I recently went to Romania to run a two-day leadership workshop for project managers. I was looking forward to understanding how their project management challenges might be different to those of other countries; instead, I found that they weren’t that different at all! From the automotive industry in Romania, to manufacturing in Denmark, banking in the U.K. and software development in the U.S., ultra-lean company cultures are putting pressure on project managers to do more with less.
Project managers are essentially being asked to run more projects with fewer people. This demand challenges the community and sharpens our productivity saw.
To help you step up and do more with less, check out these seven secrets of highly productive project managers below.
1. Create a task list at day’s end.
There’s no doubt that highly productive project managers are focused on the most important tasks and activities from the moment they start work in the morning. Having such a laser focus is only possible because they have written up a clear list of priorities at the end of the previous work day.
If you wait until the morning to capture your top priorities, it will take you longer to regain momentum. Furthermore, you’ll easily get distracted by incoming emails and other requests that aren’t as important. Creating a task list before ending your work day will help you to put the important over the urgent right from the beginning of your day.
2. Eat lots of frogs in the morning.
This is an antidote for procrastinating and fretting over work you’re not doing. The frog is a metaphor used by Brian Tracy, which symbolizes the ugly but important task that you keep putting off. What you want to do is eat the ugliest frog first thing in the morning, as your brain is most alert at this time.
So, if you know you’ve got a dreaded task in front of you, set aside 60 – 90 minutes of uninterrupted time to take care of frog business. One great result is that it frees you from thinking about what you’re procrastinating on. Then, you can feel more relaxed about any interruptions and unexpected meetings that crop up during the remainder of the day, because you made headway on your frogs earlier in the day.
3. Check email less frequently.
A few years ago I was running a project leadership master class for a major organization. In the class, I recommended that participants limit the amount of times they checked email so it wouldn’t dictate the flow of their day. There was some reluctance to this idea, because people felt their clients and colleagues expected them to quickly respond.
Luckily, one of the senior managers came to my rescue. He told us that for a long while he had been checking his email only three times a day, and that his productivity had increased dramatically. What a great testimony to our third productivity secret! I encourage you to follow his advice and reduce the number of times that you check your email. Try turning it off for short periods of time, so you’re not distracted by notifications.
4. Name the real issues.
Being highly productive isn’t just about eating frogs and avoiding distractions. It’s also about being able to have difficult conversations and name the real issues so that the project can move forward. Highly productive project managers aren’t afraid of highlighting risks and issues. They know that this is the only way to get senior managers to help move the project forward and to build trust in their leadership.
To move issues forward, take every effort to talk about the project’s real risks to stakeholders, and provide recommendations on how to address each item. No one is interested in problems, so focus on the way forward. To support your recommendations, provide an impact analysis of each option and give the senior managers sufficient information to make a decision.
5. Hold effective project meetings.
Another secret of highly productive project managers is that they take control of meetings and optimize the time they spend in them by clearly defining what outcomes they want up front. You can hold effective project meetings by setting and sticking to a clear agenda, and then writing up actions and agreements with individual owners within 24 hours of the meeting.
Another tip is to ask attendees to “check in” and “check out” of each meeting. When participants check in, have them share what they’d like to get from the meeting and what is presently going on for them, e.g. if they’re feeling absentminded due to a production issue. When participants check out, have them state if their purpose for the meeting was met or not. If you use project management software, use the tool to facilitate meetings.
6. Enable the team to help out.
The sixth secret is to spread the workload in a way that engages the team and enables the project manager to lead rather than get involved in all the detailed work. You can do this by involving the team in defining and kicking off the project, and by planning it collaboratively. This is by far the best way to gain people’s buy in and commitment to the project.
No one likes to be told what to do, so make sure that defining the work and assigning roles and responsibilities is a team effort. You can also enable the team to help out by delegating This means that you delegate work that motivates and stretches the team members, while at the same time it frees you up to focus on the 20 percent of activities that add to 80 percent of your project’s results.
7. Work with a mentor or a coach.
The most dedicated and highly productive project managers I know work with either a mentor or a coach on a regular basis. They use this person as a sounding board and a guide to help them overcome issues and stay focused on the most important aspects of the project. In my project management coaching work, I had one client I worked with for over a year. In that time she’s increased her influencing skills and improved her focus on value-adding activities. Consequently she has flourished in her new job and even gained a promotion within a very short amount of time.
We all want to feel productive and know that our work makes a difference. You can employ any of these seven secrets to get thing done, and join the club of the most productive project managers out there. Don’t sit back and wait for things to happen. Be proactive and take action, now!
Being productive means taking on common PM challenges and providing beautiful solutions! To learn how to make an impact and be the person the team turns to, download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”