10 Time Management Tips for Project Managers

by Cindy Coan

Managing your time, your team’s time and the project timeline are all part of the project managers “to do list” – and can be challenging to master.  How you work throughout the day and manage time during a project may differ from project-to-project and from customer-to-customer.  Some projects are larger and more complex – requiring more management and oversight, whereas a small closely-knit team working on a short-term project may require less control and oversight.  Here are 10 tips to help you master time management as a project manager.

1.    Write it Down!

The first rule of management; you can’t manage what you can’t see.  Do you have a daily or weekly action list?  Do you have a “to-do” list that you personally work through each day?

In addition to having a “to-do” list of all your action items; which can be overwhelming. Decide exactly what must get done each day.   This should be a small number of achievable tasks.  Think 5 or 10 things.   The goal here, is to make sure you can finish.  There is something about looking at an unrealistic list that can be discouraging.  If you feel that you can’t get them all done – it is easier to procrastinate or avoid working on the tasks at all.

2.    Prioritize

Having your list of action items is a good first step, but you can’t just start anywhere on the list.  You will want to push the “nice-to-have” tasks to the bottom and get those “must-do’s” done first.  Taking time to understand the importance and urgency of the tasks on your plate will help ensure you are focusing on the right tasks each day.

3.    Set Goals

Once you have an action items list and today’s “to-do’s”, now you need to set some goals and timelines. When are you going to take these actions and how long are you going to allow yourself to complete the task?  One of the rules of time management is that the task will fill the time allotted.  If you are pressed for time and need to accomplish more – try setting some time crunch goals.  Make the time allotted achievable, but don’t give yourself too much time.  Make it challenging. If you need to read a long document, schedule how many pages you will read in 30-minutes.  If you need to send out 10-emails, schedule to power through them in an hour.

4.    Time Blocking

This is one of the all-time best recommendations for time management.  It takes the three tips above and pulls them together.  Now that you have a list of what needs to be done, prioritized with goals, block out the time on your calendar for these tasks.  Block out time to review a document, to update the project plan or put together that presentation for the customer.  Whatever you need to get done.  Time blocking is scheduling time with yourself to get specific tasks done. We are more efficient when we do things in “batches” – put like tasks together.  If you are writing, do several writing tasks at the same time – putting similar tasks together will allow you to get in a groove, which will make you more focused and more productive.

5.    Stay Focused

The idea of multitasking is flawed.  What we think of as multitasking is really, task-switching.  When you are doing several things at once, you mind is divided, and you lose focus.  This lack of focus will cause you to make mistakes and forget things – lowering the quality of your work.   This back-and-forth of your attention is wasting productivity.  Although you may be doing more than one thing at a time, you are working slower – getting less done over time.

6.    Visual Reminders

When you are working on more than one project or aspect of a project, visual reminders are great for helping you remember to keep “all the balls in the air”.   For example; if this week you are preparing the Test Plan, pushing a vendor to provide a solution to a problem discovered in development, and trying to prepare and schedule a project overview for the customer – it can be easy to get distracted with one of these tasks and neglect the other.  Write your 3-4 objectives for the week or month on a card and post it somewhere visible by your desk.  Make it your background on your computer, tape it to the top of your desk, or note it in big letters on a white board in plain view of your workspace.  The visual-cue help you “keep all the balls in the air”.

7.    Stop Doing

Sometimes you know that you can do something faster than someone on your team, or they are not doing it the way you would.  Stay in your lane, do the “management” work.  Don’t let yourself fall into the habit of taking on tasks from the team.  If they need help, get them training, pair them up with a mentor, ask for more resources or adjust your schedule.  Let go of the project tasks and steer away from micromanaging.  These things are time-suckers and will derail you from your own objectives. You can’t manage, if you are doing.

8.    Minimize Meeting Madness

We all dread unnecessary meetings.  Status update meetings where everyone goes around the room to share their status, so you can update the weekly status report – are not productive.  Get these updates via email.  Weekly meetings can be valuable, use them to talk about road blockers or other updates that can benefit from team discussion or brainstorming.  If team members often tune out during a meeting because it doesn’t relate them – you may need to rethink the purpose of the meeting.

9.    Say “No”

Learning to say “no” is a skill most of us need to improve.  You don’t have to take on every task that is presented to you.  Consider if the task is in scope for your project and your duties as a project manager.  Is this a new item that should be addressed as “out-of-scope”? Is this something that someone on the project team would be better suited to do? Does it really need to be done, and by you?  One of the easiest ways to side-step these requests is to start by saying “Let me get back to you”.  This will allow you a few minutes or hours to consider the request and show the requester that you gave their request attention.  When you go back to them recommending someone else for the task, or politely telling them, no, feeling you have given their task consideration they will be more likely to accept your “no”.

10.           Ask Questions

Things change during a project tasks take longer than expected and problems arise.  When a team member says they need another week to finish a task, take a minute to ask a few questions.  What was the issue? How are they going to resolve the problem? How confident are they that one-week is enough time?  These questions will provide you the information you need to “manage” the issue.  Maybe a phone call to the right person can help, or maybe you push the schedule out two-weeks instead of one.  Asking questions often and early will prevent the future “fire-drills” that we all dread and inevitably derail our schedule and plans.

These 10 tips may not work on all projects or for everyone – and you may find that you want to tweak them a bit for your personal preferences or your organization.  Just remember; you can’t manage what you can’t see – write it down, prioritize it, schedule it and focus.

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