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How to create a project task list (step-by-step guide)

Last updated on
September 22, 2022
How to create a project task list (step-by-step guide)

We bet you know this feeling. You and your team are kicking off an exciting new project, but now that you’re sitting down to figure out the tasks that need to be done – and how long each will take – you realize you’ve got your work cut out for you. That’s where a project task list comes in. Creating one of these can help you organize, prioritize tasks, and plan your project effectively. Here’s our step-by-step guide to creating a project task list, no matter what your job title, industry or department is.

What’s a project task list, anyway?

The answer’s quite simple. As the name suggests, a project task list is a list of tasks that contain everything you need to complete a project. It’s the first critical step to ensure you don’t forget anything important throughout your project’s lifecycle. Now, let’s look at why it’s important to create a project task list.

Why are project task lists so useful?

Every project manager worth their salt knows that a project task list is the first critical step to take when kicking off a brand-new project. Here are just a few of the benefits: 1. It gives the team clarity. A project task list should include a schedule with a set due date for every task assigned. This will help everyone stay on track and keep themselves accountable at work. 2. It’ll surface potential capacity issues. Let’s face it: many teams are stretched for resources nowadays. If you don’t have enough people to do the work required, that’s a real doozy of a roadblock. Having a clear picture of all the smaller steps involved in more complex projects will help you get a clear view of under-resourcing issues that could delay your project. It also means no one will be left in the dark as to which tasks they’re responsible for, and when. 3. It’ll get everyone on the same page. We all tend to work better when we know the end goal. It can be empowering to your team members to feel like their work is part of a larger-scale project that helps drive company objectives.

Types of project task lists

There’s no one right way to make a project task list. It really depends on how big of a project you’re managing.

Small projects

Using a pen and paper is probably the most basic way to get started, but this option does come with a number of downsides. A to-do-list-style task list on a spreadsheet will provide an easier, at-a-glance insight into who needs to execute on which task and by when.

Large or complex projects

Working on a project with lots of moving parts? There are a couple of options you could pick and choose from:

  • Option 1: Kanban board. This is where you organize your tasks into columns representing different stages, like “Backlog”, “To Do”, “In Progress” and “Done”. As a task progresses, you simply move it from one column to the next.
  • Option 2: Gantt chart. This is especially useful for project managers looking to easily visualize the timeline of a project and break it down into smaller tasks. Each horizontal bar on the chart stands for a task, and the length of each indicates the time that task is expected to take.

If you’d like to read more on the topic of project timelines, head on over to project timeline templates.

How to create a project task list

There’s more involved in creating a project task list than simply jotting down what you think you need to get done to finish off a project and going full speed ahead. Trust us – you’ll be much more effective if you follow a systematic approach. We recommend following these steps.

Step 1: List your to-dos

Figuring out what needs to be done to complete your project can help you identify which tasks are vital (and which are unnecessary) and build consistency into your team's workflow. First, we recommend breaking your project down into phases, then mapping out the tasks that need to be accomplished in each phase. For example, if you’re planning out a marketing campaign project, you might break that down into smaller, more manageable steps like:

  • Write campaign brief
  • Write content
  • Review content
  • Design campaign graphics
  • Review graphics
  • Build landing page
  • Review landing page
  • Build emails
  • Test emails
  • Schedule emails
  • Create social posts
  • Schedule social posts
  • Set up ads
  • Report on campaign results

These are fairly generic examples, but you get the point – for every type of project you’re responsible for, you’ll want to map out a consistent series of tasks or steps that are required to complete it. There are a ton of apps available to help you with this step, like Timely, Todoist, Microsoft To Do, Google Task and others.

Step 2: Estimate how long each task will take

If you’ve executed on similar projects in the past, it’ll be a lot easier to guesstimate how long each step in the process takes. But, even with experience, accurately estimating time for project tasks can be difficult. Instead, try tracking your time with an automatic time-tracking app like Timely. For future projects, this will help you understand how long tasks actually take. For each task on your project task list, you’ll want to add in your time estimate. This will help you figure out the right deadlines to apply when you start mapping out tasks in your task management tool (more on that in the next step!) Let’s go back to our earlier example and see what this might look like with some hypothetical time estimates included:

  • Write campaign brief (2 hours)
  • Write content (5 hours)
  • Review content (1 hour)
  • Design campaign graphics (5 hours)
  • Review graphics (1 hour)
  • Build landing page (3 hours)
  • Review landing page (1 hour)
  • Build emails (3 hours)
  • Test and schedule emails (1 hour)
  • Create social posts (2 hours)
  • Schedule social posts (1 hour)
  • Set up ads (2 hours)
  • Report on campaign results (3 hours)

Step 3: Choose your task management software

It’s possible to manage your project task list in a spreadsheet at the earliest stages, but there’s a difference between planning to do something and actually getting it done. For that, you’ll need a more robust solution. If you need to know at a glance who’s doing what, when, then Timely Tasks offers project managers a clear overview of all to-dos and deadlines associated with a project. It also ensures all team members can communicate around and manage their assigned tasks effectively.

Related: Best task management apps

Step 4: Create your project timeline

Last but not least: Using your time estimates from step 2, you’ll need to map out realistic deadlines for everyone involved in each task on the project. Visualizing the project plan is a key step here. Using a Gantt chart timeline tool, like Timely Tasks, makes creating a project timeline a snap. As you can see below, it shows how all of the pieces of the project fit together and helps your team adapt as the project progresses so everyone stays on track. There you have it: How to create a project task list using four simple steps (and a little help from Tasks in Timely!)

Optimize your project planning with the right tool

Tasks is available as an add-on for all Timely subscribers for as little as $5 per person a month. Learn more about everything you can do with keeping track of Tasks in Timely

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