Reflecting on last year, we can all identify things that undermined project progress or inhibited success. I call these things Productivity Demons or Project Demons. They consist of the little things in a project that you don’t want to do, that you procrastinate or try to delegate ineffectively. You know they need to be done, but drive you a bit crazy so you avoid them at all costs. This can also include the things that you aren’t good at or that seem to be an irritant with project customers you serve and support.
How can you conquer these “project demons” that plagued you through 2021 and enter 2022 as a stronger project manager ready to meet and exceed your project customers’ needs and expectations? Read on for some tried and true tactics that are sure to help you overcome your demons.
1. Prioritize A-1s so the most important things come first
Decades ago, I adopted the Franklin-Covey System in principle #3 of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to managing my work. The practice was centered around documenting daily ‘to do’ lists in the Franklin Covey Planner with each item assigned an A, B or C priority then, those were further prioritized with 1, 2 or 3. Disciplined users of this system would focus first on the A1s and only after those were complete, move on to A2s, A3s, B1s and so on. By definition, Cs were not very important or urgent and if they slipped to the next day, that was okay.
Look around your desk. Are there any priority A1s jumping screaming for attention? Tackle those tasks first. If you procrastinate the A1s, you are effectively ignoring the most important work. Your project clients are going to start calling you or someone higher up – guaranteed. So, slay your first demon. Apply your full and first attention on this important work. Craft an email or Slack to tell them you are on it and will provide an update soon. You will ease their minds and ensure that they won’t be barking up your tree anytime soon. Having the project priority A1s taken care of will free your focus on other, likely lighter and easier work, making you even more productive as you move through it. You will find that getting the most important work done first every day will fill you with positive momentum and energy that will make every day better.
2. Do the fast things next
You may have heard the mantra, “fast things first.” It may be the most common productivity demon affecting today’s professionals. We sit down, power up our workstations then get sucked right into email, Slack, and other messaging platforms. Before we know it, our stomachs are growling for lunch, and we haven’t completed anything meaningful. You don’t need me to tell you this is a bad habit to get into.
As you plan your day, and triage the morning mail, move first to the A1s then schedule project tasks you can accomplish quickly then mark as done. Not much feels better than checking things off the list as done. Give yourself some of that feel-good juice and further declutter your workday by quickly completing the easy stuff.
3. Plan ahead for the tough stuff in a project
Some productivity consultants will coach you to move this tough and likely important work higher on the list, but I disagree. You have labeled this work tough for a reason. While important to get done, these project demons have the potential to exhaust you early, affecting your capacity later in the day to get other work done. My advice is to plan ahead for this work and look for help completing it. Study your project workspace and schedule. Look for resources to add to this work who have capacity. When considering who to assign, don’t just look for people with capacity, but those who have a skill set aligned to the tough work to be done. If they are good at this work, they will likely enjoy it and be able to contribute meaningfully. In fact, they may view the work as fun. Then, assign components of the work that can be delegated and focus your energy on what you can or need to personally deliver. Breaking tough work down this way and distributing across the team will enable you to do what you do best, oversee the project while encouraging and celebrating success.
Maintaining visibility of workflows, work assignments, and progress while also managing inevitable change can be a challenge. This is where choosing and deploying project and resource management software may be wise. There are many to choose from so my advice is to search for those that meet your needs. If prioritization, planning and predicting outcomes is important, be sure to shop for that. If managing change or threads of uncertainty that are common to tough work, then ensure the tool you choose is good at solving for this. Complex project work requires a solution that is sufficiently robust. The best ones used ranged estimates to determine resource needs and predict outcomes. Don’t make the mistake of applying simple tools. They will not have the power to help you get above and beyond your productivity demons.
4. Raise your reporting game
Managing up can be hard. I’ll be the first to admit that inquiries from senior management for updates or insights and responding to them quickly can be distracting. In fact, I’ll label these distractions demons as well. Each of us knows that senior management is not only entitled to ask for updates, but we also recognize that well-informed leaders can make our lives better. We rely on leaders for direction, budget, resourcing, and decisions. Rather than view untimely leadership engagement as one of our demons, let me help you find a path to make it a positive.
How? Be proactive! Establish and provide daily reporting. Include them in any issues discussions that are happening with projects via email… or even better, via automated reporting that the best project management tools in the market offer. Find one that current customers celebrate for providing confident outcomes and trusted insights into when work will get done. Avoid those that require you to do even more work to manually update progress and instead adopt a solution that has a predictive scheduling engine in place to do this heavy lifting for you. The more you can tell them through the normal and daily routine communication means the less interference you will get from above. More demons slayed.
5. Culling customer inquiries
Have you been drawn into Yellowstone? I just love the beautiful Montana views and rugged determination expressed by stars of the program to protect and defend the place they call home. The show often depicts the real work performed by these cowboys. One such job is culling cattle from the herd for treatment, branding or sale. Just like they cull the cattle, I suggest here you need to learn to cull some of your customer inquiries.
No matter where you are in these top priorities I’ve been discussing, your project customer wants and will benefit from regular updates. Wait, what? More, not less? I was just introducing how to cull customer inquiries, not make more. As with ‘raising your reporting game,’ there is a way to automate customer updates. Software. Most products in the market now offer customer or client “guest access.” These licenses grant permission to view progress, access reports, or communicate via in-app tools while limiting other project contributions. Depending on the use case, these ‘read-only’ licenses are offered free or for a lower cost than a full-use license. Once in place, they enable a full array of visibility into the project plan, priorities, and progress. Resource assignments can be viewed and predicted outcomes assessed. It represents a powerful way to improve your productivity over the traditional approach where everything funnels through the project managers desk and email account.
So, what are you waiting for? Cull these customer emails from your daily email queue and corral them for much richer and more efficient management via application of PM software.
Rid of these Project Demons to Improve Your Productivity in 2022
Let’s start the new year on a new footing. Take things one step at a time, stay organized and avoid procrastination. Be the project leader you aspire to be and help your project teams perform better. Embrace technology and choose a PPM solution that will help you and your team stay focused, organized, and perform at the top of your game through better planning, prioritization, prediction, and communication. An investment now in dealing with some of your demons and embracing a project management solution will help you to stay ahead of the game, manage change and be ready to take on whatever comes your way in the new year. You’ve got this. Bring on the new year!
About the Author
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. He has been named the #1 blog to follow in 2022 and the “#1 Provider of Project Management Content in the World” with over 7,000 published articles, eBooks, white papers, and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV.