As I discussed in my previous article self management is a key competency of a good project manager, and time management is a significant part of self management. Time management is important for everyone. As I have taken up more senior roles, I’ve found that I’ve needed it more and more – when I was junior there was often someone else giving me direction, checking whether I had done something. When I started managing projects I realised that this was even more important. What I have found is that so many other people are dependent on the things that I do. If I don’t send that email to the vendor, they don’t start the work. If I don’t pass that message on the staff don’t do the work etc. This magnifies the negative effects of any poor time management on my part. Realising this, I put more effort into improving my time management – and learned a few lessons along the way. So here are a few techniques that work for me.
Spend a few minutes planning my day (and my week).
When discussing projects, we all recognise the truth of the old adage that to fail to plan is to plan to fail, but I hadn’t really understood how much this applies to my personal work as well. Following Dermot Crowley‘s advice I try and take 10-15 minutes at the start of each day to plan out my day. Not in any great detail, but to plan out the key tasks I’m going to try and get done that day, prioritise them, and look at roughly when I’m going to get them done in the context of the meetings and other commitments I have that day.
That’s a pretty short horizon, so I also try and spend 20-30 minutes each Monday to plan out my week. I find that if I don’t plan, then it is easy to find myself just reacting to others – doing the things that I get asked when I get asked, and reacting to whoever is “shouting loudest”.
Write down my tasks when I get them
I don’t try and just remember my tasks, and I don’t wait and write them down later. That certainly doesn’t work for me, and I don’t believe I’ve met anyone that this works for.
In addition, I’ve learnt to write them down somewhere where they won’t get lost – a single, central task list. I used to have a book for all my meetings, which I used to write all my notes and tasks in. But you know what? I never went back and looked at that book – I used to rely on my memory, which never quite worked. Now I still use a book, but as soon as I’m back at my desk, I copy my tasks from my book into my central task list.
I find that I need two lists: today’s tasks, plus a longer full task list. Each day (during my daily planning session), I look at my complete task list and move the most urgent ones onto the day’s list. Then I look at my emails from yesterday and my calendar (so I can add any required prep onto my daily task list).
Equally with task management, I think about how this differs when I am managing a project – I need to include tasks to follow up with people to make sure they are doing their tasks.
Allocate my time
What I do, is during the sessions where I plan my day, I try to book out my time in my calendar for any important or time consuming tasks, e.g. writing a report. Also, for any recurring task that takes a regular amount of time (e.g. writing a project status report), I put that in my calendar as a recurring appointment. And I don’t just put into my calendar, I try and put n a reasonable amount of time for the particular task, and I make sure that time is marked as busy, so that people won’t try and book meetings over it – those people who respect calendars anyway!
As a project manager, I find it useful to allocate time in my diary for recurring project management activities: writing project status reports, preparing for project meetings etc.
None of these things are earth shattering revelations, but taken together they have helped me improve my ability to manage my own time, and marrying them to specific project management concerns has been a great help. I also won’t take credit for any of these ideas. They have all come from others, notably from Dermot Crowley’s book Smart Work and advice from Lachlan Mollison – who has been a great help in my journey.