“Time management” is the process of organising and planning how to divide your time between specific activities. Good time management enables you to work smarter – not harder – so that you get more done in less time, even when time is tight, and pressures are high.
Failing to manage your time reduces your effectiveness and causes stress and anxiety.
You’ll have heard the old adage that you can’t manage time. It passes whether you like it or not.
When we talk about time management, we’re really talking about making the most of the available time.
Time Management is a Knowledge Area in the PMBOK Guide®, which is required reading if you are preparing for the PMP exam. We use the advice in there, as well as tips for personal organisation, to ‘manage’ the available hours in the working day.
Here are 20-time management tips to better manage the time you have on your project and in life:
- Use Resource Calendars
Resource calendars show you who is available when. They are handy for all teams, but especially for virtual teams.
Ensure your team calendars include the national holidays of people in different countries. I’ve made the mistake in the past of booking meetings on days when critical people are on the beach, ‘off for the day’.
- Manage ‘scope creep’
Managing time on your project is much easier if you cut out scope creep and focus solely on what it is that you have been tasked with doing.
- Use historical information
Historical information is an Organisational Process Asset in the PMBOK® Guide. It includes all sorts of things, but lessons learned information is a good starting point.
If a previous project has done something similar to you, use what they learned to prevent yourself from making the same mistakes.
You can shave days off your schedule by reviewing what caught them out and what led them to success.
- Don’t be afraid to use your judgement
Expert judgement is a valid technique to apply when managing projects, and it applies just as well to time management.
If you think something isn’t quite right, then your professional judgement can help you justify and deal with that.
- Think about your schedule strategically
Use the tools that you have available review your schedule.
Consider compression techniques that are used to shorten the schedule duration without reducing the project scope.
PMI, highlights four strategic ways to better manage the time you have available, such as crashing the schedule or fast-tracking (schedule optimisation) particular tasks along with resource levelling and smoothing (resource optimisation) :
Crashing; a technique used to shorten the schedule duration for the least incremental cost by adding resources
Fast Tracking; in which activities or phases normally done in sequence are performed in parallel for at least a portion of their duration
Resource Levelling; a technique in which adjustments are made to the project schedule to optimize the allocation of resources, which may affect critical path
Resource Smoothing; in which free and total float are used without affecting the critical path.
- Work together
Use the collective knowledge and ideas of the team to deal with scheduling and time management problems.
It’s often better to ask the team to come up with a solution to an issue.
Meetings and workshops are one way that you can do this, either run specific session designed to tackle a challenging scheduling issue or incorporating it into your regular team reviews.
- Stick to the rules
Rules and guidelines might sound prescriptive, but they can save you a lot of time.
Develop project guidance on how to calculate percent complete for a task’s Earned Value calculations, then you can quickly work it out in the same way every time.
Create processes or checklists for other common tasks. If you don’t have guidelines for tasks that you do often, create your own cheat sheets.
- Decompose your tasks
The more detail in your work breakdown structure, the easier it is to see the big picture.
You’ll be able to estimate smaller pieces of work which should mean that you can estimate more accurately.
However, stop short of breaking down the work to the point where it would be micromanaging to stay on top of it.
When you start measuring things in hours you know you have gone too far.
- Use a milestone list
The PMBOK Guide® talks about a milestone list as an output of the work you do to define the project’s activities.
It can be a really useful communication tool as well.
- Spend time on dependencies
Not all tasks have to be done in sequence. Spend time working out what are the dependencies are of your project tasks. Communicate them and get agreement to them.
Not only will you find activities that can be done in parallel (which saves you time overall) you’ll also be able to better understand your resource needs at any given moment in the project and be able to plan your time and other’s more effectively too.
- Mange your own time
If you cannot manage your own time you will struggle to manage the time on your project! Consider your personnel time management.
Tips for Personal Time Management
- Develop a single ‘To Do list’
You’ll save time by storing all your personal tasks in one place, multiple ways of tracking your own work will just add confusion.
So, clear all the sticky notes off your monitor, settle on one task management application for your phone or get a clear page in your notebook for a complete list.
Then you’ve got one place to look for the work you need to do, which makes prioritising your time a lot easier.
Prioritise tasks based on importance and urgency. For example, look at your daily tasks and determine which are:
- Important and urgent: Do these tasks right away
- Important but not urgent: Decide when to do these tasks
- Urgent but not important: Delegate these tasks if possible
- Not urgent and not important: Set these aside to do later.
Write down the deadlines for projects, or for tasks that are part of completing the overall project.
It is important to remove excess activities or tasks. Determine what is significant and what deserves your time.
