Everyone I talk to in business today is busy. Even as things have slowed down in physical office locations, technology has allowed us to stay connected to continue to get work done. Add in video meetings with business colleagues, friends, family, doctors, and school teachers and it seems we really haven’t slowed down much.
This is a lot to manage. And fewer meetings face-to-face means we need to have a way to keep everything in order.
Being techy, we love to use apps and software to track our time and manage our tasks.
That’s where task management and project management apps come in handy.
But with so many aspects of life to manage, and so many choices in apps, how do we choose the right app for the right situation?
It starts with knowing “what” we need to manage.
Sometimes, it’s easy to lump all things that need managing into a large group and dump it all into a task management app, but as you might have guessed, that isn’t the most efficient way to manage your tasks and projects.
To gain a better understanding of what you can do to optimize management of tasks and projects, let’s look at each—tasks vs projects—and distinguish the differences from the similarities to see how our favorite apps can help to maximize our productivity.
If you remember from my blog post Effectiveness and Efficiency – The Secret Ingredients of Productivity
, “We all seem to be searching for better ways to get things done so we can have more time and still be productive. When we decide to focus on increasing productivity, there are two other words we need to consider to help us get the most out of optimizing our performance. These words are effectiveness and efficiency.”
The definition for efficiency is a measure of how well you perform a task with the least waste of resources. Effectiveness is the degree to which you are successful in producing a desired result. And efficiency + effectiveness = productivity.
This is what we want to maximize when managing tasks or projects to get the best result with the least amount of effort, frustration, resources. We look for task management apps to help us manage our days so we can ultimately be more productive. We want our projects to go smoothly and give us more time in the end.
Understanding the nature of what you want to want to accomplish, and the best tools to use, will help you manage tasks and projects with more efficiency and effectiveness, resulting in greater output of your desired outcomes! Wow, just look at how these concepts all tie together!
So what’s the difference between a task and a project?
A task is usually a one or two-step item that needs to be completed. It’s a small amount of action with an important outcome. The task itself is also the action that needs to be performed. For instance, ‘e-sign a contract’ is a task that needs completing and it’s also the action that needs to be completed.
The task IS the action item. So if it’s just one thing, why do we need to manage it? Ah, well, that’s where the to-do list comes in. I don’t know anyone who has only one task to do. Because tasks are self-explanatory and usually one or two-step processes, it’s easy to lump all tasks together into one list for maintenance.
Thus, task management becomes the managing of multiple, often unrelated tasks. This is where the need for organization and prioritization come into task managing.
Projects are larger initiatives that have multiple steps, take numerous resources, and can involve coordinating and collaborating with others to reach the desired end result. They have a start date, a due date, and milestones along the way.
To manage a project, you need to attend to the little details of each step while still keeping the big picture of the end result top-of-mind. This means the planning process will be more detailed, and bigger considerations, like scope and cost, will factor into the planning.
Because projects can be broken down into steps, aka tasks, we often think the two should be managed in the same way. And while they do have similarities—you have to manage tasks to manage a project—they also have key differences that are good to keep in mind when forming a plan for execution and choosing which software or app to use.
When to use project management vs task management.
Now that we’ve outlined the differences between tasks and projects, you may already have some ideas about the way you currently manage them.
Maybe you’re trying to make your to-do list app serve as a tracker for larger projects or perhaps the size and complexity of your projects have outgrown current project management system. By assessing the size and needs of your tasks or projects, you can easily identify which tool will give you the outcome you’re looking for.
When to use task management
Task management is used to track and manage the completion of independent or repetitive tasks. These tasks can be personal and completed by you alone, or they can be work-related and spread out among colleagues.
Use task management when you need to:
- Break bigger projects down into smaller chunks
- Delegate and track tasks of team members
- Routinely complete the same tasks at a set time
- Keep track of small to-dos that might slip from your mind
- Have a comprehensive list of all your to-dos for quick organization
When to use project management
Project management is used to take a larger initiative and break it down into the necessary steps for completion. Projects can have medium to large levels of complexity and involve managing many aspects of what it takes to complete the project, such as individuals, tasks, timelines, supplies, resources, and budgets. These pieces of the larger project must be planned and coordinated in order to meet the ultimate goal of completing the project successfully.
Use project management when you need to:
- Oversee moving parts of a larger project
- Track multiple schedules and timelines
- Coordinate with colleagues and clients
- To store files and communications about the project
- Track other important details such as invoicing or budget
By now, you probably have a sense of whether you need to use task management or project management in a given situation. You can quickly run a few questions through your head to decide how you want to plan and manage your next endeavor like:
- Does the task need to be broken down into many steps?
- Do I need to collaborate with more than one other person?
- Is the timeline for completion short or farther out?
- Will I need to track multiple dates and details such as budget?
- Are these one-off tasks or will they be repeated month after month?
When you lay out your requirement ahead of the project or task, you can look for the best tools to fill your specific requirements, instead of trying to force-fit your task into your go-to app or software.
There are so many tools on the market for managing tasks and projects on the market.
The tool you choose should be as simple as possible while still including the features you need. It should be easy to use and stay within your budget. Making the right choice upfront will give you the efficiency and effectiveness that results in the productivity you want.
You don’t have time to review hundreds of apps on the market that are advertised as task or project management tools. Luckily, you have me to do that for you. As a member of the Paperless Movement Inner Circle, you have access to videos, blog posts, and productivity guides that highlight the apps I consider to be the cream of the crop. You can simply read the reviews and watch the videos to find the best fit for you.
Here is a small overview of the types of apps you can use for task and project managing, followed by a shortlist of my favorites. (If you want to go into more detail about these tools, leave a note in the comments, or reach out to the group in the Inner Circle Forum.)
Examples of task management apps: Todoist, Evernote, Wunderlist, NoteShelf2, Nebo
Examples of project management apps: Basecamp, Wrike, Asana, Trello, Clickup
For personal or solopreneur task management: TODOIST
- ToDoist is my favorite task manager when it comes to personal task management. As long as no other person is involved, ToDoist is great. (For team task management, I use Asana as it offers a lot more functionalities that I need managing my team.)
Task management for teams: ASANA
- As a team leader I implemented Asana for my team at work first. After showing that my team had a 45% performance improvement it was implemented for the whole department. When it comes to collaboration and productive work, there is no better tool you can use.
Bonus tool: PLEEXY
- Pleexy was the missing link between Asana and ToDoist! I use Pleexy to sync my tasks from Asana to ToDoist. This way ToDoist 2-way synchronizes my tasks with my Google Calendar! This allows me to have a single source of truth, even though I use different apps to organize my tasks.
Now you might be thinking, “But Tom, doesn’t your Digital Journal Designer have features I can use for both task and project managing? Well, yes it does.
The Digital Journal Designer
offers flexibility in the features you want to include, which means you can add a sheet for to-do lists, or you can include a section dedicated to project planning. And for collaboration with team members, you can use the app integration feature to upload your notes to the note-taking app of your choice. While it’s not as robust as a full-blown project managing program, it can serve this function for those who need a mid-range level of project management.
When it comes to mastering your processes in the name of efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity, clearer thinking produces clearer action. Knowing the difference between managing tasks and projects gives you the clarity you need to choose the right plan, actions, and tools to give the best possible outcome.