The day-to-day grind of managing an office can wear down any office manager. Delegating tasks to staff members is a necessity if you want to maintain your sanity and keep your office running smoothly. However, you also need to stay on top of the tasks you delegate.
Asking a staff member to complete a task is not enough. You need to follow up on the tasks that you assign to be sure the tasks are getting done. To successfully keep track of the tasks you need to follow up on, use a method that you are comfortable with and follow it faithfully.
Most office computers have productivity software that includes tools that are designed to help you manage tasks. Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 and Microsoft Entourage 2004 for Mac include features that you can use to keep your office on track and monitor the tasks you've delegated.
The tasks features in Outlook and Entourage can help you set up and manage tasks. You can use the tasks feature to accomplish the following:
- Create a task When you create a task, the creation date is recorded automatically. You can also specify the due date and priority.
- Assign a task The assignment date is recorded automatically when you assign a task. When you assign a task to one of your staff, the assignee receives an e-mail message with the task assignment. If the assignee clicks the Accept button, the task appears on the assignee's task list.
- Sort tasks Staff members that you assign tasks to can see that the tasks came from you. Assignees can sort their tasks according to who requested the tasks, so they can automatically keep track of all the tasks that you assign.
- Update a task The task assignee, who is the owner of the task, can keep the task information current by recording the start date, percent complete, and any notes.
- Send a status report The assignee can send you a status report on the task, automatically updating your tasks list with the current status information.
- Schedule a reminder You or the task assignee can schedule task reminders. To remind you to follow up on delegated tasks, you might want to schedule a reminder for each task. For example, you could schedule a reminder for each assigned task for Friday at 9:00 A.M. On Friday morning, reminders would appear for all the tasks that you need to follow up on. Follow up on the tasks as soon as you receive a reminder to be sure you don't forget. If you need to follow up on a task a second or third time, open the specific task reminder and update the reminder date and time.
The calendar in Outlook and Entourage is a great tool to use to schedule and organize your appointments, events, and meetings. In a busy office, it can be difficult to find the time to do the necessary task follow-up. You can use the calendar tools to:
- Schedule a recurring appointment to follow up on a task By scheduling a recurring appointment to follow up on tasks that you've assigned to your staff, you can make sure that you're not neglecting this important job. To set aside the same time each week to follow up on the tasks that you've assigned, schedule a recurring appointment in your calendar for that time each week.
- Schedule a meeting with someone you've assigned a task to If you want to meet with a staff member about a task that you assigned, schedule a meeting and require that person to attend. When you create an appointment or meeting, remember to set a reminder for the event so that a message automatically displays to remind you of the scheduled event.
Communicating with your staff by e-mail is essential in any office. The e-mail features in Outlook and Entourage make it easy to monitor and schedule e-mail messages about delegated tasks.
- Flag an e-mail message When you send and receive e-mail messages about an assigned task, you might want to flag the messages. Flagging the e-mail messages on a particular topic can help you find them easily. To flag a message when you have an e-mail message open, click the Follow Up button (the button with the red flag). When you flag a message, you can set a due date and time, select a flag color, and mark the task completed. To view all your flagged messages, sort your messages by clicking the Sort by: Flag Status column heading. You can also move your flagged messages into a separate folder.
- Write and schedule a reminder message After you assign a task, you can write a reminder message to the assignee and schedule delivery for a particular date. Write a reminder when you assign the task to ensure that you don't forget.
You can initiate e-mail messages, appointments, and tasks right from your contacts list in Outlook and Entourage. When you initiate these activities from the contacts list, Outlook and Entourage track the activities so that you can view them at any time from a contact record.
You can also link electronic files to a contact. For example, if you have a contact record for Terry Adams, and you've asked Terry to work on some tasks and Microsoft Office Word 2003 documents, you can link these tasks and Word documents to Terry's record. Then you can open all of these tasks and Word files directly from Terry's record, without having to search for them.
If you prefer a paper trail to an electronic organization method, using tickler files might work for you. Tickler files can be set up in three different ways.
Daily tickler folders
Create a file folder for every day of the week and a file folder for every month of the year. When you delegate a task, place a copy of the task description in the folder that corresponds to the date on which you want to follow up.
Preferably at the same time each day, remove the folder for that day and follow up on all of the tasks in that folder. If you need to follow up on a task again, place that task in the folder that corresponds to a future date. At the beginning of each month, move the items from that month's folder into the daily folders.
Priority tickler folders
You can set up tickler files based on a priority system. For example, you could create three file folders: one for high priority, one for medium priority, and one for low priority. Place a copy of the task description in the folder that corresponds to the task's priority.
Employee tickler folders
You can designate a tickler folder for each of your staff members (or sections). When you assign a task to an employee or section, place a copy of the task description into the corresponding folder. When you meet with that employee or section, you can have all of your task information in one place for quick review.
Job status board
Another method of staying current with assigned tasks is to use a chalkboard or a whiteboard as a job status board. For each task, write on the board:
- Task description.
- Date assigned.
- Person that you assigned the task to.
- Follow-up date.
- Due date.
Write the follow-up date in a different color so that it stands out. Check your board daily, and follow up on the indicated date. If after you've done your initial follow-up you need to follow up again, change the date and repeat as needed. Erase the task from the board when it has been completed.
The day planner
If you like using a daily planner, keep track of the tasks that you've delegated in your planner. Write down each task and its relevant information on the date to which you assigned the task in your planner. Also record the task information on the date in your planner that you want to follow up on the task. When you look at the follow-up date in your planner, you will have a reminder.
Follow through on your delegation
To be successful at delegating tasks, you must make sure that staff members finish the tasks that you assign. Find the follow-up method that works best for you, and stick with it. Make recording task assignments and following up part of your day-to-day routine. Successfully managing your office's tasks demonstrates reliability to your superiors and facilitates a smoothly running office.
About the author Kim Leszczynski is a contributing editor for OfficeOurs, the magazine of the Association of Professional Office Managers (APOM).