Removing non-essential tasks/activities frees up more of your time to be spent on genuinely important things.
Review your list daily consider making it a habit to, at the end of each workday, go ahead and write out your “to-do” list for the next workday. That way you can hit the ground running the next morning, with a plan.
- Use templates
Do as little work from scratch as possible.
Template schedules and documents will help you save time creating project assets.
Your Project Management Office might have some that you can use or ask your colleagues.
PMP Practitioner’s provides simple document templates with tips and checklists for all tasks:
- Book time to do work
One of the problems most Project Manager find going to meetings, workshops is that work comes out of them. You get allocated tasks. At a minimum, your tasked with talking to someone else about a task they have to do or doing the meeting minutes.
If you’re then straight into another meeting, when do you get the time to do any follow-up work?
Book time in your schedule for yourself in your diary so that you know that you have time in the day to complete important tasks or have conversation.
Setting time constraints for completing tasks helps you be more focused and efficient. Making the small extra effort to decide on how much time you need to allot for each task can also help you recognize potential problems before they arise. That way you can make plans for dealing with them.
On a traditional to-do list, obligations that take hours to complete appear alongside tasks that last a few minutes. Without time-blocking, it can be hard to tell them apart. Time blocking is simply defined “as assigning individual tasks to manageable time slots. So instead of writing out everything on your plate for the day and hoping you have enough time to tackle it all, this approach lets you set realistic goals for yourself one task at a time”.
Booking time to undertake a major task makes it a priority and helps it get done.
- Don’t schedule yourself at 100%
Don’t schedule anyone at 100% of their time. If you are at work for 8 hours, I guarantee you will not spend 8 hours on work that is on your To Do list.
You’ll eat a snack. You’ll pass the time of day with colleagues; you’ll visit the bathroom.
Your available time in any one day is only 80% at most.
That leaves you time to be human and also to deal with any critical interruptions.
When doing a lot of tasks without a break, it is harder to stay focused and motivated. Allow some downtime between tasks to clear your head and refresh yourself.
Consider grabbing a brief break, going for a short walk, or meditating.
- Turn off your alerts
Do you get a pop-up alert every time a new message arrives in your inbox?
Turn it off, it’s distracting.
It somehow taps into the human desire to be popular and to feel important and it pulls your focus. Most of the time it’s a newsletter from a company that you don’t remember signing up to but even then, it’s a moment when your attention is pulled from the task at hand.
Once distracted… it’s too easy to switch tasks or not get back into the ‘zone’.
Turning off alerts will make it easier for you to stop multi-tasking and get more done.
When you take your hand out of a bowl of water…
Learn to delegate tasks and meeting attendance, you are not irreplaceable, and it is good experience for your team.
Your task list will help you; do you need to do it or could somebody else attend a meeting or do the task?
- Timebox meetings
How much time do you loose waiting for John and Sally to arrive, just 10 minutes late? Start meetings on time and finish on time. Your time is preciouses!
Always prepare an agenda for a meeting you hold; it helps you plan the meeting and work out what results you want.
Remember 8 people in a 1hr meeting is one man-day of work. Their time is preciouses! Try holding shorter meetings, a half hour meeting can save ½ a day.
See PMP’s meeting agenda: https://pmp-practitioners.com/product/meeting-agenda/
- Insist on an agenda
Do not attend meetings without agenda’s, it ensures the meeting has been planned, gives you the opportunity to prepare and allows you to consider if you need to attend or you can delegate it to a more appropriate person.
Taking the time to construct a powerful agenda will make a big difference to your meetings. Avoid these agenda mistakes:
- Arrange / agree who is doing the minutes at the start. https://pmp-practitioners.com/product/minutes-of-meeting-bundle/
- An agenda that would take two days to get through, not two hours.
- An agenda that fails to assign suggested time limits for discussion.
- An agenda that is emailed at 6:00 am for a 7:00 am meeting.
- An agenda that is not sent out in advance at all, but is distributed at the start of the meeting.
- An agenda that fails to assign a number to each item.
- Including “old business” in your agenda instead of “unfinished business.
Some people say that you should take as long to prepare your agenda as the meeting will take. There’s no doubt that considering your business items carefully, and weighing how much discussion each will need, is an important step towards creating a successful meeting. This is hard work!
Ensure that the meeting facilitator keeps the meeting flowing and avoid wasting time.
Be personable and have fun; everyone will enjoy participating more if you take this approach.
Good time management leads to improved efficiency and productivity, less stress, and more success in life.
What other tips do you have? Share your best advice for managing time in the comments on PMP Practitioner’s Linkedin Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8200128/