could approach next. And if you want a specific member to look at a piece of work, drop them a direct Message so they can guide you in the right direction and help link together the missing parts of your project plan.

3. Trial and error
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Remember, you can’t have a lot of good ideas without a lot of bad ones either. While in the process of drawing up your ideas, you must consider the circumstances that could hinder it and the ones that could allow it to propel into a successful reality. If you have a feeling of doubt before you even start, then something is not quite right. But, what’s the harm in testing out potential ideas? As John F. Kennedy said: ‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.’ When our ideas go down the pan, this is when we often realize that we’re meant to pursue different avenues. Connect all of the steps that you’ll need to take to launch your idea into action with visual arrows in the form of Task Dependencies. By having a clear structure in place, you’ll be able to identify if you’re heading down the right path. And if not, reorder your priorities by Filtering by Importance in the List View to ensure that the ideas at the top of the list are the ones that you’ll focus on first.

4. Pay attention to past experiences
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Research shows that learning from past experiences is invaluable for complex decision making and for facilitating the flow of ideas. We’ve all been there, pitching an idea to the rest of the team for it only to be shut down and pushed aside. What’s stopping you from revisiting old ideas and approaching them with a fresh outlook? When you think of those past ideas resulting in failure, take a look at them from a different perspective and note down the gaps in the initial planning stages of why they didn’t succeed. Look at them as ‘unapproached opportunities’, and start again. By taking into account your past failures, you’ll be able to rectify the mistakes that you made the first time around. And with a whole archive of Completed Tasks in DropTask, you’ll gain a quick boost of motivation and feel rearing to go with your next great idea.

How do you approach new ideas when your motivation is low? Let us know in the comments below.

The DropTask guide to popular productivity methods

We’re super fans of productivity here at DropTask, and we love exploring all the best possible ways to help you get more done, more efficiently. From GTD to tomato timers, there are multiple to-do methods out there. The challenge is figuring out which one/s work best for you.

In this post, we’ve rounded up 4 of the most popular, tried-and-tested productivity strategies, along with how to navigate them in DropTask. Take a look, try them out and find your best fit.

1. Getting Things Done (GTD)

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One of the most famous productivity techniques ever known is Getting Things Done (GTD), based on the best-selling book of the same name by productivity consultant David Allen. GTD promotes two key elements of task management – control and perspective. In a nutshell, it follows a process that turns your tasks into real, actionable items or things you can just get rid of.  Everything you keep has a clear reason for being in your life at any given moment – both now and well into the future.

With GTD, projects are different to tasks. A project represents a high-level outcome or result which involves multiple steps to achieve. A task represents the actions or steps needed to complete a project. In DropTask, you can break down your main Projects into separate Categories to reflect the type of tasks awaiting attention. Preferably, all your tasks should be organised by the place or context in which they can be done, or the set of tools available (e.g. @Office, @Calls, @Meetings, @Emails, @Home). You could also include a ‘Waiting For’ category for when an action has been delegated to someone else, or when you’re waiting for some external event before a project can be moved forward. A ‘Someday/Maybe’ category is also handy to store things to be done at some point, but not right now. In DropTask, you can use Tags to further clarify the context of your tasks and enable better Filtering, so you can work on targeted groups of actions at a time.

Once you’ve off-loaded what needs to get done from your head or inbox into DropTask, take an inventory to determine whether each item is actionable or not. If a task isn’t actionable, remove it from your project. If it is, consider whether you will:

  • Do it now (if takes less than 2 minutes)
  • Schedule it: Determine priorities and add Start/Due Dates so you can monitor the task in your Calendar.
  • Delegate it: Assign the task to to someone else.
  • Put it in the Someday/Maybe category (to be checked every month or so)

To keep things moving, engage in periodic reviews (at least once a week) to streamline and update your tasks, always focusing on the next logical actions. It takes a bit of setting up, but GTD is an ideal system for helping you pull everything together in an organized fashion so you can knock out tasks quickly.

2. Pomodoro/Sprints

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The Pomodoro technique is based on the idea of work sprints combined with short, frequent breaks to maximize focus while preventing burnout. Francesco Cirillo, the inventor of the method, originally used a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato to set time increments for working on tasks (pomodoro is Italian for tomato in case you didn’t know!). With Pomodoro, you do a concentrated burst of work for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and then repeat the process until you’ve completed 4 sprints. After each 4-sprint cycle (which represents one ‘Pomodoro’), you take a longer break (say half an hour) to stretch your legs, grab a snack and recharge. It really is that simple. If you want to try this in DropTask, we recommend breaking down larger tasks into a smaller number of digestible subtasks that can be performed within 25-minute blocks. Create a Checklist of tasks and work through it using the segmented Pomodoro process, making sure to protect your time from any and all interruptions.

3. Kanban

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Kanban is a highly visual method that facilitates the flow of tasks across one project board (a ‘Kanban’). It’s great for keeping the big picture in sight as you can clearly see what you have to do right now, what’s coming up and what you’ve just completed. A versatile technique, Kanban is enormously helpful for tracking projects as they cycle through defined stages, such as the Auditing process – ‘Planning’, ‘Assessment’, ‘Reporting’, ‘Follow-up’. DropTask’s new Workflow View enables full-blown Kanban-style productivity. All your tasks are clearly organized in vertical swimlanes that are easy to switch between, keeping you in full control as you progress from ‘Do’ and ‘Doing’ to ‘Done’. The clear sequential structure of DropTask’s Workflow Board helps you keep a tight rein on your ‘work in progress’, so you never take on more than you can chew at any one time. For more info on how to Kanban with Droptask, check out this earlier blog post.

