As a project manager, you can sometimes feel like you’re treading water with your work. Because you’re the lynchpin, you have to field demands from both clients and the employees you’re working with. Unless you have a razor-sharp focus, however, it’s easy to find your precious time hijacked by minute details and outside demands.
Here are some practical productivity tips to help project managers like you get more done in less time.
Shut Out the Noise
Sure, you need to be available when crisis rears its ugly head or when a staff member has an urgent question. But that doesn’t mean that you need to be on call 24/7. As a classic 2005 industry study by Hewlett Packard showed, checking email too frequently can impair your brain’s usually-smooth functioning. Over time this can sap productivity, creativity and increase stress and burn out.
Effective product managers take time away from email and the phone to concentrate on their top to-dos (which can often come second to everyone else’s demands). This time away from the deluge isn’t just a fantastic way to tackle those nagging items on your to-do list: it’s also your chance to use higher-level brainpower on your project’s biggest problems.
Think about what snags tend to crop up time and time again (and how to fix them), what staff members have been going above and beyond lately, or how you can prevent project bottlenecks before they strike.
One of the best uses of your newly conquered quiet time is to analyze your management from an 80/20 perspective. In a nutshell, the 80/20 principle states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts (and as you may expect, the remaining paltry 20% of our outputs come from 80% of our time).
By analyzing your time critically you can see where your efforts are best spent. Do you tend to contribute more to a project by checking your voice mail every 20 minutes or checking up on a staff member you haven’t heard from in a while? Are you better off leaving a high-maintenance client in his own for a while or spending half of your day bending over backwards over his every whim?
Many product managers find that this sort of higher-level analysis helps them leverage their time more effectively.
Mind maps will never replace your task management software, but it can help you analyze your current efforts –and plan for the future.
With the near-constant interruptions that project managers have to deal with, it can be difficult to plan ahead, even though this is a core competency in many project management job descriptions. By taking time away from things and creating a mind map of where projects are going, you can often get a more clear vision of a project –and manage it more effectively.
Mindmaps are also fantastic for visual learners who prefer to think and produce in images.
Learn to Say “No”
One of the more indispensable skills that a project manager can hone is the ability to professionally say “no”. If you’ve been working as a “yes man” (or yes woman), you’re probably wasting precious time babysitting people that are perfectly capable of working on their own.
Of course, you need to be available to make sure the project moves ahead. But always being the “go-to” person for every little thing can make productive work impossible.
The key to saying “no” is to make it a habit. Over time, staff members will learn not to instinctively pick up the phone whenever they hit a snag. They’ll try to work it out themselves first. And when you do hear your phone ringing, you’ll know that it’s actually important.
This is a guest post from a former project manager, Spencer Mitchell of SurveySpencer.com. Now that he works for himself, Spencer has learned that the hardest projects to manage are his own.