One of the simultaneously great and not-so-great things about working in sales: Your daily tasks rarely change. Although the specific deals are different, you’re doing essentially the same things — making calls, sending emails, giving presentations, and so forth.
While the routine can get boring, it’s also simpler to amp up your productivity. After all, you know what to expect.
Here’s where the science and art of task management comes into play. With an effective task management system, you can handle your one-off and recurring responsibilities with the minimum amount of time and effort.
Task management is a pretty basic concept. It’s everything involved in taking a task from an idea (“Hey, I should probably do X”) to completion. That involves its status, importance, time requirement, financial investment, and so on.
If you’re working independently, a task management tool along with task management techniques will help you cross items off your personal to-do list. If you’re working collaboratively — whether with prospects or other salespeople — these strategies will help everyone stay in sync, productive, and within the deadline.
Assigning a priority level to your tasks lets you keep track of which ones to focus on first and which to punt.
While you’re certainly free to come up with your own designations, common categories include:
Some people use a numbering system, such as:
The smaller the number, the higher the priority. The benefit of this strategy? You’ll never run out of numbers, so it’s easy to sort even the highest priority tasks.
Time-based priority categorization is even clearer. Try:
How will you know how much progress you’ve made on a task if you don’t keep track of its status?
A basic task status system is:
New: You’ve created the task, but you haven’t started working on it yet.
In-progress: You’re working on it.
On hold/postponed: You’re temporarily pausing work on this task.
Finished: You’re done with the task.
Deleted: You’re no longer working on this task because it’s irrelevant or no longer valuable.
Depending on the nature of your work, you may also want to use:
Waiting: You need someone else to do something (respond to an email, answer a question, send you a report, etc.) before you can move forward.
In review: Your manager or another stakeholder needs to sign off.
Recurring: This task repeats itself (think “Follow up with ABC Company every 2 days” or “Run pipeline report.”)
Failed: You were unsuccessful in completing the task.
Task Management Tips
1) Don’t multi-task.
You may have heard this tip before, but it bears repeating (coming from someone who switched tasks three times this morning, oops.) We all struggle to stay focused on one activity or goal, especially when something jogs your memory and you want to tackle a separate task right then.
If you haven’t added the new task to your list, do so immediately. That puts your mind at ease — you know you won’t forget it. Then keep working on the original task. Remind yourself it’s more productive in the long run to stay committed. If you need to, open up a new tab in your browser for each task so you can visually separate each item you’re working on.
2) Centralize everything.
Along similar lines, make sure all of your tasks are centralized. You might have a physical notepad or piece of paper on your desk, a running Evernote list, a to-do list app, random notes in a Google doc, a Trello board, and/or follow-up items in your CRM. How hard is it to keep track of your ongoing to-dos when you’re not sure where you saved it? Pretty darn hard.
I recommend keeping tasks in your CRM and/or project management app. Not only will you quickly find the right information, you’ll also feel less scattered.
3) Break tasks down.
Make each task as simple and actionable as possible. That means breaking them down into discrete units.
For instance, rather than adding “Upload LinkedIn Pulse post” to your to-do list, you might add:
Write LinkedIn post
Send it to Jordan for edits/feedback
It takes an extra second or two to write every task rather than the bigger goal, but it helps keep your to-do list easy to execute. You just have to read and act — no thinking necessary.
4) Schedule “sprints” and “breaks.”
Some of your tasks are far more taxing than others. If you attempt to finish all your most draining tasks back-to-back — for example, giving demos for a solid three hours — you’ll be exhausted by the end. And the same applies to semi-mindless tasks, like updating your CRM. Try to do that for hours on end, and your boredom will reach Mount Everest heights.
With that in mind, vary up your routine so you’re constantly shifting between challenging and simple activities. It’s like working out: By giving yourself frequent “breaks,” your stamina is much greater.
5) Add everything.
If it doesn’t get added to your to-do list or calendar, it probably won’t get done. Plus, you’ll miss the satisfaction of ticking items off your list. That’s why you should note every task, both personal and professional.
And don’t forget to set reminders and deadlines as well; these proactive measures will help you avoid letting things fall through the cracks.
6) But don’t be afraid to pivot when necessary.
When you get new information, learn about more important tasks, or decide something’s not working, update your to-do list accordingly. Maybe a month ago it sounded like a good idea to prospect using Eventbrite attendee lists. After trying that strategy for a few weeks, you’ve realized your efforts are better spent on other channels. Delete that recurring task from your to-do list.
Or perhaps you’ve blocked some time this evening for analyzing your highest- and lowest-performing emails. Prospect unexpectedly books a meeting to walk through your product? Closing that deal is a bigger priority, so reschedule your email analysis to a quiet period — maybe Friday afternoon.
7) Automate what you can.
It shouldn’t surprise you that HubSpotters are big fans of automating tasks. Nothing has a more noticeable impact on your efficiency than automation (and as a bonus, your engagement skyrockets when you’re not performing boring, rote tasks all day long.)
Think about the steps you take over and over. If you’re in sales, that’s probably sending outreach, follow-up, and meeting confirmation/reminder emails; updating your CRM; sharing content on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn; and researching prospects.
Automation tools can handle all of those tasks for you. With HubSpot Sales, you can create an email template or sequence, then choose which prospects to send it to and when. You just need to personalize it to the individual and voila — sending your message takes a tenth of the time. The software also automatically updates your CRM whenever your prospect engages with your email or visits your website or you contact them.
Social sharing apps let you “set and forget” posts. I recommend picking 10 to 15 posts every Sunday and queuing them up to publish on your social profiles over the course of a week. Use HubSpot Marketing for this, or try a free tool like Buffer or Hootsuite.
Clearbit, Mattermark, andDatanyzeare contact and lead enrichment platforms that’ll help you streamline the research process. The right solution will depend on your product and customer; for example, Mattermark is ideal if you sell to startups, while Datanyze is useful for technology companies. Do some investigating and figure out which will benefit you.
8) Don’t underestimate the length of time.
It’s human nature to underestimate how long you’ll need to finish a task. Unfortunately, this means you often finish the day having completed far less than you’d planned — which hurts your motivation and sense of accomplishment and can throw off your plans.
The fix? Think of the time and then the task. Rather than saying, “I have to do X, I’ll give myself an hour,” think, “I have an hour, what can I accomplish?” This usually makes your estimates more realistic.
You should also consider how long it typically takes to do tasks of this nature. Maybe last time your manager asked you to train a new hire, it took half a day — so this time around, when you’re training three salespeople, you set aside an entire day. This technique might sound obvious, but think of how often you actually use it.
HubSpot Sales Hub makes it easy to blow through your tasks list. Use tasks (available for both Free and Pro) to nurture your leads.
Here’s how it works. Choose a contact, company, or deal in the HubSpot CRM. Click “Create task.” Add a few details; set a due date; set an email reminder, task type, and task owner (all optional); and then click “Save Task.”
When you’re ready to start working, start a Task Queue. You can organize tasks by type (such as “Call,” “Email,” or “To-Do”) or simply go by everything that’s “due today.”
Then press "Start queue.” You’ll see the task you’re working on along with the relevant record. So if you want to, say, “Reach out to Lauren about her next call,” you can quickly send her an email, click “Next” and move on to the next item on your list.
Not only will this turbocharge your efficiency, it’s also a great way to bundle your tasks. I recommend putting aside an hour every morning, afternoon, and/or early evening just for sending prospecting emails, making calls, or doing research. Staying focused on one thing keeps you as focused as possible.
Looking for a smart to-do list app? This one is among the best I’ve tried. You can bucket your tasks into projects to organize them — I suggest creating generic projects for “Prospecting,” “Follow up,” etc., or single-use projects for deals, like “ABC Company.”
Then add due dates and priority statuses. Thanks to Todoist’s AI-powered features, simply typing “P1 today” or “priority 1 + [current date]” will mark that task as “first priority” with a deadline of “today.” (The priority levels are color-coded to boot, so it’s easy to skim your to-do list and see what needs to be addressed first.)
You can even add repeating due dates, like “every Tuesday at 9 a.m.”
Todoist is compatible with desktop, iOS, Android, Windows, Chrome, Firefox, Outlook, and Gmail, so no matter where you are or what you’re doing, your tasks are accessible.
If you want to start on a fresh note each day, you’ll like Microsoft To-Do’s “My Day” list. It starts as empty each morning, making you more intentional about your schedule and what you’ll achieve.
The app’s “Suggestions” are also handy. Using a smart algorithm, this feature looks at all of your to-dos and identifies the most important ones. You’ll save valuable mental energy by deciding what to focus on.
To-Do also lets you add reminders, deadlines, and comments to your tasks, personalize your lists with themes and colors and log on from your iPhone, Android, web browser, or Windows account.
Visual thinkers will love this tool, which organizes tasks and projects onto a bulletin-style interface. Each task is represented as a card (which looks like a Post-It). Cards are organized in vertical categories called boards. Drag a card into the next column to indicate its progress; for example, the first column might be “To do,” while the next column might be “Started.” You’ll be able to see at a glance what you’re working on.
You can also add checklists and due dates, upload files to specific cards, and even create cards and add comments from your email.
Didn’t you just read about Trello above? Yep — but this tool is also great for team project management. You can add as many members to a board as you’d like, add people to specific cards to delegate tasks, leave comments and add attachments, get notifications whenever someone mentions your name or makes progress on a task, and more.
Labels, filters, and a powerful search engine help you find everything you need, when you need it. And you can create an unlimited number of boards, cards, and teams … all for free.
Asana is a highly flexible task management tool that lets you plan and manage projects of all kinds. Up to 15 people can use Asana for free. Core features include creating tasks, adding deadlines and task owners, adding comments, and uploading files.
To see how your work is coming along, look at your Asana dashboard. This shows the progress of your team or project. For example, you can see how many tasks related to a project have been completed. Asana also sends you a digest every Monday morning with updates for every project on your dashboard, giving you a convenient, low-effort way to stay on top of everything.
If you’re looking for a traditional project management tool, Wrike may be the right choice. Create a project, make folders, and upload files. Wrike’s real-time editing system allows you to see who’s making which changes at what time — and thanks to its versioning features, you can easily go back and forth in time if you’re not happy with the most recent update.
Wrike also comes with Gantt charts, or visual timelines that let you view your project schedule and set dependencies (i.e., Greg can’t send the proposal to the prospect until your lawyer has reviewed it.) There’s even time, budget, and resource tracking so you know exactly how much you’re investing in each deal or project and can plan appropriately.
If you want to manage your tasks within the app, use Wrike’s personal dashboard. Drag tasks to “Today,” “This week,” “Next week,” or “Later” to organize your workload. Or sync the tool with your calendar so your tasks and your schedule are perfectly aligned.
Originally published Oct 5, 2017 6:30:00 AM, updated June 15 2021