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Feb 6, 2013 by Patrick Icasas in Project Management 101 & Tools

Gain Work-Life Balance Without Sacrificing Productivity

Any career that requires project management (software, IT, construction, marketing/advertising, etc) is notoriously rough on people’s personal lives. Tight deadlines and a pressing workload make it almost impossible to achieve any kind of work-life balance. Or that’s what most people think.

You’ve seen them: the lucky few who always seem to be able to leave work on time and have their weekends to themselves, all without missing deadlines and getting chewed out by management.

No, they’re not superhuman. They’re just very good at managing their time (and, hopefully, everyone else’s). But you can learn to duplicate their success. Just follow these three tips step by step:

Plan Ahead

As a project manager, you should already know how to organize and plan. Only instead of doing it on other people’s behalf, you’re doing it on your own. Learn how to maximize your time, whether it’s during your work day, at home, or on the go.

Create daily tasks lists for yourself. There are many ways of organizing them: in order of priority, time required, the Pareto Principle, or even in order of recall. Toy around with it and see what works best with your process. Personally, I prefer to prioritize tasks that need to be sent to other people when done (like sending output for QA, reports to management, or task assignments to team members). That way, I don’t become the bottleneck, and things can keep moving while I move on to the rest of the items on my list.

Set Boundaries

Effective project management is difficult if you’re constantly interrupted and can’t gain momentum on a task. Try to lump your tasks together into specific blocks of time. One hour for email, for example, or three hours for programming. Focus on your current activity and ignore everything and anything else. Once you get to the end of your pre-determined time, stop and move on to the next item. This is where planning and estimation comes into place, because if your current task eats into the next activity’s time, you’re just going to end up extending your workday.

Tell your team what you’re doing and signal them that you’re not to be interrupted (except in case of emergencies). Close your door. Put up a flag. Wear a hat. Whatever tells people that you’re concentrating, and can’t be bothered with anything else.

Setting boundaries is probably the most important thing you can do to protect your personal time, and the most difficult. It’s hard to say “no” when work comes a-calling, but you have to set firm limits on work hours, and make sure everyone else knows them. Make too many exceptions, and people won’t take your boundaries seriously.

Learn How to Delegate

The best leaders know the difference between work that they can do, and work that they have to do. Effective delegation is one of the cornerstones of good project management. It doesn’t make sense for you to spend an hour doing a task when a team member can do it in thirty minutes.

When you do delegate, choose your tasks wisely and make sure you’re not just dumping on them for the sake of having a free afternoon. Remember that your team deserves to have work-life balance, too.

Do you have other tips on ensuring work-life balance? Share them in the comments below!

Patrick Icasas

Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.