Taskmaster, taskmaster, make me a task!

Question: My boss has several direct reports that he meets with individually each month. After each meeting, my boss gives me his notes and I use them to assign tasks. We are looking for some software or a system to track when the tasks are assigned and a reminder when the deadlines have occurred.

We are aware of the “Tasks” feature in Outlook but we don’t want to connect everyone’s Tasks to his Calendar. He uses that as his “To Do” list as he tracks his own Tasks. I thought of an Access database but I can’t get a deadline reminder to pop up. I don’t know much about MS Project, but I thought that might be an option. I’d appreciate your suggestions. — Keisha


I do the same thing but keep the document in an Excel spreadsheet. We do not remind the people of their tasks as we don’t believe in babysitting. It is their job to retrieve the excel spreadsheet and let me know when their assignments are complete. If they are not complete by the due date then they receive a N if they do complete by the due date they get a Y. If there is a delay for completion then they need to renegotiate the due date and that is changed. At review time the manager uses this as a tool if they are completing assignments on time or not.

We do something similar and have the spreadsheet up on the screen at each weekly meeting with the green (not a risk), yellow (risk the business if not completed by deadline) and red (high risk/past the deadline) categories. Everyone is held accountable but we also do not ‘babysit.’

MS Project is a cumbersome and unforgiving program that probably wouldn’t be a good choice for just delegation and assignment of tasks.

Since your boss doesn’t want the tasks on his calendar in Outlook, couldn’t you schedule the tasks from your calendar? The task would show up on your task list, but assigned tasks don’t pop up reminders for the person who assigned the task only the one that is responsible to complete it.

MS Sharepoint might be an option is you can get access to a license. It’s a web based program and allows alerts and tasks, and also has a document repository and survey tools. It’s a great tool.

Another way you might use outlook is to send the person assigned the task a ‘meeting invite’ with the task details in the body of the invite. It would serve as a reminder and you can make it so their calendar still shows they are free.

Just some initial thoughts, hope that helps.

– Sherry

I suggest using your own task list to assign the tasks, creating categories for each individual so you can pull them up by person. This way you have them on your task list and monitor them – you can also create the task and “assign” it electronically to each individual. By having their task electronic, each time you want to send a reminder of an impending due date you can just resend the task with further notes. I think Outlook is the way to go as it is on your desktop at all times.

As far as babysitting goes, I like the term “accountability” better. People are more motivated to reach deadlines when they are coached (and sometimes coaxed) along the way. Many people are great at the mechanical end of their job, but need help setting priorities(i.e., some engineers). By creating a monitoring and follow-up system, you are being a support to his direct reports thereby helping your boss accomplish his mission and reach his own goals.

Since you don’t want to assign them directly from your boss’s calendar, have you considered creating another calendar in Outlook (your IT people can do this, or whomever has admin access)? Call it “Tasks” and assign them directly from that calendar instead. This way your bosses calendar is free of having them come up on his, and you can still set up reminders as you assign each task from that calendar.

Good luck to you.

I would use MS Project, although Excel would work it’s not as graceful.

FileMaker Pro, MS Project, MS Excel, and MS Outlook all have their own great features.

‘FileMaker Pro’ is a database that can be customized. We have been using FileMaker Pro for many years to do time tracking our projects. Database development, software, and training are needed to use FileMaker Pro.

‘MS Project’ is specifically designed to track projects. Software and training would be needed to use MS Project.

‘MS Excel’ is very flexible. Prior to using FileMaker Pro, we used MS Excel. The problem we ran into was one person did all of the time entry, which was very time consuming. If everyone were to do their own entries, there would be a possibility of file conflicts of having multiple people using one file.

‘MS Outlook’ is flexible and supports multiple people. The plan proposed by Susie to use MS Outlook seems to make the most sense to me. By using MS Outlook, there is a lot of flexibility. We do this in our company to schedule conference rooms. our IT department creates a separate MS Outlook file. This way, meetings for our conference rooms do not show up on our calendars — meetings only on a calendar specifically set up for a particular conference room. A separate MS Outlook task file could be devoted just to project tracking. So you can control the MS Outlook task file, just make sure you are the owner of the file.

As far as not ‘babysitting’, I agree. Whatever system is chosen, a reporting mechanism is critical to track progress and flag any projects that may be running behind, in conflict with resources, etc.