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I have often been asked how I keep all of my task lists organized. Based on interviews with other assistants, I have been surprised at how many still solely rely on a pad of paper and a pen. I wanted to share my tools in case other assistants are interested in exploring other options that might help to shave time off of more manual approaches. The best approach will vary based on the type of assistant role, but I wanted to share what has worked for me in case it helps anyone else to become more efficient.
I'm listing this one first because it is my hands down favorite tool! Keeping all of your to-do lists organized as an assistant is an ongoing task, and if you haven't discovered a great task management app, I recommend giving Asana a whirl.
First of all, using a task management app has increased my efficiency as an assistant immensely. I have always been a very organized person, but I used to have a more manual approach to the way I organized my tasks (I admit it, I was a pen and paper person). The fact that it's a digital system gives you access across all devices and the ability to search current and archived tasks. It also allows you to share your lists with other team members and even cuts down on email communication. The main plus for me is that it makes it very hard for even the smallest detail to fall through the cracks. It's incredible!
I'll go into more detail about tips on how to make the most out of Asana in another article, but for those who would like other options to check out, I have heard great things from other assistants about Trello and Wunderlist as well. I have an extensive list of other task management options here.
I have heard of other assistants who use their inbox, Evernote and other electronic systems for managing their tasks, so I want to address going that route. You can establish a system using another electronic system but just keep in the back of your mind that you are missing out on some incredible features that a tool that has been created solely for the purpose of managing tasks has. Sometimes the tiniest feature can have a major effect on your productivity so why not take advantage of the best option that is available?
Sometimes there are documents that need to be referenced in tasks in Asana (or another task management app). Although Asana allows you to attach documents to tasks and subtasks, it's always helpful to add a link to where the main document is housed. Dropbox is my favorite cloud storage tool and one I recommend checking out if you are helping your principal transition into a paperless office/lifestyle. There are many other options besides Dropbox and you can see my ongoing list of other cloud storage solutions here.
Notepad and pen
I love having a pad of paper and a pen to grab to jot down tasks on the go. I almost always use these notes to input my to-do items into Asana later, pending the task doesn't take less than 20-30 seconds to complete.
I typically prefer a notepad that's around 6"x9" in size, has a binding on the left side so the back side of the paper is not wasted and has a decently sturdy cover so it can survive everyday bumps and shoves into my purse. I have enjoyed my notepads by Moleskin and Ricco Bello but I do go through them quickly and have found that the inexpensive Mead options aren't too bad.
I want to point out that it helps to keep pens and notepads everywhere you work. For example, if you are on the go, keep a stash in your car. No matter what, always keep extras in your desk drawer and in your purse. I know we always have our phones on us and can use its notepad function, but batteries die so it's always best to be prepared.
It's handy to use the digital notepad if you happen to not have a paper and pen handy as well as the microphone for dictating notes for yourself. I also love always having access to the Asana app.
Since I do rely on my iPhone so much especially for access to the Asana app on the go, I do like to keep extra chargers everywhere. Part of being able to manage a to-do list is being able to always have access to it. As I mentioned in the notepad and pen section, think through everywhere you work so you are set up in all locations. It doesn't hurt to go a step further and keep an external battery case (I have this one) in your purse to really make sure you are never in the lurch.
I'm not a big fan of paper but for larger projects sometimes print outs are necessary. For example, if there's a large event that I'm organizing I will usually print out my Asana to-do list as well as catering orders, team building game rules and any other items that would be helpful to not have to dig through my phone to find. That entire project will be in that folder since I will be executing it while running around. Once it is complete, I will scan any documents that were not in Asana to make sure everything is in one place before it is marked as complete just in case I ever need to reference that archived task it at some point in the future.
I use post-its very sparingly. If there's something major on my task list that I do not want to forget, then I like to stick it in a location that is front and center directly in front of my face until it's complete. I also like to make sure the post-it is a nice bold color (such as these) so it's extra obvious. Asana hasn't failed me, but this is just how I am extra careful about covering my bases. However, I never use post-its for any confidential items.
I prefer to use the desktop version of Asana to the mobile version, so always having Wi-Fi access is key. Sometimes a cell phone has the ability to be used as a hotspot, so purchasing a separate one is not always necessary. If you do need to purchase a separate hotspot then I recommend seeing what kind of a deal your mobile carrier can give you. I was able to get a hotspot for $1 when I added it onto a plan I already had, so you might not need to spend $100+ for a new device.
The tools and best method for your task lists will vary greatly based on your role. I've had roles where I spent most of my time on the go and having a hotspot was one of the most crucial items I depended on, however that was totally unnecessary when I was in a purely office setting and didn't go offsite. I recommend maximizing technology and making sure your lists are handy in any situation you could possibly need to access them.