‘Phew! I have no idea where all this time went’, you might say after a busy day at work. Yet you repeat it over and over again, not being able to fully reflect on where you are...
Time management strategies help you handle work you’ve been assigned to within the time you have.
Working as a project manager, you may be assigned to a different number of tasks each iteration. You need to plan, manage and track your team’s work, too.
Seems like something impossible?
With poor planning and time management, it may be difficult to fit everything within tight deadlines. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of smart time management strategies, so you can better plan your work and finally have the time for everything that needs your attention.
What is time management?
Generally speaking, time management is how we use the time we have to reach our goals or finish the tasks we’ve been assigned to efficiently.
Here’s a concise and straight to the point explanation of time management:
“Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity.”
As a PM, why should you care?
Being a project manager, your job is to effectively plan and manage your work time, but also the time of the teams you oversee.
Depending on how well you do juggling different projects and priorities, the better you’re able to schedule the work for your team. And the latter leads to better run projects, with a higher chance of finishing them on time and within a budget.
At the end, time management strategies increase your productivity and effectiveness, too.
Studies show that it’s not always that obvious. For instance, only 37% of teams in the UK always or mostly manage to finish their projects on time, poor management being one of the reasons for that.
There are several time management strategies you can use to schedule your own work.
Time management strategies for project managers
1. Plan your work ahead
Knowing what you want to accomplish in a specified timeframe already sets you up for success, study reveals.
In his paper “The Impact of Planning on Project Success”, Pedro Serrador from University of Toronto points to a correlation between planning and project success. Based on the literature review, Serrador found that project success is closely linked to both project and cost efficiency. It means that quality planning can not only increase the chance that the project will be completed successfully, but it will also be cost-effective.
So how much planning is “quality planning”? According to Serrador, after PMBOK® Guide, planning may take up to 48% of all processes performed by a project manager during a project.
Planning your daily tasks may be as simple as creating a to-do list consisting of must-haves and want-to-haves. When planning for several projects, though, having a high-level project plan will improve visibility of requirements across different assignments, but also help to establish goals and requirements for each project.
2. Set clear priorities
Sometimes a list of things you need to do may seem overwhelming. To make it manageable, it’s better to divide your to-do list into smaller chunks. Setting clear priorities will help you order your tasks according to their importance, urgency and effort needed to accomplish them.
To distinguish important and urgent tasks from your to-do list, you may use the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s a productivity tool with a clear focus of organizing your tasks into four categories:
- Important and urgent – these are the tasks you should do first
- Important but not urgent – tasks you can schedule to do later
- Not important but urgent – if possible, you may delegate these tasks
- Not important and not urgent – you can skip tasks falling into this category
What’s great about the Eisenhower Matrix is that you may create it on-the-go with just a pen and paper to quickly prioritize your assignments. The matrix may look like this:
With a matrix like this you will easily spot tasks that really need your attention, so you can focus on them first.
3. Focus on one task at a time
While some praise multitasking, it appears to make more harm than good. According to the article on perils of multitasking published on Entrepreneur, doing several tasks at once is ineffective and inefficient. As human brain needs time to switch from one task to another, trying to do too many things create a lag time, when we’re actually not being as productive as we might want to be.
Instead, try to focus on one task at a time and complete it, and after that switch to another one. This way, especially if you give yourself at least few minutes of rest between assignments, the transition is smooth and your brain is ready to take on a new task.
One of techniques you may use is a Pomodoro Technique. It splits the work into shorter, 25 minutes long sessions, with a rest breaks between them. It’s a proven way to increase productivity, as it’s easier to force yourself to focus on a single task. Plus, you won’t end up worn out, and remain productive for a longer time.
The name, coming from an Italian word for a tomato, was inspired by the kitchen timer. Today, there are devices you can use designed specifically for this technique, counting the exact 25 minutes you should devote to work.
4. Minimize interruptions
This one can be tricky, as according to PMI 90% of PM’s work is communication, but sometimes you do tasks that require deep focus and minimizing interruptions. It may be working on a project documentation or creating a report.
Say you’re using a Pomodoro Technique. In order to use it effectively, you need to cut out any possible distractions, so you can remain deeply focused on a task for 25 minutes.
