How To Give Clear Direction in a Task

July 10, 2017 - 7 minutes read

Getting Things Done

A majority of your day as a leader is spent either getting things done or sending requests to have other people get things done.

Ideally, both you and your team are using some sort of a project management or tasking tool to communicate, organize, and maintain ongoing tasks rather than sending requests in an email.

Related: How to stop email overload

Although you may have a tool or process in place to manage tasks, it’s important that:

  1. Your team is consistently using the tool (a tool only works if you use it)
  2. Your team is giving clear direction in tasks

Remember, your job as a leader is to pave a clear path for your team. This means that any direction you provide should be crystal clear. This also means that your team should know how to provide clear direction to one another. Vague requests and information introduce confusion and the more confusion you have, the more time (money) is wasted.

Providing Clear Direction

If you are a leader or team member and you’d like someone to complete a task, provide as much information as possible so the recipient has everything they need at their disposal. Direction should include:

  1. Who: Who is responsible for completing the task
  2. When: When should it be completed
  3. Priority: Is this a critical task that I should drop everything to do or can it wait (high, medium, low)
  4. What: What is it that needs to be done
  5. How: Is there a certain way this task should be completed?
  6. If requesting that an issue be resolved, include detailed information about what you did to discover the issue

When providing clear direction, especially in a task, details surrounding ‘why’ should be avoided. When it comes time to ask someone to do something, the ‘why’ should already be understood. If it isn’t, those details should be conveyed outside the details of a task.

In addition, the subject of a task should clearly outline what needs to be accomplished so the user doesn’t have to guess. Chances are they have a long list of tasks and you want yours to stand out.

Example 1a

When you arrived at work, you opened the door to your office and the door knob fell off in your hand. You were still able to open the door, but you were no longer able to close or secure the door.

The first thing you do is sit down at your desk and send the following task to the maintenance team:

Subject: The door is broken

Details: Please fix my door. It’s broken and I can’t shut it.

When: asap

The problem with this task is that it’s extremely vague. The person receiving the task has no idea which door, what might be wrong with it, how it happened, whether it’s really an emergency, or what to do about it. It’ll require time to follow-up, which means they’ll be reaching out to you to ask additional questions. There’s going to be a holdupĀ and as a result, time will be wasted and you probably won’t have it fixed as quickly as you’d like.

Example 1b

Subject: Install new screw in knob on door to office #145

Details: One of the two screws that attach the doorknob to the door is broken. See attached images.

Assign to: Irene in Maintenance

When: Please complete by 5:00pm today so I can close and lock the door when leaving the office for the day.

In this example, the task is assigned to Irene. She’s the director of maintenance and she’s responsible for completing this type of task. Attached images should include photos of the door, the knob (including any serial numbers or identifying marks), the broken screw, and the screw that is not broken. Due date should be set to today and priority should be set to medium. Although you need the door fixed today, other high-priority tasks can take precedence. This is not an emergency.

When Irene receives this task, she knows exactly what needs to be done by reading the subject. She knows what office to go to and because she has the serial number and photo of the door knob, she can bring the exact screw that’s needed to re-attach. No additional back/forth is needed and Irene should be able to complete prior to 5pm on that same day.

The Details Matter

Any time direction is provided in a ticket, the details matter. Include images, screenshots, serial numbers, or specific error messages. Avoid fluff and get directly to the point. When providing direction in a task, your goal should be to avoid any back and forth that may take place when trying to resolve an issue or complete a task. Give your team all the information you have so they can pick up the task and run with it.

Although it may seem a bit much, we also suggest that only one issue be included in each task.

Tasks come in all different forms depending on your industry and if you’re looking for a little guidance, take advantage of our business coaching services. We’ll help define the types of tasks your team will typically work on and create a template for your team to use so task requests are as efficient as possible.