How big is your to-do list?
November 1, 2012 1:02 PM   Subscribe

What is your job, and how many "tasks" would you say you have in a given week? A given day?

I'm trying to figure out if I'm being overworked, or if my threshold for work is extremely low and I have a poor work ethic. I want to see what other people have to complete on a given day/week at work for comparison.

This is more for desk/office jobs. How many "tasks" do you need to complete in a given day? A "task" could be big or small, but keep in mind it's not the same as a "project" - it could just be any sort of item on your to-do list in one form or another. It could be a spreadsheet you have to throw together, responding to a client email, a piece of administrative upkeep, etc.

How many items do you have on your daily/weekly to-do list?
posted by windbox to Work & Money (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My number of tasks varies widely and barely correlates with how much work I have to do -- a task can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 or 4 hours to complete (and I don't mean a project, just like running one analysis for one small piece of one project could easily take this long if not longer), so some days I might do like 30 tasks, and some days I might just do a couple. I have a weekly meeting that I usually come out of with about 10-15 things on my to-do list, and a list of that length from this same meeting has taken me an hour to complete and it has taken me 3 days to complete. Number of tasks is not a useful measurement.
posted by brainmouse at 1:13 PM on November 1, 2012

Just about everything that I do at work takes between 10 and 30 minutes to accomplish, although that doesn't account for a) trying to suss out what the client actually wants (which can take anywhere from five minute to a week of constant emails) and b) following up (which can take roughly the same amount of time.) A particularly confusing/difficult thing might take an hour, but it's really, really rare that something like that happens. I tend to send out about 50-60 emails a day -- everything we do is by phone/email, so that's all the client interaction I do that isn't by phone -- 30-40 of which are wholly unique (i.e. 20 emails are ongoing conversations on the same subject.)

It would be easier to answer this question if you told us how much you worked. There is such thing as "poor work ethic" but without context, no one can tell you whether the problem is you or your company. Some people have the stamina to complaintlessly work 80-hour weeks, some people can't hold down a full-time job because of issues they have. The person who is working 80-hour weeks certainly has good work ethic, but the person working 20 hours a week because that's all they can do may very well be working just as hard.
posted by griphus at 1:17 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @stoneweaver - Let's just say a "task" is something that you see as worthy of being on your to-do list, if you keep a to-do list. Could be anything, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 4 hours.
posted by windbox at 1:21 PM on November 1, 2012

Oh, and I have a rolling to-do list, but there's about 15 tasks on it today (some will roll over , and today was pretty slow.)
posted by griphus at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2012

I am not a task1 person, I am a project2 person. I do about a dozen tasks a day, and they get in the way of my projects.

1. Flyers to go in our branches because we're closed for Veterans Day.
2. Annual report.

posted by headnsouth at 2:20 PM on November 1, 2012

This year, I switched from a job that involved many different types of tasks to a job that involves a handful of closely-related tasks. In my old job, I found it hard to concentrate, had trouble getting motivated, and made more mistakes than I would have liked - even when I gave it my all. My new job is more challenging and ranges from just-as-busy to way-WAY-busier than my old one (as I'm typing, the emails are piling up in my inbox like the chocolate factory in I Love Lucy), but I like it much better and am actually good at it.

That's not a direct answer to your question, I realize, but it could be that your current position isn't a good fit for your particular style of working. You may find your ability to focus shoot way up if you switch to a job that has a different balance/variety of tasks and projects.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:28 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

On a good day 20-30 on a bad day 5-10. I'm a web developer (self employed)
posted by missmagenta at 2:30 PM on November 1, 2012

My "tasks" can take up anywhere from a couple of hours to days or weeks or months of my time.

Are there other people doing the same role as you at your job? Are they able to keep up with the workload?

I think sometimes it's hard to get a sense of how efficiently you're working. I started my career at a very high output company, and even though we were constantly busy, I thought it was totally normal. I had met some former employees of that company who have called them "slave drivers". I was like, really? At the time, it was all I knew.

I'm now working at a company where people work way slower, have less expected of them and produce at a much slower rate. People who have always worked here think that's normal. At times, I find this much slower work pace very frustrating.

If I started at this company and then moved on to the other company afterwards, I definitely would have thought I was being overworked there.

