Is your Google Calendar overbooked with tons of microprojects? Does Trello take up hours of your day? Have you made so many lists that you can’t even keep them straight anymore?
I have no doubt you’re setting up your schedule with the best of intentions, but if it feels like your attempts to stay organized aren’t paying off, chances are you’re using the wrong kind of planning tool.
Most of today’s popular scheduling tools serve one of three purposes. Make sure you’re using the right one for the job you’re trying to accomplish.
1. The Basic To-Do List
You know what a to-do list is. This kind of schedule is great for individual team members or for nonlinear projects where the order of tasks being completed isn’t very important.
Tools like Wunderlist and Any.do are awesome for those seeking something more basic because they have a clean user interface and are accessible across multiple devices. Create and save your lists in the web applications, or manage them on the go from your phone.
Use it When Your Priority Is Completing Unrelated Goals
To-do lists are simple and straightforward, which means you can quickly plan and modify them without throwing off any other part of your day. If your daily tasks aren’t dependent on one another, this will help you remember what you have to do without taking too much time for you to organize.
So, if you’re looking ahead to the weekend, and you want to buy groceries, go for a run, meet up with friends, and send a few emails; your best bet is to record all of these unrelated items on your handy to-do list.
2. The Kanban Schedule
Kanban tools focus on helping you organize tasks into buckets. Ideally, as a task moves from one bucket to the next, it gets closer to being completed. For example, these buckets could be stages of a process or subtasks within a larger task that you need to finish.
The Kanban schedule is what you see used by tools like Trello and Google Keep . They let you easily move items around, set deadlines and reminders, and share your timeline with others.
Use it When Your Priority Is Getting Through Many Structured Stages
The bucket system will help you visualize the stages in a process and track individual projects as they move through these stages. Not only can this help you manage your projects, but it might also help you spot inefficiencies in your process.
If you have a remote team of employees working on various aspects of the same project—and who are tracking progress by deliverables rather than a timetable—this is the way to go.
3. The Gantt Schedule
Gantt schedules emphasize timeliness and deadlines. With this type, you can plan out how long each step of a process should take, and how each step relates to the steps that come before and after it.
People who work based on deadlines often prefer to use Google Calendar or Instagantt from Asana. Both of these tools allow you to color code your projects (which I find incredibly helpful). They also include drag and drop features so you can easily rearrange your tasks, should something unexpected come up.
Use it When Your Priority Is Deadlines
Gantt scheduling’s focus on timeliness will help you break down the subtasks of your larger project and allocate the proper amount of time for each one. By breaking down the amount of time needed to finish the project, you’ll be able to more efficiently plan each step of the process and avoid that approaching-deadline stress.
If you want to make sure that all members of your team are completing the subtasks of a long project on time, you’ll want to use this.
Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes—today—to write down some of the most important aspects of your schedule. Don’t think about the task management tool you currently use: Just write down what’s important in your day-to-day work.
Then, take a look at your list and determine what kind of schedule would be best for you. Do you need a system that caters more to your deadlines, or do you need a simpler list that doesn’t take an hour to plan out each week?
Just don’t forget to schedule in time to tweet me and tell me how your new system is working out.