4. The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Urgent/Important Matrix is another visual approach that makes prioritization simple. Famously referenced by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, this technique divides your tasks into four quadrants along an XY axis, based on their level of Urgency and/or Importance.
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Examining your work in this way helps you plan and prioritize around your most important, high-value (but not necessarily urgent!) tasks – so they don’t get crowded out by pointless busywork or sudden distractions. Getting extra training or updating your LinkedIn profile might not be pressing requirements right now, but they’ll no doubt be of benefit to your career in the longer term. With the Eisenhower Matrix, you get a better grasp of which tasks need to be done right away, which ones can be put off or ignored, and which ones can be delegated to someone else. This concept can be easily executed in DropTask using the Urgency and Importance attributes. You can set the level of urgency for tasks using 4 values (low to very high) to best determine those that require immediate attention. Color-coded flags denoting importance from low (blue flag) to very high (red flag) will help you identify all your most critical tasks with a single glance.

How do you find these techniques? Do you have any favorite productivity systems we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below. If you’d like some help with implementing any of these methods in DropTask, email us at support@droptask.com and we’ll do all we can to assist. 

Fed up with your idle projects? Learn how to finish what you started

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Are you in the habit of starting projects, but not finishing them? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many of us are fast to get new projects into motion – a screenplay, a product, a new craft, a business idea or home improvements. We like ‘starting things’ because it makes us feel amped up, entrepreneurial and productive. But, completing them is another matter.

There are plenty of reasons why we lose that initial enthusiasm for our projects and hit the pause button mid-way, be they running out of cash, failure to plan effectively, stumbling on a roadblock, lack of commitment, or reaching a plateau. Rather than abandoning a project altogether, we leave it on the backburner week after week, month after month, anticipating that we’ll get around to wrapping it up at some point.

Every project sitting idle signifies wasted time, energy and resources, and sucks up far too much mental space. It could be a small task, an ongoing work project or something even bigger, like a lifelong passion. Whatever you have that’s undone, it won’t magically get finished without you taking action.

We’ve devised 4 simple hacks to help you see your projects through from beginning to end. Read on and get moving…

1. Be picky

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Before doing anything, take a look at all your unfinished projects and identify which ones are actually worth concluding. Which assignments have the tightest deadlines? Which ones are almost done? What about that never-ending work proposal that’s been going on forever? Remember that dream goal you got started on? Is it still something you care about and want to pursue? Decide which projects you want to finish first. Ranking your projects makes it clear what’s number 1 on your agenda and helps in fueling your motivation to go from one completed activity to the next.

Give your top priority project the go-ahead by forming a basic structure for it in DropTask. First, create a new Project to house all your to-dos. Inside that project, create color-coded Categories for grouping your micro responsibilities and tasks. For instance, you can organize your categories by project stages or themes, such as ‘Ideas’, ‘Research’, ‘Budgeting’, ‘Events’, ‘Marketing’ and so on.

2. Plan your actions in detail

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To get and stay organized, make sure you have a system for action planning. Having set up all your project categories in DropTask, create specific action steps in the form of Tasks to begin the process of making the project a reality. Without clear steps, you might find yourself stumbling around, not knowing which course to follow to achieve your desired results. Your tasks can be anything you need to do or any piece of work you need to produce to fulfil key aspects of your project – ‘Write cover copy’, ‘Commission artwork’, ‘Create webpage’ and so on. You can assign each task a Start and Due Date, and an owner (if you’re working with others). For each task, make sure you prepare, copy, link to or attach any notes or files you might need. If you have a series of tasks that depend on one another, set them up as Dependencies so you can clearly see how they link together in the correct sequence. The tighter your plan, the easier it will be to stick to it without getting sidetracked.

3. Eat a frog first thing

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“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain. This entertaining quote contains powerful productivity advice. For any project you’re working on, there are tasks that are more important than others. The frog is the biggest, ugliest and hardest task on your plate – it’s the one that puts the most pressure on you because of its significance. Consequently, it’s also the task that you’re most likely to avoid in favor of crossing off the easier 3rd, 4th or 5th items in your to-dos.

But here’s the tip. If you aim to wolf down your giant task ASAP each day, then the rest of your work will be a piece of cake in comparison. According to behavioral scientists, willpower tends to be higher earlier in the day. Prioritizing your toughest task first means you’ll be able to apply your best energy and effort to it before ‘decision fatigue’ kicks in. Specify your frogs by setting Importance, Urgency and Effort attributes for your tasks in DropTask, and switch to Project List View to pull up a list of your most urgent ‘do now’ jobs each day. Eating the frog won’t be pleasant, but steeling yourself to do it allows you to make long strides in achieving your major goal and will nip chronic procrastination in the bud. You might not enjoy the taste, but you’ll love the buzz of accomplishment that comes after.

