Every project manager knows the importance of effective time management. People need to run on a schedule and within a structure to achieve maximum efficiency, and efficient people are needed to bring a project to successful completion. As with most things, however, knowing what is needed and being able to pull it off are often two separate things. Even seemingly successful project managers may be faced with issues. As they are efficient with managing multiple tasks and teams, their own personal tasks are often rushed or stressed in stark contrast. It is important for business leaders to be able to realise this truth and, more importantly, address possible issues.
Enemies of Productivity
While we go to work in order to get things done day after day, it can be a surprise to find out how many things we face on a daily basis that are not conducive to work. We need to see these things for the time wasters they are and put them where they belong. Typically, these things cannot be fully avoided. However, they can be contained and controlled. Some of these things are:
- Telephone Calls
- Interruptions from Other Staff
- Micro-Managing Tasks
- Conflicting Priorities/Distracting Leadership
In business, we face all sorts of phone calls and emails. They might be important. They might not. They might be sales letters, policy updates, schedule requests, or something else. Here’s the thing. They seldom need to be addressed right away. Technology has granted us a voicemail. Your inbox is seldom in danger of overfilling. Set aside specific times to check your email and voicemail. If it is something that can’t wait, people will typically call rather than email, so checking your email once in the morning and once later in the day is usually good enough. Checking your voicemail might need doing once every couple of hours or less, depending on your role within the company.
Team members should have an idea of your schedule and its importance to your work. Having an open door policy is great, but perhaps schedule discussions and meetings with people rather than constantly being interrupted by others. Often, we are scheduled for meetings that may or may not require our attendance. Try and see if you are needed at these meetings and, if not, if you can be excused. If your presence is required, ask for an agenda beforehand and get all your materials and questions in order. Suggest others do the same, as their time is important too, and doing these things will help limit the amount of time spent in the meetings. If your managers or leaders are pulling you in different directions or trying to re-priortise your tasks, work with them to come to a mutual understanding of which tasks are most important and time sensitive and do your best to keep that established priority list.
Micro-managing: This one is big. You might be being micro-managed or you might be the one doing the micro-management. First of all, if you are the micro-manager—stop it. You should be able to depend upon your team. If you don’t believe they can complete their assigned tasks properly, then assign those tasks to someone else. Next, if you find yourself the victim of micro-management, have a discussion with the one doing it about how they are limiting your effectiveness. You should be trusted to complete your duties. They can share in your success while your failure will be your own, if left to do your job as you see best.
Plan Out Your Day
Just as a project manager would lay out a schedule for project milestones, they should work on scheduling out their daily activities. Try breaking your day into segments about 40 to 60 minutes long. Focus on a single task for that period of time. If the task is incomplete when time is up, it is either good enough or needs to be pushed to tomorrow. Continuing to work on the same task is going to throw everything else on your agenda off. Besides, remember the Pareto Principle. The 80/20 rule comes from here, where we find that 20 percent of the work will produce 80 percent of the results. If something is important enough to run over time, then maybe something else can be moved from the schedule.
Remember to schedule time to eat as well. It isn’t a bad idea to schedule time beforehand, from when your alarm goes off until when you go to bed - it will remind you to exercise, eat right, and get some rest. Plus, it lets you measure your day throughout and really think about where you are dedicating your time. Is getting that last couple of emails answered worth cutting into time with the family or can the emails wait until tomorrow? Chances are, they can wait.
Learn to Say No
It may seem like no one ever gets anywhere with a negative attitude, but saying “no” isn’t being negative. Instead, it is assertiveness. Being able to stop volunteering for additional tasks is responsible. As a project manager, you probably already have a lot on your plate. Even the best multitaskers can only shift their focus so much. If you really want in on a new project, it can be started up when you have cleared some of the current projects you are working on. Managers and other departments constantly coming to your for assistance is a good thing. It helps show your worth. However, if you don’t set limits for them, you will stretch yourself beyond your limits and your work will suffer.
Delegate your Work
Many project managers make the mistake of trying to lead from the front and pitch in, taking on assigned tasks for themselves. Here’s the problem. If you are managing a large project with several team members, different departments, and lots of moving parts, you cannot afford to take your eye off of the ball. You have to be sitting from a perch above the rest so that you can observe everything that is happening. You can get ahead of issues before they turn into full blown problems. If you are busy dedicating yourself to a task that should have been assigned out to a team member, though, you could easily get blindsided. Yes, there are certain tasks you must do as a project manager. For each task, though, ask yourself: do I need to do this, or can someone else do it? Being able to relinquish the control and bring all the moving pieces together is important to successfully follow through on your projects.
Focus on the Time, Don’t Watch the Clock
Remember that successful projects typically espouse quality over quantity. If the project is going to take longer to complete, then get that time upfront. Good, fast, and cheap—pick any two, remember? As a project manager, you have to be able to balance and manage all aspects of the projects. Bring on team members you know can get the job done and let them do the job. Forget micro-managing and keep your eye on the prize. Manage the whole of the operation, not minute tasks. First, though, get better at your own time management and you will see improved results in managing projects.