Time management tips for project managers from kick-off to crunch time
The final phases of project development can be testing for any team. But, it’s not always realistic to meet deadlines without a degree of crunch time.
As a busy Project Manager, your time is always precious but as a big project draws to a close the pressure and demands on you and your time are amplified. You’re likely to have team members, clients, freelancers and stakeholders all asking for meetings, calls and catch-ups, so for a successful PM, time management is one of your most important skills.
We’ve simplified the process and put together a number of hints and tips to help you to utilise your valuable time in the best way possible (hint: this doesn’t involve working weekends and only getting four hours of sleep a night!)
Plan your time. Realistically.
The value of planning ahead simply can’t be overstressed. When the project starts – plan, plan and plan a little more. Be aware that in the early stages you’re likely to have time to meet with various teams and get creative but the further into the project you go, the tighter your time will be.
Plan a personal schedule as well as one for the project and reduce your deliverables towards the end. If possible, delegate smaller tasks to more junior team members to ensure you have enough time to take care of the bigger issues.
If in doubt, underestimate the time you’ll have in the last days and weeks of a project. This time will be hectic for your whole team and as PM it’s essential that you can free up time to firefight or support any members of your team who are struggling.
Ensure you have the right tools and equipment
Your job will be made considerably easier if you have the right tools at your disposal and pre-project kick-off is the perfect time to assess exactly what you need. Consider whether you’ll need project tracking and collaboration software, consider whether or not you have adequate communication equipment and anything else that will make life easier (and potentially cheaper and less time consuming) and factor this into costings. Even the most talented PM will struggle if they do not have the tools and equipment that they need.
Get to know your project team
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the role of PM is the variety, not just in terms of the project itself but also the personnel that you’re working with. Before project kick-off is a great time to get to know your team. Learning their surname and where they went to university is nice but more important is social, economic and cultural differences. This is particularly relevant if you’re working with multinational groups. Do you have a team member who won’t be able to work certain days or are there holidays or events that mean members of your team will be out of the office? These simple misunderstandings can have major implications further down the line so be sure to factor all eventualities in from the get-go.
As the project goes on
Resist the urge to micromanage
Ask any team member and they’ll tell you that their favourite project managers or team leaders are the ones who trusted and supported them to do their job without feeling the need to micromanage. Of course, this isn’t a popularity contest, but micromanaging is a major draw on your time! Don’t spend every day assessing whether your team of skilled professionals are doing what they’re supposed to. Schedule in meetings for them to update you on work but trust their knowledge and experience to get the job done in the meantime. And, if you truly can’t trust an employee to do their job without constant supervision then you may need to think twice about working with them in future.
Where necessary, delegate tasks to members of your team. As PM you need to have oversight over every aspect of the project, which means taking minutes at meetings, crafting them into a beautiful document and sending to relevant parties might not be the best use of your time. Be realistic with yourself and do the work that you personally need to do and delegate less essential tasks to someone else.
Prioritise your workload
There are all sorts of productivity techniques out there but one that’s very much grounded in reality rather than pseudo-science is the 20/80 rule. Otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, the rule states that roughly 80% of the output will be generated by 20% of the input. Or, to put it in a simpler way, a handful of elements can create the most impact. Spending 10 minutes creating a simple table that assesses the most important elements of your work and putting your focus will there will see you well on your way to success.
The process of taking the time to list and prioritise your tasks can be majorly helpful. Take a look at our very simple table below and spend some time creating your own equivalent
Conduct team meetings
Team meetings are important but doing them well can make all the difference. If your team currently has two-hour-long, bi-weekly catch-ups to discuss industry developments, these may need to be shelved for a while. During a major project, your whole team are working hard so holding unnecessary meetings isn’t the best use of anyone’s time. However, there will often be information that you’re informed of as PM that your team will need to know. Schedule meetings sparingly in the midst of a project and ensure that they’re useful. Determine which information will be better delivered face-to-face and which can be disseminated via email or another method.
Prepare agendas of items to be discussed and share these beforehand so everyone understands their role in the meeting. Aim to keep conversations strictly on topic and plan for the meetings to be as succinct as possible. Time is precious and your team will thank you for it.
Once crunch time hits
Pay attention to your team
You’re busy. Your team are busy, and the end is in sight. Be careful not to overlook your staff at this crucial point. The increased workload can lead to burnout so be aware of what each member of your team is doing and don’t be tempted to delegate work to your busiest staff member. Employees often feel isolated if they’re lacking the right support so be sure to check in with your team and check how they’re managing.
Are they effectively managing their time?
Do they have realistic deadlines?
Are they working at capacity?
Could tasks be re-assigned to make their workload more manageable?
If you know that your team are working at capacity and staying after hours, consider ordering in dinner or arranging taxis after a late finish. These little touches will boost morale and keep stress levels in check.
Beware of communication overload
Workflow tools such as Slack and Asana are a great way to monitor efficiency and have an overview of where the whole team are at with their workload but when the pressure is on there’s the potential for communication overload.
Check-in on social and workflow channels to ensure communication is on brief and not adding to an already demanding workload.
We know this might be the last thing on your mind in these hectic final few days but ensuring your team are taking lunch breaks and squeezing in five minutes for coffee here and there can make all the difference. If you’ve noticed that your team seem to have elevated stress levels then implement 15-minute power breaks so that people can escape the office, grab a drink or a breath of fresh air and talk about something that isn’t project related. Far from being a waste of time, power breaks like these have been shown to increase productivity and lower stress.
Debrief, review and reward
Phew! It may have felt like you’d never get there, but the project is launched, the deliverables are delivered, and the client is happy. This may feel like the perfect time to pat yourself on the back and head into the sunset for a long weekend with your family but as PM your role isn’t quite over yet. This is time to take stock.
Book a table at a local restaurant or organise a day out for your staff. It doesn’t take much to let your employees know that they’re appreciated. As well as the chance to relax and blow off steam, you should also encourage a debrief of how team members felt the project went. In a relaxed setting, team members may be far more open than they would be in a formal office setting. Take the time to listen carefully to frank discussion and take note of areas for improvement.
Crunch time is often an unavoidable aspect of business life but by considering the points above, checking in with your staff and prioritising your own responsibilities you can reduce stress and raise employee morale.
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