4. Stay committed to the end

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Maintain momentum on your project by checking in daily, weekly or monthly. We all know what it feels like to start a project all hyped up and full of zest, only to have our enthusiasm fade away once we’re in the thick of things. It’s worth reminding yourself regularly that every little bit you do now counts toward your end vision. Use DropTask’s Workflow View to visually map the development of your project from start to finish, while keeping your eyes firmly on the main prize.  Mark your progress on each task using the Progress Percentage bar, and look over your current achievements in the Completed Tasks View. Monitoring your actions makes you accountable to your final goal and helps you stay on top. DropTask’s Daily Summary Email will notify you of which deadlines are coming up and what tasks are overdue, making tracking effortless on your part. If need be, reschedule or reset any dates against your target, and set Reminders to keep you chipping away at those tasks. Persevere and it won’t be too long before you’re celebrating project success.

What’s on your finish list? Do you have any of your own methods for putting projects to bed? Tell us all about them in the comments below.

4 Ways to find your focus with DropTask

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Do you find it hard to manage distractions? Are you often overwhelmed by all the tasks on your plate or the data that’s clamoring for your attention? We’ve all experienced those days when we can’t seem to settle down and focus on one thing. With information overload a major pandemic in today’s world of work, it can be a struggle to free your mind of clutter and concentrate on the stuff that matters.

According to productivity wisdom, focus is essential for solving problems, being innovative and getting things done. There’s a famous quote by Stephen Covey that really resonates with us here at DropTask: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Of course, this is easier said than done. And that’s why we’ve introduced some handy new features to help you regain and sharpen your focus when work is looking a bit blurry.

Try these 4 hacks to get some clarity and save your sanity.

1. Narrow your focus with filters

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A powerful way to hone in on your tasks, DropTask’s advanced Filter tool makes it easy for you to locate what you need, when you need it. For instance, you can opt to view just your overdue tasks or those that have files or certain tags attached to them. With the ability to filter by a whole range of key identifiers – assignee, importance, keywords, effort, tags, due date, attachments and task status – targeted concentration is just one or two clicks away. While you can combine multiple filters, it helps to stick to a minimal number to maintain simplicity in directing your workflow. Think: what’s most important in this particular context?

To access filters from within your DropTask project, simply select the filter icon located in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen, then choose the filters you wish to apply. You can remove filters at any point by clicking ‘Clear’. A useful feature to help you spend less time spinning your wheels and more time moving forward on your tasks.

2. Zoom in for a closer look

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When your mind’s in disarray and you can’t seem to make heads or tails out of your tasks, it could be that you’re trying to take on too many things at once. Avoid workload overwhelm by strategically focusing on one project area at a time using DropTask’s new Pan+Zoom Categories feature. This allows you to pan and zoom in on specific project categories, so it’s much easier to get visual clarity and make decisions on what to do first. Click the ‘Categories’ button situated on the bottom right of your Canvas workspace, and then select the category you’d like to zero in on for ultimate focus.

3. Eliminate overload by collapsing your to-dos

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Information overload becomes a thing of the past with the ability to Collapse and Expand Categories in DropTask. By visually collapsing categories and the tasks within them, you can hide minor chores and allow yourself more space to fully engage with your heaviest priorities. Within the Canvas view, hover over the category you’d like to collapse and select the ‘Collapse’ option. Your category will then minimize into a smaller circle, with all its tasks hidden. This is a useful tool for keeping your workspace neat and tidy, drowning out the ‘visual noise’ of miscellaneous to-dos so you can avoid flitting from one diversion to another. Your tasks will remain discretely hidden until you’re ready to retrieve them. Click ‘Expand’ and your category will reappear at its normal size, along with all your tasks.

4. Check out the landscape with auto-layout

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To reclaim your focus, it’s sometimes necessary to take a step back and look at the big picture. When activated, DropTask’s new Auto-Layout tool smoothly pulls all your tasks to the center of the Canvas, so you can view your entire workload with ease and rearrange or re-prioritize as needed. From this greater perspective, you can determine the most optimal organization of your tasks, and save yourself time and energy later on. To switch on Auto-Layout, click the ‘Layout’ button on the bottom right-hand corner of the Canvas and you’ll find the option to toggle Auto-Layout on or off. With this clever tip, you can be confident that there’s nothing you’re forgetting or neglecting, leaving you free to focus and putting you in full control of the responsibilities ahead.

We hope these fresh new features inspire you to find your own focus. Let us know how you get on in the comments below.

Planning your new projects

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7 Steps to getting started with DropTask

A new year often brings exciting new initiatives. But when it comes to planning your upcoming projects, it can be hard to know exactly where to begin. Whether you’re launching a new website, devising a training course or hosting an event, you’ll no doubt need a clear project plan to help you stay on track to reach your goals. A good project plan will outline your key steps, deliverables and the team members involved in the project, keeping everything organized in one place.

Today, we want to show you how DropTask can become your go-to tool for managing just about any type of project – big or small, work or home. A beautifully fluid interface hides an incredibly powerful feature set for project management, and mobile app availability makes it easy for you to stay on top of your tasks while on the go.

Let’s start with the basics – creating your first project. Follow these 7 simple steps to design a foolproof project plan and move forward with confidence.

Step 1: Start a Project

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Create a fresh Project by clicking the ‘+ Create Project’ tab under the Menu. Give it a title. Your project can be literally anything! Teachers can create projects for each class or module they teach, product developers can create projects for each new launch they work on, bloggers can create projects to manage their publishing calendar and freelance contractors can create a project for each client.

