Hello again! It’s the third time I get to share with you some tips and tricks on time management and I am certain that by now you’ve had enough time to introduce some improvements to your inbox, calendar, or Slack. In those blog posts, I focused more on apps, but this time I have general advice on time management for you.
Have you ever felt that you have too much on your plate? Have you felt you are not fulfilling your responsibilities sufficiently? Relax, we’ve all been there. In this article, I’ll present some general tips and tricks on time management that you can easily introduce into your life in order to work more efficiently. Improve the way you work right away and don’t worry anymore when an increased workload comes. You’ll be well-equipped with good practices!
1. Look at the way your day is organised and figure out the best pattern for you.
For me, mornings are for daily calls, figuring out the battle plan for the day, checking all the channels, and catching up with what happened overnight. On days that I have new people joining the team, I have introductory calls scheduled, so I am not the bottleneck for the onboarding. If I have any matters that need to be solved that day, I inform my co-workers that a task needs to be completed today in advance, so that they can also plan their day to attend to that. I really like the “Eat that frog” rule to get the most difficult task on your to-do list done first thing in the morning. This actually helps me get the lift off my back and not stress about the task all day. Sometimes this means that I take advantage of the option of remote work we have at Netguru. I start the workday at home and move to the office after this important task is done.
Mid-day is for all the meetings, introducing improvements, coordination, solving blockers etc. I am available for the team and they know it, and they can count on me. Every day, a lot of unplanned things happen that either can be solved right away or scheduled for the next day.
An hour before I leave, I start to wrap things up. I finish open tasks (or at least some part of them), double-check the calendar, get through the starred items on Slack, leave messages for the next morning, and exchange crucial information with clients from the US. I don’t want to go home thinking “Oh man, I should’ve messaged that guy, because tomorrow, he won’t be available until 3 PM”, I want to have the feeling of a job well done accompanying me for the rest of the day.
2. Continuing on that note, something that is very important and is a result of good time management: work-life balance!
If you don’t have to – don’t work overtime. I know it may be tempting to do something in your spare time, but after a while, you will grow tired of this if your leisure time is spent on job-related things. You need to have some you time! Save yourself from job burnout by having a visible separation of work and life. If you are working from home, it’s good to have a place dedicated to work, so you don’t associate your couch with work every time you are just chilling watching Netflix.
If you have a client from a different time zone, establish clear rules of communication at the beginning of the cooperation with respect to both time zones and stick to them. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries when you are already in your jammies and the client just wants “one small thing” from you.
Learn how to rest, not only after hours on a workday but on the weekends too and especially on holidays. Go offline, uninstall Slack from your phone, log out from the email account, don’t use your work computer or phone in your spare time. It might be tempting to check up on your team, but if you’ve worked earnestly and everything is organised and covered, they will be fine without you. After all, you need this time to recharge your batteries, so don’t neglect this precious “me” time.
3. The 2-minute rule is a trap
In articles, books, or shows on life hacks or personal time management, you’ll hear that if something takes under 2 minutes (or 5 as some sources might say), you should take care of it immediately. And it’s perfectly valid advice when, for example, you spot some dirty clothes on your way from the living room to the kitchen and take them to your laundry basket at that moment, it will be just a couple of seconds. But for PMs, many of our daily tasks are those quick, 2-minute things and they will constantly get you out of your rhythm. Don’t do that to yourself. Let them pile up for a bit, add them to your to-do list (star a message on Slack, add the task to Todoist, create a new post-it).
4. Use one to-do list
This might be an app, a notebook, or post-its on a board next to your desk. Keep it consistent, so you do not waste any time searching where is that thing you were supposed to do. But come on, if writing something down takes you the same time as doing the task (reschedule a meeting for example), ask yourself this: isn’t creating a list item an overkill?
5. Spend a whole day working on one project if possible
This tip is great in case you are managing more than one project. It would be much easier to introduce improvements if you have a 3-hour slot dedicated to a project rather than 15 minutes here and there. Constant context switching affects your attention span and focus levels. Avoid this as much as possible, and you’ll see you are capable of doing life-changing things when you are just given some time.
