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5 ways project managers can allocate their time effectively, while wearing many hats

project managers and time allocation

Recently, I have caught myself thinking about the definition of the project management role and couldn’t really find a suitable one. I mean, with all the stuff project managers have to do, how do you even define that role?

Wikipedia states that a project manager has the responsibility of planning, execution, and closing of a project in various industries. Except that’s like the biggest understatement I have ever seen in my life. If you could just get away with those three phases of the job (sure they are important, but there is a lot more to it) it would be a dream come true right? Maybe next time -)

Project managers wear so many hats it’s insane:

  • There is an argument inside your team – you are the diplomat who sets things right and suggest solutions

  • Team member(s) is lost, doesn’t know how to proceed – you are the guide who shows the way

  • Hard times during a project (crisis, if you will) – you are the motivator who keeps the spirits high

  • New members get involved – you are the professor showing tricks and shortcuts to make the work more efficient

  • There is a threat/opportunity on your way while in the midst of a project – you are the expert who knows how to proceed with that (sidestep the threat or seize the opportunity)

  • Clients are unhappy with the progress – you are the negotiator, trying to set things right and explain the situation

There are a lot more hats out there, but these are the most common ones that are worn every day. So I think the correct definition would be something like:

A project manager is a professional responsible for planning, execution and closing of a project. He or she is also required to be able to transform on demand into an international diplomat, top notch negotiator, personal (free of charge) tutor, Harvard professor, an aircraft pilot, a time walker, Indiana jones, Jedi, Nostradamus, Gandalf, The Fuhrer, Uncle Sam and a few other roles (depending on the project) when needed. That’s more like it.

So, the question is, How to do the impossible and allocate time effectively, while wearing an insane amount of hats?

First of all, you are human. This means that whatever you do, you will come to a certain point when it’s simply impossible to do anything anymore. You need to accept that, let it sink it, have your conscience clear about it.

Besides this, there are a few things that you can do to use your time most efficiently.

Know Your Team

In the list above I forgot to mention psychologist. Sorry about that. To allocate your time effectively, first you need to really know each team member, their strengths, their weaknesses, analytic skills, way of thinking (in terms of work), etc. This information will allow you to distribute all the tasks with maximum efficiency in advance, taking into account all of the problems that may rise in the future (Nostradamus transformation needed) and how well they will be able to deal with those.

If you can plan as much as possible into the future, if will be much easier to deal with stuff later. So make sure to invest enough time into getting to know your team well.

Structure Your Day

Since you have a limited time during a workday, your master planning skills will come in handy to map out your future days. Plan your day accordingly for each project and make sure to include some buffer time for emergencies. You might be thinking that it’s technically impossible and not even worth it, since if you allocate unnecessary time for emergencies that might not happen, you will be falling behind. Here is an efficient way of how to do it.

For each bullet point in your to-do list, include a few extra minutes of time for the activity, without using those minutes. So if you plan a meeting with a team for 30 minutes, include an extra 3-5 minutes, as buffer time. If you do this for 10 tasks, you will have 30-50 minutes banked for emergencies each day, which should be a lot of time to utilize.

Invest all the time needed

When the emergencies do happen, make sure to invest all the time needed into taking care of the matter. Even if you run out of those 30-50 minutes banked, don’t just walk away, because other tasks are waiting to be done. If you do not solve the problem at hand, especially if it involves your team members, it will do you much more harm than simply an unresolved issue.

First, the issue will still remain open, and you will have to refer to it at some point eventually. Second, your teammates will feel much more confident when they see that you are eager to help them whenever they are in need. Trust, positive attitude and feeling comfortable is well worth the time invested.

Don’t do it alone

If you are the project manager, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone. In fact, the more stuff you can allocate to others (assuming it will be done with the same quality that you would have delivered) the better for you overall. You will be able to ease up your workload, cut the number of hats (even just by a few) you are wearing at the same time and be able to focus on the bigger picture more.

For this purpose, the knowledge of your team’s capabilities will once again come in handy. If you know that Ben is good with documentation, you can have the raw materials ready and have him do the finalization part. Doing this will not only help you ease your workload considerably, but will also have your teammates feel more confident about themselves (if I am trusted with this job, means I have good skills!).

Don’t panic!

Most certainly, there will be times that the amount of hats needed will break all the limits and you will simply be lost, not knowing what to do. Don’t give in to panic. You are the skipper and you always know what to do. Get your thoughts together, trust your experience and keep going forward. There is hardly any better inspiration for a team, than a leader who can find a way out from a very tight situation.

Wearing too many hats can be frustrating at times and draining a lot of energy, but that’s just who great project managers are. When you are a leader, there is no other way, but to go through all of this. Look at the bright side – If you can be consistent at wearing all the hats successfully, each coming project would result in a greater success than the previous one and there is nothing is more satisfactory than a perfectly done job (well, maybe sushi, but that’s a different story 🙂

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