With DropTask, you can share your project with family, friends or colleagues who will be working with you. Invite them by inputting their email addresses or via Google contacts.

Once you’ve done this, a blank Canvas will open up, all ready and waiting for you to start setting up your project.

Step 2: Define Project Categories

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Categories are an important part of your project, representing topics, goals, stages or job operations. They help to divide your project into more manageable sections. For example, useful categories for your Market Research project may include ‘Online Surveys’, ‘Focus Groups’, ‘Interviews’, ‘Field Experiments’, etc.

Add a category in DropTask by simply dragging the Category bubble from the top navigation bar and ‘dropping’ it onto your Canvas. Assign a color to your category to act as a ‘code’ for increased organization.

Step 3: Plan your Tasks

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Within each Category, map out your key tasks based on the deliverables you need to produce in order to meet the project’s goals. What are the specific action steps you’re expected to complete? If you run a business club, your ‘Quarterly Event’ category might include tasks such as include ‘Organize Catering’, ‘Send Out Invitations’, ‘Prepare Presentation’, etc. To add a Task, click on the Task bubble from the top navigation bar and drag it to the appropriate category. At any time, you can move or re-position your task on your Canvas or place it into different categories via drag and drop.
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Use the ‘Add Notes’ option in the Task Sidebar to include any comments or details you think are important to complete the task (e.g. client contact information, an outline of instructions), and upload task-related Files (documents, spreadsheets, photos) using the Paperclip icon to collate all your content neatly.
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For each task, determine who will be responsible for its completion. To Assign a task to someone – i.e. yourself, a team member, or multiple people – select your chosen member from the ‘Members’ panel on the left-hand side, and drag and drop them onto your task. Or use the dropdown menu available in the Task Sidebar. To collaborate, use the @ symbol in front of a person’s name when leaving a Comment for their attention. This will notify them directly in their dashboard and via email.
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Once your categories are filled with tasks, identify any Dependencies. Do certain tasks need to be completed before you can make a start on others? Use DropTask to define the order in which a series of tasks must be actioned. Drag and drop the ‘first’ task onto its dependent. An arrow will then appear representing the link between the two tasks. Being able to visualize task connections in this way is invaluable for keeping track of your project workflow.

Step 4: Set Start and Due Dates

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Next, estimate Start and Due Dates for each action step or deliverable in your project plan. Simply select a task to open up the Task Sidebar, then select ‘Start’ or ‘Due’ situated next to the Calendar icon. A date picker will pop up for you to choose your start or due date. Once dates are set, your tasks will be automatically recorded in your Calendar, helping you manage your time effectively to meet your deadlines. As well as one-off dates, you can set timescales on a recurring basis for Repeating Tasks. When selecting a due date for your task, you can opt to repeat it every day, week, month or year. Your repeating schedule will be visible under the ‘Due’ date in the Task Sidebar and the task will be repeated in your Calendar according to the frequency you have selected.

To add even more power to your time management, you can set Task Reminders from under the ‘Alarm’ icon in the Task Sidebar. You also have the option to include an additional note to prompt you on what you need to do when alerted. Staying on track has never been so easy!

Step 5: Prioritize Tasks

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Once you have all your tasks in front of you, prioritize them by setting Importance and Urgency attributes. In the hurly-burly of the workday, it’s easy to let your biggest tasks get crowded out by emails, meetings and other small, pressing errands. Identifying your most important tasks beforehand allows you to focus your attention on where you’ll have the greatest impact. In DropTask, you can assign various levels of Importance to your tasks, which are visually highlighted on your Canvas workspace by different colored flags. First, select a task to open up the Task Sidebar. Next to the ‘Flag’ icon, you have the option to choose from one of four priority settings – Blue (low importance), Gray (normal importance), Amber (high importance) or Red (very high importance).

To rank your tasks according to Urgency, find the ‘Urgency’ icon in the Task Sidebar and select a corresponding color – Blue (low urgency), Gray (medium urgency), Amber (high urgency) or Red (very high urgency). A colored lightning bolt will appear in the task circle, drawing your attention to the most time-sensitive tasks on your Canvas. Your most urgent tasks will also appear at the top of your task list in List View.

Step 6: Mark your Progress

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As you work your way through your project tasks, keep track of how things are progressing with DropTask’s Progress Percentage Bar.  Click on a task to open up the Task Sidebar. Near the top, you’ll find the progress bar. Simply move the progress slider along the bar to record the percentage of the task that’s been completed. This allows you to visually monitor your activity and offers a quick boost to your motivation, keeping you forging ahead. Once a task is complete, just tap the ‘Tick’ button at the end of the bar to automatically slide it to 100%.

DropTask stores all your completed tasks in the Completed Tasks view, where you can see all the tasks that have been removed from your active Canvas and Calendar after completion. There are two options for viewing your completed tasks: Project Completed Tasks (via the ‘Completed’ button on the top-right hand side of the screen within your project), and All Completed Tasks (by selecting ‘Completed’ from under the Menu.

Step 7: Finish up

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So, you made it! Your project’s all done and you can revel in your success. But wait! Instead of deleting your project and forgetting all about it, Archive it in DropTask. This clears up space so you can focus on your newest projects, while still keeping a full history of what you’ve done before that you can refer back to whenever needed. To archive a project that no longer requires auctioning, select the ‘Cog’ icon situated on the right-hand side of the top navigation bar. A pop-up window will open up, which includes an ‘Archived’ option. Click ‘Yes’ next to this to safely store your project. You’ll be able to view it again under the ‘Archived Projects’ section in the main Menu.