Interruptions you need to get rid off may come from emails, calls, colleagues or chat conversations. It may be tempting to check your inbox every once in a while, get involved in an office small talk or hang out with your team on a chat. But truth is, it kills your productivity.
Here’s what you can do instead:
- If you worry about missing an important emails, set yourself a dedicated time when you’ll check your inbox. Every other time is dedicated to the assigned tasks.
- Tell your teammates not to disturb you when you use headphones. At the same time, you may listen to music that helps you concentrate (or to some white noise, if you prefer).
- Snooze notifications and put your phone out of sight to avoid checking it compulsively.
Distractions are what drives us away from work. Minimize them and you’ll see how easier it is for you to focus on completing a task.
5. Set yourself shorter deadlines
Ever felt like the more time you have for a given task, the bigger the chance that you’ll procrastinate instead of using that time to get things done earlier? This tendency to put work aside, called the Parkinson’s Law, has been first explained in the Economist article back in 1955.
Parkinson stated that “the work expands as to fill the time available for its completion”. Thus, if you have more time to finish a task than you actually need, the chances are you won’t do it any quicker.
What you can do about that, is actually setting yourself shorter deadlines. If you will still struggle to force yourself to finish a task faster, ask someone from your team to review your work at a certain date, so you now have to do the work in order to show them results.
6. Learn to delegate
No man is an island. Chances are that there are people at your organization with skills and time to help you deliver some of the tasks you struggle with, or simply don’t have time for.
As you’ve seen already while completing the Eisenhower Matrix, it’s actually advised to find the tasks you can delegate, so you can focus on more important and urgent ones.
To spot available team members with skills needed for a specific task, use resource allocation tool. In Teamdeck, for example, you may quickly filter all employees by their role and view their bookings and availability in a simple calendar view.
Delegating work you may actually show your employees that you value their input. Empower them to make decisions and, if needed, limit yourself to supervise them. This way you not only have less on your plate, but let your subordinates grow professionally, too.
7. Learn to say no
Knowing your limits when it comes to the amount of work you’re able to finish in a given timeframe is very important to not only deliver what you’ve committed to. It also helps to avoid work-related stress and, eventually, feeling burnt out.
Saying no to your supervisor, manager or even boss may be intimidating, but there are ways to do it politely and assertively:
- Give a reason – explain what other important tasks you’re doing at the moment and how taking on new ones will affect them.
- Let them prioritize – if you already have lots on your plate and your supervisor asks you to take on another one, present them with your list of priorities. Let them decide whether the task they’re asking you to do have a higher priority, or not.
- Don’t lie – fake excuses are not a good way to deal with requests. Be open about why you’re not able to do something at the moment.
- Ask if the task may be postponed – lots of time the initial date someone asks you to deliver a task is not it’s definite due-date. Show them that if it’s possible to schedule new task for later, it would be possible for you to take it on.
As you don’t want to be viewed as the one who refuses to work, showing why you can’t take on more tasks or negotiating over deadlines may help you to reduce the number of new assignments.
8. Summarize each day
Keeping daily summaries of your work helps you to discover where you did well, and what remains to be done.
At the end of each day, take a look at your list and check the tasks you’ve completed. Seeing what you’ve managed to accomplish is a great way to get motivated for the next day.
If there are still unresolved tasks on your list, ask yourself why you haven’t finished them and find solutions to that. Maybe the task was to broad and dividing it into smaller assignments will help you better organize work?
Backup your time management strategies with the right tools
Planning your work is easier with tools giving you quick access to tasks you or your team members need to complete. Having a schedule and a time tracking tool also helps, as it’s easier to track your performance.
For managing tasks across multiple projects we use Jira. It enables us to create subtasks for every tasks, assign them to people and track them in the workflow consisting of tasks that need to be done, the ones in progress, in review and completed.
Teamdeck, on the other hand, is a resource management tool we use ourselves to keep track of employees’ schedule, timesheets and overall performance, which we can then sum up using customizable reports (e.g. to compare bookings with timesheets).
Keep track of recorded work time in a simple calendar view.
Using these time management strategies will help you to better organize your workday and get more done. After just a few days you will notice that:
- Your productivity improved
- It’s easier for you to do tasks you’ve been assigned with
- It feels like you have more time all of a sudden
- The work-related stress has dropped significantly
And as these tactics may work for you, you can also try to incorporate them across the entire team you run, increasing their productivity.