Employee Post

A Project Manager’s Guide to Being Productive

In the infamous words of Jessie Spano, “No Time? NO TIME? There’s never any time!” While you’ve hopefully avoided the pitfalls of caffeine pills, you might find yourself feeling a bit like this on even the calmest of days!

For anyone dealing with an ever-evolving list of tasks: if you don’t have a good handle on how to manage your time, things are bound to go wrong. Even though it’s something we deal with every day, time management is still something a lot of people continue to struggling with. If you happen to be one of these people, no shame! Take a break from your frantic email checking and take a look at these useful tips.

Clock Time vs. Psychological Time

Sometimes I have to put on my cognitive therapist hat and really talk myself out of a panic spiral when there’s just too much on my plate.

What if x, y, z doesn’t get done by this time? How is a client going to react to this or that? How am I going to make time in my day for all of these looming tasks?

How many times have you caught yourself in this same spiral, looked at the clock, and realize you’ve spent the better part of the day in your head planning rather than actually doing?

So what’s the difference between clock time and psychological time?

Clock time is the time spent DOING. Planning, setting goals, utilizing the tools at your disposal to, frankly, GET. ISH. DONE.

Clock time is not just making an appointment or planning a trip. It includes learning from the past so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over. Setting goals and working toward them. Predicting the future by means of patterns and laws, physical, mathematical and so on, learned from the past and taking appropriate action on the basis of our predictions. – Eckhart Tolle

That time spent in your head reminding yourself of how much you have to get done, questioning how you’re going to do it all, and building yourself up emotionally to actually begin–yeah, that’s all psychological time. Psychological time is a pervasive thing that can not only creep into your personal life, but more often than not, your work life as well. You become so removed from the task at hand that you no longer are operating in the present. You’ve moved from clock time to psychological time–where you’ve become stuck in the “problem.”

This is the real source if we suffer over a “problem”, not the situation itself, but the interpretation and then thinking over and over it. If we can do something about it then fine, we do it now. If we can’t, then we leave the situation or we accept it. There is never a reason to dwell on the situation and by that create a problem in our mind. – Myrko Thum

Keep this concept in mind when you find yourself procrastinating or feeling unproductive. Are you working on clock time or psychological time? Reflect on your past experiences, learn from them, set those goals, make a list, put the pedal to the metal, and start crossing off those to-dos!

Schedule time for yourself and your thoughts

Meetings, client calls, deadlines–you’re scheduling blocks of time for everyone on your team to be able to focus on specific projects and tasks…but do you schedule time for yourself and collecting your thoughts? It’s a well-known fact that the more focused and organized you are as a leader of a team, the easier it will be to give clear and concise direction. This, in turn, leads to a more productive and efficient team. So why not set time aside at the beginning of each work week for this? Or an hour out of every day? Schedule time on your calendar to review your projects, your team’s priorities, and formulate a solid game plan for the week.

Take it one day at a time

It’s easy to let the day or week catch up with you, so break down that overwhelming amount of work for your week by what needs to get done day by day. An easy way to start chipping away at this is to update your schedule or to-do list in the morning, instead of at night at the end of your work day. This allows for you to disconnect from your daily stressors and approach the situation with fresh eyes the next morning. Start 15 minutes before your actual work day begins to avoid outside distractions and you’ll be in tip top shape!

Keep a continuous to do list

I hate to be the bearer of bad news – but you’ll always have something to do. I mean, hell, if we didn’t where would our job security be? It’s our job to keep those lists comin’! I recommend buying a notebook with simple ruled pages. I would recommend against a traditional planner simply because the disjointed breakdown between month calendars and days isn’t conducive to the stream of consciousness approach that’s needed here. Think of something you need to do? Write it down. Have to respond to an email? Write it down. Need to ask a coworker a quick question? Write it down.

In the digital age, many resort to taking notes in programs like Evernote–myself included. I’ll use Evernote for notes on client calls, but I can’t express enough how valuable actually writing your to-do list out can be. Maybe it’s just the Virgo in me, but I love a good list. I will make a list with tasks I’ve already completed just so I can cross them out. I just feels so right. Listen…it’s just science…

Writing stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you’re actively focusing on at the moment—something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront. – Melanie Pinola

Keep your completed to-do lists for easy reference and to track progress, carry over unfinished items to tomorrow’s list, and rearrange your lists every morning in order of priority. Start from the top and work your way down, then admire your progress! Rinse and repeat.

You don’t have to get everything done right now

You know those emails? They can wait. That may seem like a wild concept, but the simple fact is that now, in the digital age, we’re always accessible. The instinct is to reply immediately to all requests, which can lead to you feeling spread very thin. If you feel this need frequently and lean towards disagreement when it comes to putting a hold on immediate responses, I’d argue this: When you send an email to a client, do you know when they’ve received it? Read it? What status it has on their agenda? The answer to all these questions is most likely no.

The same goes for when anyone emails, pings, or privately messages you. I’m not suggesting you let communication fall by the wayside, but reevaluate your sense of urgency and focus on your priority items for the day. When you have a free moment, circle back. Don’t let the flurry of requests get yourself or your team get into a tizzy–you got this.

If it can go wrong, it will go wrong

So why not plan for when it does go wrong? The worst mistake anyone can make in life is to expect everything will go as intended. If you’ve somehow made it into your adult life and still haven’t learned this, I commend you for your remarkable optimism and naivety.

For the rest of us, we’ve been crushed by reality of ever changing situations, but what have we learned from it? Be strong enough to bend. The ability to pivot, be flexible, and calm when the time demands is invaluable. Stubbornly clinging to how you wish a project or call should have gone will only add to your teams frustration and waste time (here’s a perfect example of that psychological time we were talking about above). Step back from the situation, assess what needs to be done, formulate a plan of attack, and execute.

Crack that whip!

Days can be tough, task lists long, and time tight. So don’t let your tasks rule you; be the task master!


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