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Task Manager Spreadsheet for delegation of work (Microsoft Excel)

 
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Available for download using links above:
  • Version 1 (July 2013) = Version in the video, the early prototype!
  • Version 2 (March 2014) = New and improved version, not shown in the video. Has intermediate holding area for tasks underway and allows multiple assistants to pick tasks off the list of tasks not yet commenced, and then the selected tasks are marked as assigned to the that assistant). Improved Control buttons in a top row that is frozen. 
  • Version 3 (September 2016) = New and improved version. Removes all references to lawyers and simply refers to "Assignors". Accomodates increased number of assignors, and allows greater number of files for each assignor. Tagging feature added.  
The challenges of efficient delegation
Delegation of tasks is an everyday occurrence which is often not performed well. This is sometimes because delegators do not take the time to give proper instructions or clearly prioritize the order of tasks. These problems can be compounded when multiple lawyers are delegating tasks to a single assistant with little or no communication between the lawyers as to the relative priority of tasks. Further complications arise when a previously “not-urgent” task becomes urgent because it has been “neglected” for some time. Frequently, lawyers will lose track of how many tasks are on the assistant’s desk and fail to appreciate the prioritization challenges faced by an assistant trying to juggle multiple tasks from multiple lawyers. 
 
The spreadsheet available for download on this page (see link at the top of the page) is an attempt to improve communication between lawyers and the assistant they delegate tasks to, and to facilitate ongoing prioritization of tasks as items are completed and priorities change. Although the spreadsheet has the capacity to allow multiple lawyers to delegate tasks to an assistant, it can also be used where just one lawyer will delegate tasks to one assistant.
 
How the spreadsheet works
The spreadsheet is designed to allow lawyers to add tasks to an “outstanding tasks” list and then the assistant performs tasks from that list, moving them to the “completed tasks” section as each task is completed.
 
The golden rules of the task list for lawyers are:
  • give clear instructions (put yourself in the shoes of someone who does not already know what you want! If there are hardcopy documents which the assistant will need to perform the task, then the task number which is automatically assigned by the spreadsheet when the task is created can be written on a sticky note and put on the hardcopy documents placed in the lawyer’s out tray), and
  • put all tasks on the task list (if lawyers put only certain tasks on the list and then verbally delegate other tasks confusion can arise as to the priority of tasks).
 
The golden rules of the task list for assistants are to:
  • always select new tasks to commence from the top of the list (it is up to the lawyers delegating work to the assistant to communicate between themselves regarding reordering of items on the list, and the assistant must simply take tasks from the top of the list and complete them in that order); and
  • only move a task to the completed section when the task is totally completed (for example, if the task is to file a pleading, don’t move the task to the completed section when the pleading has merely been sent for filing, but only when it has been received back from filing. A note that it has been sent for filing can be added to the comments section indicating that return of the filed pleading is presently pending).  
 
Lawyers may jump tasks to the top of the list and if an assistant notices that a task has been jumped to the top ahead of the task currently being worked on then he or she should switch tasks and work on the new task at the top of the list. This may occur when an assistant is working on a long duration task and a short duration urgent task needs doing. However, continuously switching tasks is obviously disruptive and so when starting a task the assistant should write “in progress” in the “details” column of the task being worked on, and lawyers should consider jumping “urgent” items to second place on the list rather than top of the list.
 
The spreadsheet available for download on this page anticipates multiple lawyers delegating work to a single assistant, but alternative spreadsheets can be developed for multiple lawyers delegating work to multiple assistants i.e. similar spreadsheets could be developed for a pool of assistants to all perform tasks from a single task list.
 
Time estimates and feedback
Lawyers are required to input time estimates as to how long each task they delegate will take. This is so that it can be seen from the “outstanding tasks” list how much work the assistant has and to provide an impression of when the assistant will get to doing particular tasks. It also allows lawyers to consider estimated durations of pending tasks when deciding whether it is appropriate to leapfrog one task ahead of another (perhaps first seeking permission from the other lawyers whose tasks are being leapfrogged). This may be appropriate, for example, when a lawyer needs a short duration urgent task to be completed before a long duration task on the list.
 
The assistant is required to input an actual duration when sending a completed task to the “completed tasks” section of the spreadsheet. This allows the assistant to give the lawyers feedback as to how long tasks actually take, thereby educating lawyers with poor time estimating skills to better assess how long things take.
 
Shared workbook
The spreadsheet is a “shared” Excel workbook, which means it can be saved on a server and worked on by multiple people at the same time. The Microsoft website describes a shared workbook as follows:
 
If you need input from several people, you can create a shared workbook and place it on a network location where they can edit it simultaneously. For example, if the people in your workgroup each handle several projects and need to know each other’s status, the group could use a shared workbook. All persons involved can then enter the information for their projects in one and the same workbook.
 
Changes are updated continuously and are available to all users concurrently working on the spreadsheet. However, changes will not be shown until the spreadsheet is “refreshed”. Do this by clicking the save icon a few times.
 
Saving the spreadsheet
Macros in the spreadsheet automatically save the spreadsheet when changes are made, but users may also be prompted to save changes when shutting down the spreadsheet and should indeed save the changes as is normally done when closing a spreadsheet.
 
Saving spreadsheets as a new version (keeping the previous versions as backups) is generally good practice and should be done frequently. However, all users working on a shared workbook must work in the same version of the spreadsheet. Therefore, new versions should only be saved when no other users are in the spreadsheet, and then all users must open up the latest version before working on the spreadsheet again. To achieve this, from time to time when there is only one person with the spreadsheet open (perhaps late evening / early morning) the spreadsheet should be saved with a new version number. The start of the file name should contain the date of the spreadsheet (so the various versions sort into date order in the folder) and then all users should open the spreadsheet by browsing to the folder and opening the latest spreadsheet i.e. don’t open a file from your “recent workbooks” list in Excel when opening the spreadsheet, but rather always browse to the folder containing the shared workbook spreadsheets and make sure to open the latest version.  
 
Security issues
The spreadsheet was developed using macros (programmed in visual basic) and in order for the spreadsheet to operate your security settings in Microsoft Excel must be set to allow macros to run.  To enable macros in Excel 2010 (similar procedures will apply in other versions of Excel) click:
  • File (i.e. the menu on the top left)
  • Options
  • Trust Centre
  • Trust Centre Settings
  • Macro settings
  • Enable all macros
 
Macros can pose a security risk because they make your computer perform certain steps automatically, but are typically only dangerous when made to be that way by a computer programmer with a malicious intention – hence the warning when you change the security settings in Excel. However, the macros available in the spreadsheet available for download on this page are made with good intentions and should not harm your computer.
 
Users downloading and using this spreadsheet do so entirely at their own risk and agree to accept all risks associated with using the spreadsheet. 
 
The spreadsheet is open and users familiar with macros can review the code, but it will be necessary to “unshared” the workbook to see the macro code as macros cannot be viewed in a shared workbook.
 
Editing the spreadsheet
Subject to a few limitations, the spreadsheet can be edited just like a regular spreadsheet i.e. you can copy and paste text, can delete or insert rows, etc. However, do not delete or change any text which has explanation marks in it – that text serves as landmarks used by the macros that move data around the spreadsheet.  Also, do not change the names of the worksheet tabs of the spreadsheet, those are also used by the macros in navigating the spreadsheet.
 
 
Video showing updated version of the spreadsheet i.e. v3 available for download above: 

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