What are you waiting for? With these quick start tips, you have the basic structure you need to launch your next project. Already using DropTask for project management? Then let us know how you go about it in the comments below. 

For more info on how each feature works, head over to the DropTask Help Hub or contact us directly at support@droptask.com.

Do things differently in 2017

5 unusual productivity hacks that get results

Each January, masses of us set the same old New Year’s resolutions for what we want to achieve and how we want to work during the months ahead. And year after year, we rely on a standard set of productivity tips and tricks to drive us on our self-improvement journey. But research by leadership development author Kevin Kruse shows that the most productive people – whether entrepreneurs, students or Olympic athletes – tend to do things differently. Making the effort to approach your work in new ways puts you in a more experimental frame of mind, so you can discover and develop more positive habits to get the most out of your days.

Instead of following the crowd, why not consider quirky or unconventional ways to kick off a productive 2017? To help you out, we asked the DropTask team how they like to do things ‘out of the box’. Here’s a round-up of their weird and wonderful advice.

1. Count to 7 – Gareth, Head of Creative Media

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When compiling my to-dos, I try to think in ‘sevens’. There’s a very good reason that the most famous lists ever recorded consist of seven items – the 7 habits of highly effective people, the seven sins, the seven wonders of the world. It’s a good number for our brains to handle, as it’s well known that the human working memory can only hold about seven pieces of information at a time. Faced with more than that, we can become overwhelmed into inaction rather than taking action. So, for every project I’m working on, I’ll set down a maximum of seven tasks or milestones to make it appear manageable. That way I find it much easier to stay motivated towards my bigger goals, without stressing out.

2. Go mobile – Yogi, Head of Marketing

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Like most office workers, I spend most of my days sitting down at a desk. But long periods in my chair can cause my work rate to slow down and I become sleepy or achy. When this happens, I switch my work location by going to visit a colleague in another office or doing simple tasks on my phone or iPad while standing or moving about. At DropTask HQ we have standing desks, where you readjust your desk to a height that allows you to do your work standing up. This helps you avoid staying in one posture for too long and prevents your body and mind from getting sluggish. Worth a try if you ask me!

3. Hide your to-dos – Rowanne, Marketing Executive

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You might think it’s a good idea to leave your files and papers out on your desk, as a visible reminder of what you need to do. Or to keep your inbox and ‘work-in-progress’ documents open on your computer so you can access them quickly. But all this does is create a messy work environment – both physically and mentally – which can be an obstacle to getting stuff done. I like to take control of my workspace by tidying my desk every day and putting away my to-dos until I’m ready to work on them. And every week I take time to organize and clean out my digital stuff as well, including emails and apps. With my DropTask projects, I can stay focused on what’s relevant right now by simply Collapsing Categories, hiding any less critical errands and information. This gives me a stronger sense of control as I can avoid getting distracted while working on a high-priority task, but can quickly retrieve all my to-dos when the time is right.

4. Have a moan – Kevin, Lead Software Developer

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I’m not saying that it’s good to be a ‘Negative Nancy’. We all know that constant complaining and whining can be detrimental in the workplace. But if there’s genuinely something that’s preventing you or others from being productive, then it’s important to raise it as an issue. For example, if you’ve got a beef about a certain procedure that’s impacting on your decision making or performance, then you should complain about it – but in a constructive way. Stay away from personal judgments about who’s to blame and focus on finding solutions for positive change. This prevents resentment building up and opens the door to discussion on new, productive action for everyone to work better together.

5. Don’t manage your time – Ben, Developer

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There’s no denying that the modern work environment carries a high risk of burnout, what with working longer hours to combat overflowing in-trays, data being thrown at us non-stop and the immediacy of communication technologies. Often, we try to take control of these demands through time management methods that help us squeeze more into our day, cramming our calendars to the brim. The problem with this approach is that time is not renewable. However, energy is. You can’t add more hours to the day, but you can manage your energy to improve your concentration and focus to achieve important outcomes rather than mindlessly running through your tasks like a robot. My productivity plummets after a stretch of time and I get tired and foggy. For most of us, this happens after 90–120 minutes (known as our ultradian rhythms). Instead of trying to push through the slump, I break down my day into 90-minute ‘work sprints’. Following each 90-minute session, I take a break for 15–20 minutes to go for a short walk, listen to uplifting music or grab a snack. This helps to disengage my mind so I can completely refuel, before heading back refreshed for the next 90-minute work cycle.

What unusual or offbeat productivity strategies have you found effective? Share your experiences in the comments below.

How DropTask helped ‘Storyminers’ to complete one of their most complex projects of 2016

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Mike Wittenstein runs one of the world’s first experience design firms, ‘Storyminers’. He and his teams have helped over 700 companies in 25 countries. Here’s how DropTask for Business has helped him.
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In his own workplace, Mike was fed up with a disorganized amount of messy papers that landed on his desk when new client work started. Reminders, tasks for others, copy points, strategy notes, and other ideas seemed to be floating everywhere. The proper communication of key actions to others sometimes slipped. Then, he stumbled across DropTask, which helped him to organize and track the company’s entire workload in one productive workspace.

