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15 Time Management Tips for Project Managers

time-managementYou’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®—Fifth Edition, which is required reading if you are preparing for the PMP® exam. We can use the advice in there, as well as tips for personal organisation, to ‘manage’ the available hours in the working day.

Here are 15 time management tips to better manage the time you have on your project.

Tips inspired by the Time Management Knowledge Area

1.       Use Resource Calendars

Resource calendars show you who is available when. They are handy for all teams, but especially those with people who work virtually or overseas. Make sure your team calendars include the national holidays of people in different countries. I’ve made the mistake of booking meetings on days when critical people are off for the day.

2.       Stick to your scope statement

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.

3.       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.

4.       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.

5.       Think about your schedule strategically

There are lots of ways to analyse your project schedule. Your software tools might have some options, such as identifying baselines or presenting the critical path. Use the tools that you have available to dig into the schedule. Then you can consider strategic ways to better manage the time you have available, such as crashing the schedule or fast tracking particular tasks.

6.       Work together

Use the collective knowledge of the team to deal with sticky scheduling and time management problems. It’s often better to put several heads together to come up with a solution to an issue. Meetings are one way that you can do this – either a specific session designed to tackle scheduling issues or incorporating it into your regular catch ups.

7.       Stick to the rules

Rules and guidelines might sound prescriptive but they can save you a lot of time. If you have 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. You can also 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.

8.       Decompose your tasks

The better 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.

9.       Use a milestone list

The PMBOK Guide®—Fifth Edition 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.

10.   Spend time on dependencies

Not all tasks have to be done in sequence. Spend time working out what the true dependencies are of your project tasks. 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.

Tips for Personal Time Management

11.       Have one 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 app 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.

12.       Use templates

Do as little work from scratch as possible. Template schedules and documents will help you save time creating project assets. You Project Management Office might have some that you can use, or ask your colleagues. Project training courses and manuals also often include material that you can adapt for use in your workplace.

13.       Book time to do work

One of the problems I find with going to meetings is that work comes out of them. I get allocated tasks. At a minimum, I’m tasked with talking to someone else about a task they have to do, or doing the meeting minutes. If I’m then straight into another meeting, when do I get the time to do any follow-up work? I book meetings with myself in my diary so that I know I have time in the day to have an important conversation or to complete a particular activity. Booking time makes it a priority and helps it get done.

14.       Don’t schedule yourself at 100%
And don’t schedule anyone else at 100% of their time either. If you are at work for 9 hours I guarantee you will not spend 9 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.

15.       Turn off your alerts

Since getting a new laptop, I get a pop-up alert every time a new message arrives in my inbox. I used to have this functionality turned off and I really need to switch it off again. It’s distracting. It somehow taps into the human desire to be popular and to feel important and it pulls focus. Most of the time it’s a newsletter from a company that I don’t remember signing up to but even then it’s a moment when my 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.

What other tips do you have? Share your best advice for managing time in the comments below.

 

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

4 comments

  1. thanks for the list. 13 and 14 are simple but really important. One PM I worked with used to take this to its logically extreme where he’d book a 30 minute slot at the beginning and end of every day in his calendar for start-up and close-down so that he always felt in control of his day

  2. Completely agree with your list, especially 1 and 14. Some people often neglect the personal life of their outsourced teams. With one of my recent teams, we used to distribute the tasks exactly according to timezone, holidays, and such. Made it much easier to manage the whole project. We used time tracking too because, with different time zones and etc, it was easier to track what was going on – screenish.com to be more accurate. As for #14 – I found it best to set exact working hours, breaks, and such, so I could be more efficient. It is normal to be counterproductive if you are not rested and refreshed. And you easily distract yourself if you have too many things to do because you are busy to think about how much stuff you want to do, that you forget your goals. However, all of your points combined make the perfect self-control time management technique.

  3. Great tips, all of them. Using a tool for task and time management could really help in scheduling, planning and tracking progress of tasks. I use proofhub.com as my task manager. It’s a great tool and helps me stay on track. Give it a try!

  4. Jayaraj Chanku

    Hi Elizabeth,
    Awesome post. I really liked this tips. I think this time management tips will be very much useful to me. Thanks for sharing this post.

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