Do you wish there were more hours in the day? Me too. For years now, I’ve been on a quest to eek more productivity out of each day with improved time management.
The good news is that I am winning at doing that, and I’ve become really efficient at crossing things off my to-do list. The bad news is that sometimes work still encroaches on my personal time because I find it hard to stop, especially when I’m on a roll!
I’m working on bringing more work/life balance to my projects, but I’m also realistic. We all need to feel that our time is well spent at work and that we are progressing our projects in line with stakeholder expectations. So today, I’m sharing my ten tried and true time management tips with you.
1. Manage your attention
We’ve all got the same number of hours in the day. It’s not time that needs managing, it’s how you use it.
Before I sat down to write this article, I checked my notifications on LinkedIn, got a mug of tea, checked my phone, scanned through my inbox… and basically wasted 15 minutes that I could have used to get going. When you have a deadline, managing your attention is a surefire way to get more of the right things done.
Put your attention on what matters and look at what that does to your productivity. You might be pleasantly surprised!
2. Speed up your navigation
Did you know you can change how quickly your mouse moves across the screen? Find the setting and then speed it up by 50%. Let’s be honest: you aren’t going to save hours per day with this time management tip, but you will feel like you’re working faster.
The other input device that has made a huge difference to me is a touch screen for my laptop. I don’t know how I put up with working without one for so long. It’s so fast for on-screen navigation. When I’m in the office, I’m the one poking the desktop monitor…
The surest way to have more time is to do less. Delegate where you can, when it is appropriate. Make sure your team has the tools and level of authority they need so they can do their work without you being a bottleneck.
One of the reasons I hang on to tasks instead of handing them off is because I feel I can do it better or faster than the person I could delegate it to. That’s a limiting belief and one I’ve worked hard to get over. Use software like LiquidPlanner to track where time is spent and then you’ll be able to see (with data) that actually your colleagues are just as capable as you are. And if they aren’t, you can work together to build their skills until they are so you can feel confident passing on tasks that really should be someone else’s responsibility.
4. Stop using email to communicate progress
A study by Carleton University found people spend a third of their week processing emails. I imagine – if my inbox is anything to go by – that a lot of those emails were unimportant. They found their way to the top of the priority list by virtue of the fact they were at the top of the screen.
Use the right project management software to track progress, make changes to the plan and work intelligently with colleagues. This way, you won’t need to send that status update email because your colleagues can see your progress directly in the software.
We’re never going to get fully away from email, but make sure you are using it for the right things to save yourself time and energy.
5. Move to asynchronous meetings
Think about how you can have those conversations with colleagues at a time that is convenient to everyone. For example, smart software that aligns priorities means you don’t have to waste time briefing everyone on what they should be doing that week.
Make it easy for them to update their own tasks so you can pull that information for weekly and monthly reports.
6. Wear headphones in the office
I don’t wear headphones at work, but knowing that they send off strong ‘do not disturb’ vibes, I might consider getting a pair just for show. Two out of five people say they use headphones to signal to others that they don’t want to be interrupted.
Could you do the same thing on your in-office days? Cutting interruptions is a great way to implement these time management tips.
7. Have meeting-free days
When you’re in back-to-back meetings, there is no time to do your actual work. Meeting-free days give you focus time to get things accomplished. If you are worried about meetings being pushed into other days, don’t be. Research by Brian Houck at Microsoft shows that across a week, the number of meetings reduces by 8% when you allocate a meeting-free day for the team, so it’s not just a single day where you see the benefit.
Agree to test this out with your team. Do it once and see what a difference it makes to your week: you might find it becomes part of your regular routine.
8. Book the same desk
Do you hot desk when you go into the office? That’s a major cause of lost productivity, according to a study by iQ offices. Over 40% of people reported working at an unassigned workspace (where you don’t have ‘your’ desk) was a drain on their productivity.
For me, this is all about having to get up to find a stapler or navigating yet another unfamiliar printer instead of the one I know and love on the third floor. Do yourself a favor and book the same desk every time.
9. Plan for the pattern of interruptions
I attend a big meeting the last week of every month. My role is to provide information to the decision-makers and talk through the projects if they want to know more. Most of my work happens before the meeting.
It didn’t take long to realize that the days leading up to this regular meeting were busy. The volume of instant messages increases significantly as meeting participants prepare papers and share last-minute updates. Everyone wants to have important data on hand, and we all want to take advantage of the fact the decision-makers are together.
This is a pattern of interruptions. If you can spot similar patterns in your work, you can plan for them. Perhaps it’s around the time your reports need to be in to the PMO. Perhaps it’s at the end of the quarter when your team replans. If you spot a pattern, block out time to be available for those interruptions and allocate a portion of your day to dealing with them. Then you won’t be blindsided by the additional work.
10. Pay it forward
Be respectful of other people’s time. Start meetings on time. Be laser-focused when asking for things from stakeholders. Get good at writing emails and messages that are short and specific. Stop sending emails that just say “Thanks!” and find meaningful ways to show gratitude to the team that doesn’t rely on filling up their inbox with emails they have to read and delete.
Treat other people’s time as you would want your own time treated, but remember that not everyone has a brain that works like yours. When I was researching my last book, Managing Multiple Projects, I looked at how project managers could create an environment where neurodiverse team members could do their best work, and that included things like having a clock in your meeting rooms and adding times to agendas. Be conscious of other people’s working relationship with time and do your best to accommodate all styles.
Whether you use these time management tips to finish early and go for cocktails in the hot tub, spend more time with family or to influence the culture in your workplace, we’ve all got limited time. Pick what’s important to you, spend your days focusing on that, and you won’t regret where the time goes.
About the Author
Elizabeth Harrin is author of Managing Multiple Projects and several other books. She is founder of Project Management Rebels, a membership community for project managers who want to deliver with more confidence and less stress.