One morning I found myself at my desk with several piles of papers over an inch thick, with each stack and page mixed up within a disorderly pile which was getting me down. I needed to convert all of the information on the pages into my new Business/Marketing Plan for the New Year, but I just couldn’t get the information to flow into the new picture of the way that I wanted things to work. The problem I had was that the picture was in my head, and no-one else could visually understand the way I wanted the company to progress forward.

Then I came across DropTask. As soon as I created my first project, I felt more in control. I had all of the tools that I needed to work quickly and think nimbly. DropTask comfortably shaped itself around my working needs, and its visual nature of displaying tasks as circles showed me that it was different from other tools on the market. No matter when or where my ideas came to me, I could instantly input them into DropTask and watch them come to life as the new business model took shape. The ability to nest categories within one another made it easy to share the relationship each idea had with others on my team and let me quickly assess where my time needed to be spent.

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We also use DropTask to plan new accounts. Typically, the work begins in the Canvas view where all of our tasks are displayed as engaging circles which are easily accessible by using the drag-and-drop feature. Initially, we use this view to code everyone’s ideas in real-time. If members are having a 1:1 conversation, they simply use the ‘@’ icon, which notifies one another that they’ve been mentioned in a comment. As a team, we view the entirety of the year’s project, including its minor details, by zooming in and out of the Canvas, giving us the bigger picture of who’s working on what and what is yet to be completed.

‘It feels like we’re all on the same page, because we literally are!’

We have planned one of 2016’s most complex projects in DropTask for Business, including one of our key workshops, the ‘Reason for Being’. This workshop is part of the work that we do to help our clients to understand, in one sentence, whom they serve and what their value is to their clients. It sounds easy but it’s really hard work. Now, thanks to DropTask, it’s faster and easier. Using DropTask has helped us reduce the time that it takes to work on these workshops by 50%. It adds much needed simplicity to the planning process and allows us to quickly add information to our projects without losing any detail – something that we frequently experienced when we were limited to voice notes.
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Seeing in real-time where each key thought lands on the Canvas for our new 2016 business model helped us to pull all loose ends together and form a strategy which the entire team was able to understand. There’s something special that happens when you connect your thoughts in your head and share them on screen; It not only creates a lasting association which makes it easier to remember what order you need to act upon tasks, it also helps improve everyone’s understanding of the connections between tasks.
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With the help of DropTask for Business, we now share all of our ideas in one creative space, communicate with one another, edit task progress and assign ownerships, all before transporting our finished Project into iMindMap, in preparation for our next meeting with our clients. Now, team members and I can share the same context about work because DropTask for Business simplifies the whole process of planning, managing, and getting projects across the finish line.

To learn more, sign up for free at www.droptask.com/signup

Already a DropTask user? Share your story with us at contact@droptask.com for your chance to be featured in a future post!

What a year! A look back at DropTask in 2016

As 2016 says its goodbyes, we can’t help looking back and reflecting on the incredible journey we’ve made so far. Thanks to the loyal support and feedback of our users, the DropTask brand has gone from strength to strength. It’s been an eventful 365 days packed with feature improvements, added integrations, and of course the launch of our cutting-edge new version DropTask 2!  We’ve loved every minute and hope you’ve enjoyed the ride with us.

Here’s a round-up of our high points of the year, as well as a sneaky glimpse of what’s in store for 2017.

A recap of our best moments

New-look notifications

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As developments in our beta program steamed ahead, early 2016 brought the announcement of a transformed notification center. When it comes to our tasks and projects, we all want to be in the know. But what we don’t want is to drown under a wave of information, alerts and updates. With our new-style notification center, simplicity is the goal, so now you’re only alerted to key changes or updates to your tasks (such as reminders and comments). This limits interruptions and gives you the chance to focus and take action on what’s most important. Worried you’ll miss something? Your notifications won’t go anywhere until you’ve seen and ‘dismissed’ them, putting you firmly in control of information, not the other way around!

More powerful integrations

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While last year saw the release of our Evernote and Outlook plugins, we hit another milestone in the first few months of 2016 when we added even more cool integrations, allowing you to streamline the way you work across a bunch of your favorite services. From managing incoming emails to syncing calendars to file sharing, we have you fully covered:

  • Gmail and Outlook: Master your inbox and transform emails into actionable tasks, ensuring no inbound to-dos are forgotten.
  • Evernote: With two-way sync, you can bring your notes to life in DropTask or send to-dos straight into Evernote to build up your ideas.
  • Google Drive and DropBox: Instantly upload documents and images to tasks, making it easy to share important info and stay organized.
  • Google Calendar: Sync your projects with Google Calendar for a complete view of your schedule, with visual priority settings to keep you on track.
  • Google Contacts: Invite your existing contacts to collaborate on tasks, and get more done together.
  • iMindMap 10: See your ideas through to completion by exporting branches or whole mind maps into DropTask. Or collate your to-dos in iMindMap 10 to explore ideas further.

Beautiful task management – DropTask 2 unveiled

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You asked for it, you got it! The DropTask HQ was a hive of activity this year as we sought to implement our biggest shake up yet, taking on board your valuable ideas, comments and suggestions in our forum and community pages. Launched in September, DropTask 2 was the result of many insightful conversations and interactions with you guys – our faithful supporters – and is a proud achievement for us all!

