Time Management Tips to help PMs Beat the Clock

“What’s your afternoon look like?” my coworker asked through Slack. “Spending hours feeling overwhelmed with my to-do list and not getting much else done!” I responded, only half-joking. As project managers (PMs), we all know that our jobs require a vast array of professional and personal skills. Everything from relationship management, planning and maintaining a project budget, monitoring employee performance, setting up and leading meetings, to ensuring you meet the project’s goals on time requires a number of know-how and leadership qualities. Among the most important qualities a PM must possess? Time management skills. After all, time is the most valuable resource you have.

The truth is, time management may sound like one of those “easy” skills you can shrug off and not think much of. How hard can it really be? But, ask anyone who lives in our modern world filled with distractions — emails, social media, instant messages, among other things — and they’ll tell you: time management is a challenge. This is particularly true when you’re faced with scope creep or something goes awry during your project’s lifecycle and you find yourself scrambling to stay on deadline.

It is difficult — if not downright impossible — for a project to run exactly as you expected it to when you first developed your plan and timeline. So, what can you do to ensure that your time is managed properly and you’re making the best of all of the moments in your day, no matter how busy you are? Read on to discover some tried and true time management tips that will help you feel more in control of your project — and your to-do list.


Schedule Yourself for Success

You want your project to be a success. You want satisfied stakeholders and clients. In order to achieve this, your project team must work efficiently. Get started on the right foot with time management by creating a realistic, doable project plan. Consult with your team members as you build your project plan. Ask them to provide insight into how long they think it will take them to complete their work. Consider this input so you can accurately create your project plan and set deadlines. When you create a timeline that works for everyone and communicate the plan to the client/project sponsor, you’re providing a schedule of deadlines you and your team can actually fulfill.


Choose the Right (Communication) Software

The success of your project and team relies on open communication and cooperative collaboration. In order for this to take place, you’ll need to make sure you have the right tools in place for communication. Your team cannot effectively communicate about tasks and updates without the right communication tools. Choose a software platform such as Microsoft Teams to ensure that everyone can communicate and collaborate on projects with ease. If you’re using Office 365, you can also use this software to monitor your team and progress made along the way. This helps with time management because you’ll be able to clearly see where things are falling behind and put actions in place that can help you get back on track as quickly as possible.


Learn about the Pareto Principle

If you’ve ever longed for more hours in a day to get things done, you are not alone. This is typical in today’s modern world, when it often feels like we’ll always be behind. According to the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule), 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. What does this mean for project managers? It means that the most important tasks we do on any given day take up 20 percent of our time, and the remaining 80 percent, well…it’s dead wood. When there’s too much for you to deal with and you feel like you’re on board a sinking ship, find the core of what you need to do that day, do it, and cut out the rest.


Apply the Ivy-Lee Method

Over 100 years old, the Ivy Lee Method, by far my favorite time management technique, is a tried-and-true tactic for helping people become more productive at work. It feels exceedingly simple, and it is. Implementing this method shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes out of your day, and is as simple as this:

  • At the end of each day, write down six things you need to accomplish tomorrow.
  • Prioritize these items in order, from the most important to the least.
  • The following day, focus only on the first task and finish it before moving on to the next.
  • Repeat this every day.
  • Notice how much more productive you’ve become.


Take a break! In Fact, Take Lots

It might sound counterintuitive to take breaks to be more productive, particularly when you’re feeling the weight of your deadlines looming. But short, regular breaks (ranging from 10-15 minutes long) can actually improve your productivity. Take a short walk, go for a coffee, or stop by the office water cooler for a quick chat with your colleagues. You’ll give your brain a break, your body will get the movement it needs, and you will feel much fresher when returning back to your desk to get the job done.


Avoid Multitasking

Somewhere along the way, a person’s ability to “multitask” became something we all thought we should be aspiring to master. The truth of the matter is most people fail miserably at multitasking, and attempting it is a major source of wasted time. There are endless reasons why we choose to multitask at work, including compensating for a delay, feeling overwhelmed with the number of things on our to-do lists, and/or the desire to prove to ourselves that we can do more than one thing at a time. Sometimes, it’s an attempt to impress our superiors and colleagues. Whatever the reason, multitasking is a mistake that can cost you more time than you think you’re saving. Focus on one thing at a time, and you’ll end up having much more time to get through your list.


Turn Off Alerts

You know the feeling…you’re “in the flow” with your work when you see a new email notification pop-up. You click over to your email to read it with the intention of returning to your work immediately, but before you know it, you’ve responded to the email and twenty minutes later still haven’t returned to your workflow. Resist the urge to get instant notifications. In fact, turn off alerts on your computer — including email and instant messaging apps — that will be a distraction. The best thing to do is to turn alerts off and schedule an hour during your day to reply to emails. In scheduling email time rather than being constantly distracted by it, you’ll find you’re able to work much more efficiently.


Stop Stressing about Time Management

Since you’re reading to the end of an article containing time management tips, it’s safe to assume you could be stressing about it. Try to let go of thinking too much about the clock. Stressing over how much you have to do in a given number of hours/days/weeks will accomplish nothing but wasting more time (go figure!). Instead, plan your time as best you can with your daily to-do list, stick to your plan, and know you’re doing the very best you can.

Do you have a time management tip of your own? Share it with us in the comments below!


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Written by Lindsay Curtis
Lindsay Curtis writes about communications, education, healthcare research, and parenting. She has extensive experience as a Project Manager, primarily in the healthcare and higher education sectors. A writer by day and a reader by night, she currently works as a Communications Officer for the University of Toronto. She also provides freelance copywriting and social media strategy services for businesses of all sizes. Learn more about Lindsay at www.curtiscommunications.org.
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