Creative Juice - How to stay ahead of your tasks

The unofficial guide from Coal Creative’s most organized team members

How many tasks would you say someone like Coal Creative Content Director Samantha Bucher has in queue?

A dozen? Maybe 20? The answer might shock you. 

Before sitting down to write this one, we pulled a Big Brother move and checked her task list. She’s got 76 open tasks.

Don’t call her a slacker just yet. She’s one of the most organized members on the team, and she’s incredibly good at delivering her projects on time. 

At Coal Creative we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient, to increase our output and deliver stronger more effective marketing campaigns. That’s what it takes to grow a business. 

Along the way, each of us has developed our own ways of managing dynamic and growing workloads without getting crushed by them. We were picking on Samantha earlier, but her to-do list is actually quite tame.

For context, Lead Developer and Designer Matt Simoncavage currently has 89 tasks in queue. At times, Matt’s been called one of the most efficient at keeping his task list in check. Way to flex, Matt!

But with nearly 100 open tasks (mind you, some are not due for weeks or even months), how does someone stay ahead of all of them, or at least not feel utterly overwhelmed?

If you’re on the hunt to improve your task management skills, this probably won’t be the first or last blog you read about it. We don’t claim to have the foolproof way to stay on top of a heavy workload. Time and task management is a personal journey, and everyone does it differently. 

We do, however, have some incredibly organized team members who blend executive management with brilliant creativity. So in search of some constants, we asked a few of them how they stay on top of things. Here’s what they said:


1. Go analog, write it down

At the top of their toolboxes, Samantha, Project Manager Jeremy Brown and Operations & Business Development Manager Camaryn Lokuta all said writing down their to-do lists daily helps them stay ahead of things.

Jeremy went more granular, in — conveniently enough — bullet form:

  • Break down tasks
  • Assign priority to tasks
  • Choose one to three tasks to complete for the day. This number will likely be higher in professional contexts

Samantha and Camaryn suggest doing this daily before starting work in order to conceptualize the day. Of course, other things will crop up, but as mothers often chide their children: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”  


2. Color code it

Samantha and Jeremy both recommend using colors to help prioritize, using highlighters and colored pens to break down your written list. 

Jeremy famously incorporated emojis into our task and operations tracking systems. In fact, he’s more of an artist with them. 

PRO TIP: Create your own emoji system. Most cloud-based systems allow emojis in file and folder names. You can even put them in spreadsheets. They’re not just for fun. Emojis offer a practical way to assess project statuses quickly. 


Emoji system


3. Visualize it on a calendar or even two calendars

Document project start dates, milestones, deadlines and deliver-by dates on calendars. This takes some getting used to, especially if you never kept a calendar before.

“Only assign due dates for things that are actually time constrained or tied to a project that is time-constrained,” Jeremy says. 

We’d add to that and say, if you notice certain tasks languishing, invent a deadline and tie a consequence to it. Make it fun, like, if you miss a deadline, you have to add 15 minutes to your cardio workout for the rest of the week. 

Calendars offer a unique and valuable view because they help us visualize when things must be delivered and inject a little cortisol in the bloodstream when deadlines are approaching.


4. Be consistent

Let the eye-rolling ensue. Most people probably derail here.

Whatever methods you try, make sure they’re sustainable. Plan to stick with them for at least a month to give them time to become routine. Keeping a calendar can feel like an absolute drag until you develop that muscle memory so adding new items, either to a paper or digital calendar, happens naturally.


5. Under promise, over deliver

This isn’t just so you look good and often. It’s about honesty, setting healthy boundaries and preventing overwhelm. 

To be sure, if you want to grow, there has to be some boundary pushing. But in Camaryn’s opinion, creating realistic expectations lends itself to surprising the people you work with. 

“I try to be very honest and upfront with people about my capacity,” she said. “This way I do not get overwhelmed with my workload and in turn potentially disappoint my colleagues and collaborators.”

Is your business’ marketing agenda rolling off the rails? We’re a team of highly organized pros, and we understand how to plan effective campaigns and then deliver on them. Reach out and we’ll show you how!

    One Comment

    1. Adam DiTroia

      Great article with equally great tips! I sometimes get overwhelmed. I’m also the human equivalent of a squirrel on uppers! So these help a lot. Thanks!

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