In this completely revamped version, we unleashed a stunning new interface design and more fluid operation, with fresh features like:

  • Workflow View: Offers a Kanban-style workspace to map out your project workflow and take you from ‘Doing’ to ‘Done’ with ease.
  • Built-in Calendar: Brings together all of your tasks from every project and allows you to view them by Start Date or Due Date, helping you plan ahead and stay on top of your schedule.
  • Team Calendars: Check the availability of others by viewing their calendars and collaborate more effectively as a team.
  • Start and Due Dates: Assign start and due dates to your tasks to better manage your time and boost your planning efficiency.
  • Collapsible Categories: Eliminate information overload and improve your focus by hiding tasks to reveal only what you need to see at any given moment.
  • Auto-Layout: Activate this feature to optimize the arrangement of your tasks within the Canvas, giving you a centralized view of the whole picture.
  • Completed Tasks: Celebrate achievements with a historic view of all the tasks you’ve successfully completed.
  • Enhanced Filtering: Cut through the noise and focus on the tasks that matter with a variety of extra filter options, including Assignee, Importance, Keywords, Effort, Tags, Due Date, Attachment and Status (Not Started, In Progress, On Hold).

We love bold visuals here at DropTask, and this advanced, feature-packed rendition doesn’t let the side down. Now with four display modes (our original Canvas, Workflow, List and Completed), you can view and manage your workload with confidence, and bring teams together like never before. Learn more about DropTask 2 in our previous blog post.

Where we’re headed in 2017

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With an awesome (and super busy!) 2016 behind us, you may be wondering what could possibly be on the horizon for next year. To give you a hint, we’ll be branching out and looking to make DropTask accessible to more people around the world. New options for introducing reporting are also on our radar, giving teams greater insight into progress, performance, and management. And, in keeping with what makes DropTask special, we’ll be experimenting with some exciting alternative visualizations and enhancements.

Above all, what we’re most excited about in 2017 is helping our users achieve their productivity goals in bigger and better ways. Stay tuned for more by checking our blog from time to time, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for our hottest news and tips.

From all of us at DropTask, thank you for making 2016 our best year yet. See you in 2017!

Setting SMART work goals for the new year

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With 2017 just around the corner, our thoughts turn to our aspirations and goals for the coming year. For many of us, this involves making New Year’s resolutions for what we want to accomplish professionally. But while we may kick off the year with good intentions, the hard truth is most New Year’s resolutions don’t live long enough to see February. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 8% of people that set New Year’s goals go on to actually achieve them!

There’s a good reason for that, and it’s not just about lack of willpower or motivation. Often resolutions are simply too vague, over ambitious, irrelevant or not feasible enough to work. To avoid new year failure in the workplace, try making SMART resolutions for your career instead. Like SMART goals, these are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. What’s cool about this clever approach is that it transforms wishy washy New Year’s resolutions into powerful objectives that can be boldly actioned, helping you work smarter rather than harder.

What are you waiting for? Get ready for the new year with these SMART steps.

1. Make your work goal specific

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The first step in SMART goal setting is to define your goal with enough detail to make it crystal clear what you want to accomplish. Generalized goals such as “get more clients”, “write a book” or “find a new job” aren’t great for getting results because they don’t provide sufficient direction or motivation, and can be awkward to measure. By adding more clarity to each of these statements, we can narrow down exactly what we want to achieve:

  • Obtain three high-spend ($50,000+) corporate clients
  • Write a 60,000 word small business guide
  • Land a marketing position at xyz company

It’s simple but it works. Research by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that setting specific and challenging goals led to higher performance in 90% of cases.

To make your goal more specific, think about the who, what, when, where and why involved in making it a reality. DropTask users will know how easy it is to turn goals into actionable tasks, complete with added notes, files, sub-tasks and priority settings. You can even create an entire Project dedicated to your goals, which can act as a visual, clutter-free hub for all your goal setting and tracking activity.

2. Make your work goal measurable

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How will you know if your goal has been reached? Add precise targets, metrics or best practice standards so you can measure your degree of success. Try to use numerical values where possible as they’re more clear-cut. Things like sales volume/profit, units of production, word counts, costs to be reduced, budgets to work within, number of customers, clients to be contacted, time taken or ratios. For your email marketing, key goals might include “increase new subscribers by x%” and “increase conversion rate by x%”. If you publish regularly on a blog, you might set measures to write at least 2 blog posts and research 5 new post ideas every week. Is your goal too soft to evaluate in a quantifiable way? Then create a list of behavioural standards or observations to check progress, such as correct procedures to follow for dealing with customer complaints. Whatever the nature of your goal, making it measurable is a great motivator and helps you easily review how you’re getting on. At regular intervals, set aside 5 minutes to assess your progress using our Task Status feature – mark off the measures you’ve completed and re-plan or re-prioritize around your upcoming tasks.

3. Make your work goal attainable

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Setting goals is one thing, making sure you can achieve them is another. Facing a big mountain of a goal can be daunting – you’ll have little hope in reaching the top and risk losing confidence in your abilities. On the flip side, you shouldn’t set goals that are too easy either. Look to ‘raise the bar’ and go beyond your current level of achievement with goals that stretch your abilities. There’s a greater chance of hitting a larger goal when you build on it ‘bit by bit’ rather than through huge leaps. So, our advice is to start small. If customer satisfaction levels are low, aiming for a 10% improvement right away may be far too big an expectation. Aim for 5% instead, and once you’re there, look at increasing the challenge to take you closer to that 10%. Examine your own goal. If it’s looking a bit hairy, break it into smaller milestones so you don’t get overwhelmed. This is easily done using DropTask’s Checklist which allows you to add any number of sub-tasks to a bigger task. These can be completed and checked off individually, clearly showing progress. Repeating tasks can also come in useful for reminding you to stay on top of any recurring activities in your action plan.

