I wish there were more hours in the day. I say this to myself at least once a day, normally as I’m reluctantly turning off my laptop about 8.30pm and winding down for the evening. If I had more time I’d craft more, spend more time with my family, exercise and bake. Not necessarily in that order. Oh, and I’d probably be more productive on my projects and have fewer last-minute crises.
Unfortunately, as everyone knows you can’t squeeze more hours out of a day. So I have dedicated a fair amount of my time to researching and testing ways to save time at work. Watching how I spend my time means I get more done in the day so my projects advance more quickly, and I get to go home earlier.
Here are the 10 timesavers I rely on.
This first group of timesavers is about using technology and systems to make your life easier and save you time on projects.
1. Email alerts
Email alerts are great. They remind me of upcoming tasks, meetings I should be at, things my team are doing or should be doing or have done and lots more. You can use your project management tools to set up alerts and lots of other apps have them built-in as well.
Or you can create your own: write some emails to yourself and schedule them to send in the future. In Outlook you can also create calendar events with reminders: book a ‘meeting’ with yourself (marking the time as Free if necessary) and then you’ll get the reminder when you set the alert to go out.
I do this for weekly reporting. I know I have to report once a week, but there’s a chance my project work gets in the way of reporting, so setting up email alerts and booking half an hour in my diary every Thursday means I can guarantee the reports actually get done.
Saves time because: You don’t miss deadlines so you aren’t playing catch up all the time.
I’ve put timesheets in the technical category but I’ve also used manual timesheets in the past to record my activities over a few weeks. It’s more time-consuming but the data is just as good as if you use an electronic timesheet system.
The point of timesheets is to work out where you are spending your time. If you are billing your time to other departments or clients, you’ll probably do them routinely. If not, it is worth keeping timesheets for a month just so you can see how much time you spend on activities. When my team did this we realised how much time we spent travelling. It was a lot, and we weren’t working productively during this time as there’s a limit to how much work you can do in the car or on the train with no signal.
Saves time because: You can objectively review your activity and work out where you can make time savings.
3. Online access
Accessing apps online makes it possible to stay on top of my projects from anywhere with wifi. While I can’t bring myself to move away from paper for some things, online access to project management and collaboration tools does make it easier to stay in touch with my team.
Saves time because: You can make use of downtime and check project status from almost anywhere (although watch out that you aren’t checking in from bed or in the middle of the night – just because you can doesn’t mean you should!).
This group of timesavers is about standardising working practices so there is less thought involved and you don’t reinvent the wheel on every project.
Routines save time because you don’t have to think about what is happening next. The more standardised and process-driven your tasks, the easier they are. This applies to things like the risk management process, change requests and procurement. Get your processes and routines written down so you’re effectively following a checklist each time.
Saves time because: You don’t have to spend time working out how to move the project forward. Simply follow the process.
5. To Do list
Managing my project and other tasks effectively is critical. If you want to get things done, you need to know what those things are. It’s not enough to have a vague idea of the priorities for the week. It should be written down, with the priority points highlighted and time blocked out on your calendar to do the work.
I keep my To Do list up to date routinely, and even when I’m away from it I make sure I have ways to update it. For example, I’ll email myself the tasks to do and then add them to the list later. It’s not the slickest way, but I can’t pry myself away from a paper To Do list to an electronic one. If you use an electronic task management app, you won’t have that problem!
Saves time because: There is a structure and a focus to your work, and less time wondering what you should be doing or preparing a task list for the week.
All my project team meetings have a standing agenda (you can get the agenda template I use here). We deviate occasionally because it is the right thing to do and we need a broader discussion, but in the main there are always the same points to review if I want a full and comprehensive discussion about the project and progress.
The agenda also saves other people time because they know what topics are going to come up so they can prepare in advance. When I ask questions during the meeting they already have the answers, so there’s a double benefit: I don’t have to wait for them to go away and prepare a response as they’ve already got one.
Saves time because: I don’t have to think much about the meeting prep beforehand and it helps keep the discussion focused so we finish on time.
This group of timesavers works for me, but you might have to try them out yourself to see if they can slot into your working style.
I have templates for everything. OK, not everything. But mostly everything. The thing that takes the longest time to set up at the beginning of a project (for me) is the financial tracking spreadsheet. Budget management on projects is always the biggest headache so using my budget template is a huge timesaver.
Saves time because: I don’t have to create a budget from scratch.
8. Scheduled reports
Where I can, I prefer to use dashboards and automated reports. Project reports are so important for high impact communications but they can take a long time to put together. If you can automate the process by using real-time data and pulling it from one or several systems, you’ll save yourself time.
The other benefit of using real-time data is that you don’t have to ask your project team members for updates because they are doing them regularly anyway, so there’s no delay in asking for feedback or status reports for you to collate into your main project report.
Saves time because: The more automated the data collection, the easier and faster it is produce the report. Less work for me to do!
It took a while for me to move into the smartphone era but I’m rarely separated from it now, even though the screen is cracked. It can be a time waster for some people who can’t stop checking the Facebook alerts, but if you can be disciplined about how you use it, email and online access from your pocket is a huge help.
Saves time because: I can check emails, instant messages and more on the go, so I can make use of downtime during the commute or waiting for the kettle to boil.
10. Good relationships
Finally, the thing that probably saves me the most time in a day is the good relationships I have with my team and other colleagues. If I say something is important, they trust me enough to believe that I’m right and that it is something they should deal with now. Equally, I tell them when it’s not important and a response next week is adequate.
Building good, trusting relationships with project stakeholders takes time but it really is worth it. It means people take your calls, read your emails and respond appropriately. Don’t be the project manager everyone ignores – not only does that make your working environment less appealing, it also means more work for you chasing down responses.
Saves time because: People respond faster to queries so there is less waiting for responses to project issues.
You might do some of these already, and you may have tried a couple and realised they don’t work for you. That’s fine, everyone is going to manage their limited time differently. But if you haven’t tried them, give them a go and see how much more streamlined your working day could be. You’ll get out of the office faster and go home to knit an alpaca sweater while whipping up a roast for dinner. Or maybe just curling up with a glass of wine on the sofa: your only problem will be working out what to do with your extra time!