All project managers have at some point run out of time to tackle certain tasks – it might just be during the working day when you don’t complete what you had planned or expected to complete. There might be an ongoing issue, which never quite gets resolved because of other draws on your time or it might be whole elements of the project, or the whole project itself.
Whatever areas you might have struggled with, if you can learn to manage your time better then your projects will run more smoothly with less panicked periods when you are coming up to a deadline and you will have more control over the regular and one-off tasks that need to be done.
It is easy to convince yourself that you are working hard because you are busy – but what exactly are you achieving if every task is only half-completed? Time management can help you to focus on completing tasks rather than just beavering away; and not just complete any task but the ones which are most important.
Clearly, in order to complete the most important tasks you need to be able to prioritise them in a useful way. This is not always as straightforward as it should be for a number of reasons: firstly, there may be different stakeholders with different views on the priority of certain tasks, then there might be some quick and easy tasks, which may not be top priority but still need to be done and can often be slotted into various points in the project schedule. And lastly, risks can arise at any time that will throw even the best plan off course while dealing with the problem.
But let’s assume that the priorities have been set and no major problem has arisen to affect the schedule and order in which the tasks must be dealt with, what is the best way to manage the available time to ensure maximum productivity?
Here are the tips that work best for me and ensure I am working smarter not harder:
1. Take a break. If you want to remain productive then take a short break every 90 minutes – even if it is just enough time to fetch a coffee or stretch your legs, it will enable you to start the next 90 minutes mentally refreshed. If you can get some fresh air – even better – especially if you can take a walk in the garden, a park or the woods. Spending time in nature can help the brain relax.
2. Think again about your to-do list. Have a daily To-Do list with a limited number of items on it and a Master To-Do list for all the tasks that need to be done but not necessarily today. Then you won’t become overwhelmed by all those tasks. Make sure you get into the habit of tackling the highest priority items first.
3. Measure results, not time. At the end of every day make a mental note (or even a physical note) of what you have achieved that day – this will help you stay motivated – don’t dwell on what you haven’t done.
4. Avoid procrastination. It is easy to think we are working because we are busy but what are we really achieving? So make sure you have a set start time for work and get started – on the top priority item on today’s To-Do list.
5. Record Your time. One of the best ways to become more productive is to record your time over a period of, say, a week or a month and see where you are wasting time. Once you know this you can start to change your habits to avoid wasting that time – such as, switching off audible alerts on your phone and computer, checking emails at less frequent intervals, only going on social media for one hour per day – or whatever is limiting your productivity.
6. Know when to stop working. If you regularly work excessive hours get into the habit of finishing at a set time. Remember in Sweden they are about to introduce a 6 hour working day as studies have shown that people can be just as productive in that time as a much longer day but are generally happier and better motivated.