4. Make your work goal relevant

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Are your work goals being set for the right reasons? Don’t set certain goals just because you think you should, otherwise you won’t be as passionate or committed to achieving them. Make sure that each goal is relevant to your overall vision for your career or to furthering the mission of the company. Ask yourself: Does this goal fit into the bigger picture? Is it worthwhile? When you have a sexy goal that’s relevant to your future, you’ll be far less likely to toss in the towel when any obstacles crop up along the way. Think about how you can align all your lower-level, short-term goals so that they advance the pursuit of your higher-level, long-term goals and you’ll be sure to stay on the right path. In DropTask, use Task Dependencies to visually display and maintain the structure of your goals as you move closer and closer to your achieving your ambitions.

5. Make your work goal timely

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Every work goal should be time-bound in some way, either with a deadline for completion, time scales for key milestones or a frequency cycle. Deadlines add a sense of urgency to a goal, bringing quicker achievement, and are the final anchor in making your goal real and tangible. Pick a sensible time frame to allow yourself some leeway for the unexpected, while still prompting you to press ahead. Quarterly deadlines can be quite manageable for most work projects, and prevent goals drifting: “I will reduce monthly expenses by 10% within 3 months.” Or set dates for key achievements along the route to a major goal, such as deadlines for the planning, development and implementation of a new IT system, and then further time frames for testing the system and training the team to use and understand it. Our in-built Calendar allows you to plan your work goals by Start and Due Date, so you can get started, maintain momentum and achieve all you set out to do, right on time.  With Team Calendars you have the ability to share your calendar with others, so you can garner support from your colleagues to help you stick to your goals. And they’ll be there to celebrate with you when you reach the finish line!

We would love to hear about your SMART work goals, so please leave a comment below. What other goal methods do you like to use? Happy goal setting for the new year!

How to stay productive over the festive season

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It’s coming up to that special time of year – the mince pies are out, cheesy Christmas tunes are blaring and everyone’s full of festive cheer. But with a relaxed vibe permeating the workplace, the winter season can end up being a productivity black hole. Minds drift to gift shopping, travel planning and holiday entertaining, and focusing on your work to-dos and deliverables is trickier than ever! It’s no surprise that lots of businesses opt to put decisions and new projects off until the new year.

How can you keep your productivity (as well as your festivity) on a high as the holiday season takes hold? We’ve put together a list of 4 ways to help you and your team dodge the end of year workflow ‘dip’ without dampening the Christmas spirit.

1. Get a head-start on year-end projects

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When it comes to end of year productivity, good planning is key. Start working on your upcoming projects earlier than you need to so you’re ahead of target when the Christmas chaos hits full swing. Do some brainstorming, prepare content, plan your milestones or set the wheels in motion to bring in new clients. In DropTask, create Templates for projects that will require similar actions, such as events, and you won’t have to start from scratch each time. While you’re getting organized, why not Archive any completed projects so that they don’t distract you from your new focus? With fewer to-dos on your plate later in the season, you’ll be able to eat, drink and be merry at office parties and social gatherings minus the guilt.

2. Don’t over-commit

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During December, the boundaries of work and leisure can start to blur quickly as people get into the holiday spirit, and colleagues won’t be as inclined to stay late and work overtime. Make sure you have realistic expectations of what you and your team can achieve in this period. Aim to prioritize any critical tasks during the first half of the month and don’t schedule any important meetings for the last two weeks if you can manage without them. You may have to say no to some obligations in order to meet your most important deadlines without overfilling your calendar (or losing your sanity!). Use DropTask’s Task Importance feature to keep sight of your main goals and wrap up the year in style.

3. Catch some winter rays

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When all the holiday pressure starts to get on top of you, take a break outside to get some daylight before the sun makes its customary 4pm disappearance. Lack of sunshine in wintertime can lead to lower energy levels and alertness, making you less productive. Seek out the sun to nourish your body and mind, or use a sun lamp at your desk to simulate the effects of natural light. This will give you a chance to refresh and recharge your batteries before jumping back into the fray.

4. Spread Christmas cheer

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Never underestimate the value of creating a fun and festive atmosphere in the workplace. Holiday decorations, Secret Santa, ugly Christmas sweaters and tasty treats might seem a bit childish, but they work wonders for morale, demonstrating that you care for your team members and want them to enjoy themselves. Try planning amusing games and contests for your workers to unwind and bond, such as a ‘decorate your space’ or most creative out-of-office holiday auto reply competition, or even a surprise visit from Father Christmas. Recognition through small gifts and rewards (gift cards, sports tickets, time off) can also go a long way in motivating people and making them feel valued. In a Workforce Mood Tracker survey conducted by Globoforce, 86% of workers say that being recognized motivates them to work harder in their jobs. So, no matter what, don’t forget to thank everyone for their year-round efforts in helping to make your business successful.

How do you and your team stay on the ball at work during the hectic holiday season? Share your festive productivity tips in the comments below.