I think it would be the most accurate to compare your work situation with that of other people, maybe people who have worked at other companies, who have the exact same role as you.
posted by ohmy at 2:31 PM on November 1, 2012

I would also second that you should only compare yourself to someone doing exactly the same job. Today, I had one "task" (design some database forms) that took hours and will take many more hours, whereas another task (send out participant package) takes 4-5 minutes.
posted by jb at 3:42 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yesterday, I did precisely one thing (help boss submit grant application) and that was a huge amount of work that left us both drained.
posted by jb at 3:43 PM on November 1, 2012

In my last job, I was required to complete a minimum of 60 files per day to keep my job. On a typical day, there was also two hours of work that had to be done but which was not counted towards my productivity. So when I was focused on those files, I tried to average at least ten per hour. On a good day without distractions, I could do 80 to 100 files.

This was a job the company seemed to have trouble filling.
posted by Michele in California at 3:46 PM on November 1, 2012

My to-do list currently has about 150 items on it. Some of those are personal, but most are work. Some of them are big things that will take hours, and some will take 5 minutes. Some I absolutely need to do tomorrow, and some are due as far out as January.
posted by decathecting at 3:54 PM on November 1, 2012

Maybe it would be a useful metric to figure out how long each task takes and see how they add up to a workday. in one job I was given 200 mostly similar tasks per day to do - each task would take at least four minutes by their own admission and I was not allowed to make any mistakes (so, in reality, closer to ten minites per task). If you do the math the 200*4/60mins equals over a 13 hour workday. I was only paid for 6 and a half hours. : / (I quit)

In my current job I was given a written list of about 30 tasks that had to be done in a fifteen minute period (basically, opening up the library, unlocking doors, logging on computers etc). I walked my manager through the the list (as in, physically walked/jogged from place to place in the library without even taking the time to do actually do the tasks like punching in security codes) to show that it took 25 mins just to walk from place to place assuming a perfect day and no sticking locks/unbootable computers/etc.
posted by saucysault at 5:04 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should compare with someone who has the same job as you. But in the interest of giving you more data points, I will say that I'm a paralegal/general admin assistant to two lawyers, and my daily to-do list (as in, stuff I write down that needs to be done today or this week) is generally anywhere between 5-20 items. This does not account for times when a big project or brief is due, so my one task for the day ends up being just working on that project/brief. My list of 5-20 items also does not include the general admin stuff that just gets handed to me and typically takes 15-30 minutes to do, like proofreading emails, dealing with office supplies, returning emails and calls, making copies, scanning documents, etc. Stuff that does go on the to-do list: drafting correspondence, drafting pleadings and discovery, document review, document analysis, monthly billing/accounting, getting stuff ready for filing with the court, etc.

FWIW, I used to be the sole assistant in our office, and with a huge case that demanded a lot of our time, there was a lot of lower priority shit that I just couldn't get done, like filing. I was stressed and overworked, and constantly doing triage on what needed my dedicated attention now versus what could wait for my next period of breathing room between deadlines. My boss hired another assistant, and through the magic of delegation, I no longer feel overworked. I still have a wide range of responsibilities, but it's easier to shift gears when you're not putting out fires. So I'd say a good metric for if you're overworked is: can you finish or at least delegate all of the tasks that are your responsibility in a timely way? If you're overworked, there's consistently no way to finish your tasks without doing overtime.
posted by yasaman at 8:03 PM on November 1, 2012

According to your definition, I have generally between 10-15 tasks to do, and usually one or two projects at any given time.

My tasks include answering emails, updating legal documents, updating and sending out spreadsheets, filing, filing, filing, filing, and filing (I'm not just being comedic; I have five different types of filing), keeping track of office supplies, ordering office and nurse supplies (I work in a mental hospital), putting away office supplies when they arrive, keeping the 150+ forms we have in stock at all times by copying them, tracking and updating the time of all non-nursing employees on our unit, making sure I have extra toner/fax cartridges (which I consider separate because I order them from a different place than most other supplies), sorting out everyone's incoming mail, and anything else anyone decides to toss on my desk.

Not that I finish these tasks. I was hired part time to do a full-time job, so generally I end up completing about 7-9 of those tasks (so some days almost everything gets done, and some days less than half gets done - note that in neither case does everything get done).

So, the above is for a full time administrative assistant position. I am in a similar position to the poster above me, it seems. You should definitely try to compare to someone who has a similar job.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:22 AM on November 2, 2012

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