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Effective Time Management – The Basics

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 16th August 2021

This post was updated on 16th August 2021

Learning the art of good time management is the key to success in any career. But perhaps it is more so for anyone who is involved in project management. As any project manager knows it is easy to fill your schedule with events and tasks, but it is just as easy to be overwhelmed by all of the work that has to be done in order to lead your project to a successful conclusion. So don’t forget to follow the basics of time management. They can help to make the difference between a calm, organised project manager and a stressed, disorganised one.

It doesn’t matter what kind of projects you manage. Whether it is a simple local one or a more complex global one, the more effective your time management, the more you and your project will benefit. Training courses for project managers will help you to study project management methods that will teach you how to manage the budget, schedule and scope of a project. Ultimately, however, it is up to you to ensure that you manage your own time as effectively as possible.

Organise Your Workspace

Keeping your workspace organised may seem like an impossible task at times. It may even seem a waste of important time that you really cannot spare. However, once you integrate it into your daily routine, it will quickly become second nature. Spend about ten minutes, or however long it takes, every day just before you start work organising your workspace. Clear your desk, put away old correspondence and other documents, and throw away any rubbish. If you work exclusively using your computer and the internet, and rarely use paper documents the same rules still apply. Just ensure that your surroundings are as clean and tidy as possible – a tidy workspace really does lead to a tidy mind.

The advantage of doing this every morning before you actually begin work is that if there is anything important left over from the previous day, this will refresh your memory. This will ensure that it makes its way to the top of your to-do pile. In the same way if there is any documentation that is on your desk that needs to be passed to another member of your team, you can do this before they get too busy with other things.

Establish a Routine

Getting into a full daily working routine will help you to work much more efficiently. Having a timetable and a list of priorities is essential. Dedicate the first part of your working day to getting the most important things done. Getting urgent work out of the way as soon as possible will help to reduce stress. It will also enable you to get the rest of your work done more efficiently. This is particularly important when you are working on a larger project with a bigger project team. As project manager you need to be aware of exactly what each member of your project team is working on and if there are any issues. The best way to do this is to lead by example and establish a routine of your own that will set a precedent.

Many project managers find that when they begin the day with a quick team chat. This will allow everyone to give a quick update and help to establish if there are any aspects of the project that need to be worked on more urgently for the day, or indeed if there are any issues that have arisen. A daily chat doesn’t have to be a lengthy thing. Just 10 minutes should work, and more importantly it doesn’t have to include every member of the team. You may find it more beneficial to chat to just a couple of team members at a time.

Even if your project is small enough to ensure that you do not have a great number of deadlines, it is still important that you establish a routine and a sense of urgency when it comes to getting work done. If you don’t, there is always a temptation to delay and procrastinate. This is something that can easily filter down to the rest of the project team.

Where does your time go?

As part of establishing a routine it can be a good idea to find out where your time actually goes. You might think you have a good idea how much time you spend on those general everyday tasks such as answering emails first thing in the morning or having a quick chat with your team. But, what you believe and what actually happens may be two very different things. Your quick team chats may only be scheduled to take 20 minutes but if they overrun everyday by even 10 minutes then you have lost the best part of an hour. If this happens with every daily task, then that soon adds up to a considerable part of the week.

There are apps that you can download that will help you to keep track of your time. If you use one for a week you will be able to produce a report that will show you exactly where you are spending more time than you want to be. This will help you when it comes to making the necessary adjustments.

Have Realistic Goals

One of the common reasons why people fail to manage projects efficiently is that they spend too much time thinking about the processes required to complete a task rather than actually doing the task. Set realistic goals for yourself on a regular basis. These should be separate from the ones you set with your team and you should really strive to reach them. Motivate yourself by setting goals and thinking about the rewards that come with them. Set your goals conservatively at first and increase them as you grow more confident.

Unrealistic goals can be very demoralising when you fail to meet them. And, pushing yourself too hard in an attempt to actual reach them can be detrimental to your health in the long term, if you do this regularly. Not only this, but setting unrealistic goals could also lead to mistakes being made in order to complete the work on time. Mistakes can, of course, end up costing money and even adding to your original timescales so ensure that any goals you set are achievable. Remember, your team are looking to you to lead them, so lead by setting good examples that they can follow. This is one of those times when with a bit of experience your project management skills will help you to know what is and isn’t achievable.

Learn to delegate

Sometimes, one of the most important tools a project manager has when it comes to effective time management is understanding that it is simply not possible to do everything. There are some aspects of a project that only the project manager should be dealing with. However, there are other items that it may be possible to delegate to another member of the team.

Look at your to do list and if you don’t have enough time to complete everything then you need to consider two things:

  1. Which are the tasks on your list that must be done immediately?
  2. Which tasks can you delegate?

If there are tasks that can be delegated or outsourced, then consider that this might, in fact, be the best use of your time. Sometimes it can be difficult to let go. But, if someone else is fully qualified to tackle something that would decrease your workload and make you more available to complete those tasks that only you could do, then this is the way forward. If there is no one who can help but you feel that there is in fact a need for someone to fill this type of position, then consider inhouse training. This could also be great for career progression for a member of the team.

Nobody is perfect

Everyone wants to do a fantastic job with everything that they undertake. However, it is unrealistic to believe that everyone is perfect, and certainly not all of the time. Set yourself realistic goals and rather than aiming for perfect and failing, aim for doing the very best that you can and doing it well.

No is sometimes an option

You may not want to upset others but there really is only so much work that one person can do. If you already have an incredibly full schedule, then it is really important to be able to say no to some things. If you take on too much then you are more likely to stress about your heavy workload. This can lead to either rushing to get through the work that you have and possibly making lots of mistakes, or simply not being able to finish everything, which of course, could hold an important part of the project up. If the work you are being asked to add to your list is non urgent then it is perfectly fine to explain that you will not be able to work on it for a while. Communication is important here.

Use the Right Tools  

Effective time management is also very much about using the right set of tools. We live in a world where technology can help us more and more when it comes to saving time. If you regularly use just a simple calendar either on your phone or on your computer, it might be worth considering upgrading it to a more efficient solution. This might be an organisation app, or you could try integrating your current calendar into your email system. Spending some time now to find the best set of tools for your working environment will be an investment in your projects’ success.

If you are using project management software, then you will find that the majority will offer some form of calendar that you can use. This is a great option as it will allow you to keep everything in once place, making it very accessible.

Avoid Distractions

You may be guilty of checking your emails or social media sites too often. They will stop you from getting important work done and constantly tempt you to become distracted. Instead, you should consider carefully planning times during your day when you will check emails or social media. You might find that using this as an incentive to finish a particular task works well for you. If the majority of your day is spent sitting in front of a screen, then you must ensure you turn off any automatic notifications that you may have, both for social media posts and also emails that alert you to new posts and messages. Even if you have set yourself particular times when you can look at these types of messages, automatic notifications can be very difficult to ignore. It’s simply human nature to be curious about popups.

Work from home

Working from home a couple of times a week is a great way to gain some all-important time. In this age of technology, working from home is no longer a difficult thing nor does it mean being out of the loop. You are just as contactable at home as you are in the office and with emails and project management software you can be every bit of part of the project as you would be if you were working in the office.

The extra time that you gain from not travelling into the office may make all the difference to your project.

These tips can help you ensure you effectively time manage your work life and much of this advice is included in knowledge-based project management courses such as APMP or PMP. Project management is a demanding job, bringing with it many challenges and stressful events. The key is to apply basic time management strategies to maintain control over how your time is used and make the most of every minute – no matter what you are doing.