6. Write things down
A long time ago, I stumbled upon a quote by a Polish actor, Stanisław Tym, that says “You write down addresses so that you can forget them” and I think about it quite often. For me, it is painfully accurate, not only about addresses, but everything can apply to this rule. Don’t overload your short term memory with loops like “Remind Peter to write to the client”.
If you cannot remind Peter now, just use any reminder app (like Slack) or add it to your to-do list. The same thing can be said about project details for example. Write things down in one place, and you’ll thank yourself later. It will save you a lot of time if you don’t need to search for particular details in your inbox, on Slack, on Google Drive, in Salesforce and in a million other places.
This can be really hard, and you will make a lot of mistakes until you finally learn. I am also still getting there. In general, you should always consider your co-workers’ working hours if you have a task that requires someone’s input (like a response or a signature). The second thing would be to always keep the deadlines in mind. Imagine this situation: you have a fairly quick thing to do like adding a task description to one task (deadline: next sprint planning, a week from now) and a huge workshop summary to write (deadline: 2 days from now). It seems like “I’ll do the small thing now and then focus on this big thing I have lined up, so I can have full focus”. No no, it’s a trap!
Consider the deadline, because these “small things” will keep coming and you will spend the time you need to finish the summary document on things that are not even urgent.
8. Transparent communication
I have mentioned already that it’s crucial to have your meeting statuses up-to-date, and we do that to increase transparency. Sharing information about working hours and blockers you face will eventually save you time and energy. Even some clear information that you don’t have any news is important because it is still a status and your team will know that you haven’t forgotten about the issue.
9. Inform about a problem and propose a solution at the same time
Don’t expect someone will solve your issues. They will for sure help you, but not necessarily as soon as you want them to. It’s better to have a starting point for those long solution-searching discussions than to start from scratch.
10. Don’t multitask too much
It’s natural that, sometimes, we can speak with someone and take notes at the same time or listen to a podcast while revising assignees in JIRA task. But beware, it’s tricky. You’ll end up exchanging messages with other people on dailies and at the end of the meeting, you’ll have no idea what everyone said. Focus on one thing and multitask only when it’s absolutely necessary or it doesn’t bring your focus down. In reality, people cannot concentrate on more than one thing at a time – it’s a myth that we can. What feels like multitasking is actually really fast context switching. Yeah, I know, mindblowing! Trust me, I’m a cognitive scientist. What recent studies have shown is that in this crazy professional world, we simply cannot afford NOT to multitask, but as I just told you, it engages a lot more of your energy and in the end, the results might be detrimental to your performance (like tiredness, losing focus on both of the tasks, a drop in IQ even).
11. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Stick to the rules, follow checklists, create to-do lists. If a process works, write it down and repeat the steps every time you need it. For example: How to give access in a Github repository, how to create a new project in JIRA, or what needs to be granted to onboard a person to the project. Create your own cheat sheets! The same goes for e-mail templates. It’s not a personal letter for someone’s birthday, you don’t have to be unique every time. Use a format that works and stick to it.
12. Don’t go on holidays Mon-Fri
A tip I got from one of our developers, Łukasz Ozimek. If possible, go Wed-Tue. It’s still the same number of days off, but on Mon and Tue before you go you have time to pass on your tasks, hand over the project, finish all unfinished matters before you go, so you can relax knowing you had time to properly prepare the team for your absence. Imagine doing all of it on a Friday with possibly some people leaving earlier, with usual end-of-week summaries. That’s just like adding fuel to fire. And when you are back on a Wed, you have a couple of days to get back into your normal rhythm.
13. Check out Zapier
Ever heard about an app called Zapier (once again, unfortunately nobody has paid me to recommend it to you, guys)? Zapier can help you automate your daily tasks. Considering all the advice above and the advice from previous articles, you can, for example, have all starred messages on Slack added as list items to your Todoist or have your Slack status changed every time you have a meeting in your calendar. Check out Zapier for more possible integrations (there are so many, you can write a book about it!).
An experienced PM has probably already figured out most of those things, but if you have learned something new today, I am really glad. If you are just starting as a PM, I hope you find these tips useful, and they will help you to manage your time better. Try to apply these tips to your personal time, too. After all, who wouldn’t want some extra time for another Netflix episode or a longer walk with the dog?