Think back to the last time you unexpectedly ran into a friend or acquaintance. Did you both express how busy you are, how packed your schedule is, or how time is just flying by? These days it seems that we’re all in a constant state of ‘busy’ — and this is especially true for project managers. Not only do you need to manage your own time, you’ve got to manage the time of your teammates. This is a challenge, yes, but a challenge you can overcome with solid time management skills.
We get that you don’t have, well, time for wishy-washy or vague advice. So here are tried and true methods for making the most out of the precious 24 hours you have every day.
Continue reading to discover:
- Our best tips for managing your own time.
- How you can boost efficiency — and limit stress — for your team.
- The most helpful time management resources.
The clock starts now.
Time Management Strategies and Resources for Project Managers
What is time management?
Psychology Today defines time management as “the ability to plan and control how someone spends the hours in a day to effectively accomplish their goals.” Time management is also one of the core skills you need to be an effective project manager. If you don’t have good time management skills, it’s likely that projects aren’t going to get completed on deadline, if at all — the outcome of which can affect your position at work, your team, and the entire company
According to Project Management Quarterly, time management consists of four main functions: planning, scheduling, monitoring, and control. These four areas can apply to your own time management practice, and that of your team.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these specific components of time management.
- Planning: You need to know how to plan out your day, meetings, and how you and your team will get things done. Project managers need to account for any issues or roadblocks when planning to ensure that there is enough time.
- Scheduling: Realistic time management recognizes the constraints of time and resources and applies this to scheduling. When it comes to project management, you need to be able to understand what needs to be done, how it should be prioritized, who can do it, and when.
- Monitoring: Effective time management, both for you and your team, relies on open communication and monitoring. Checking-in on the status of a project, and comparing it to your schedule and plan is an essential part of monitoring. When it comes to your personal time management, it’s also important to monitor time spent on activities, tasks, and any wasted time.
- Control: While we all have the same amount of time, it’s up to us to control how it is spent. Project managers must implement control to ensure work is completed on time. Making decisions is a big part of time management, and it’s up to the project manager to ensure decisions don’t stand in the way of deadlines.
Why does time management matter?
Everyone gets the same 24 hours in the day, but assuming you’re not one of the robots coming for everyone’s jobs, you’re probably not spending all of them on work. Because you can only work so many hours in a day, one of the best ways to get more done and hit all your deadlines is to maximize what you can do in the time you have. That doesn’t mean just piling on work, and that’s where time management comes in. Building up your time management skills means finding ways to optimize the way you work and recoup lost time here and there. It might only be a few minutes at a time, but at the end of the work day, those really add up. That’s why time management skills are so desirable in a collaborator.
6 Essential time management skills
Before you look at the different methods you can use to optimize your time and that of your team, you need to know the main skills that make them up. These are time management skills, which you’ll find are also useful in other aspects of your professional life. Here they are:
- Organization: If you’re constantly looking for the information you need to get started or having to re-organize your workspace, it can take ages to make progress. Staying organized is crucial for getting things done more efficiently.
- Prioritization: Learning how to properly prioritize your tasks is the key to finishing more of your work. Depending on your productivity style, you might be the type of person who wants to chain up fast, simple tasks to build up momentum throughout the day. Or you might decide to tackle your biggest, most urgent task first to clear the way for other work.
- Goal-setting: Part art, part science, goal-setting can make or break an initiative, a work day, even a whole quarter. The best goals are SMART, meaning they’re specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
- Communication: If you worked in a bubble, you’d be able to skip this part, but that’s not the case for most people. When your work depends on the contributions of others — and vice versa — you need to master the art of communication. Information isn’t the only thing that gets lost in translation. Time does, too.
- Planning: Goal-setting gives you something to reach for, but planning is how you’re going to get there. You don’t need to plan every detail of your project to manage your time efficiently, but at least some planning is essential.
- Delegation: Unless you’re an army of one, there are people you can count on for support. Better yet, some of these people have strengths that can shore up your weaknesses. If there are parts of your project you know you aren’t the best fit for, think of a person better suited for it. Time management means being able to determine what your time is best used for, and when someone else’s time is a better fit.
Personal time management strategies
Conduct a time audit
When it comes to improving your own time management skills, the first step is understanding where every second is spent. Pick an average working day and complete a time audit. You can either use one of the countless downloadable templates available online with a simple Google search, or use an app to automate the process. The time management mobile and desktop app Toggl features a free version that allows you to effortlessly track where your time is going.
Remember to be honest with yourself during your time audit. If you spent 36 minutes watching the latest unlikely animal friendships videos, add it to your audit. Your time audit is the perfect way to identify any time wasters you fall victim to. If you know yourself enough to know that you don’t have the most self-control when it comes to limiting distractions, a tool like Freedom blocks websites of your choice. Time to say goodbye to these productivity killers.
Write a daily to-do list
Once you’ve figured out where your time is currently spent, a daily to-do list is going to be even more crucial to your success.
Every morning when you get to your office — or the corner of your living room that serves as an in-home office — don’t check your emails or sign onto Slack just yet. Think about your goals for the day, the tasks you need to get done, the meetings you need to have, and then write your to-do list down.
To-do list guru David Allen suggests:
“Writing your task down as an action. This will prevent you from using nonspecific terms when making your list. For example, instead of “find movers” try “call mom and ask her to suggest a mover.’” Or “start and finish research for Tim” try “Do a journal article search using the terms: XYZ.” One way to keep a check on this is every time you write down a new to-do, ask yourself: “What is step No. 1 to get this task done?” Step No. 1 becomes your new to-do.”
Some find that writing a list down in a paper notebook is helpful because you get the satisfaction of crossing each item out physically. But tools like Asana or Trello work wonders for digital to-do lists and still provide that happy feeling as you close a task or move it to the “done” column.
Learn to delegate
Saying you’re going to get better at time management is one thing, but actually carrying through with this promise to yourself is another. Outsourcing some of your biggest time sucks is a proven way to truly get back some of those precious hours.
A Harvard Business Review study found that “workers spend a great deal of their time — an average of 41% — on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others.”
After getting 15 executives to prioritize the tasks that meant the most to them and their business, while dropping or outsourcing the rest, the subjects cut desk work by an average of six hours per week and meeting times by an average of two hours per week. Imagine what you could do with all of this extra time.
Apply this principle to your own time management approach by taking a look at your time audit and recognizing the list items you could get rid of or delegate.
For example, if you know you aren’t a fast typer but need a recording from an important meeting transcribed, hire a professional transcription company. Not only will you save time having to do the transcribing, but you’ll save all of the time and mental energy you would have spent worrying about this task. It’s a win-win.
Time management for leaders
Now that your own time management principles are in place, you can more effectively manage your team’s time. Here are some expert ways to boost efficiency and productivity in your organization.
The 80/20 rule
Renzo Costarella explains “The Pareto Principle — also known as the 80-20 rule — suggests that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort put in. This is commonly used in sales as 80% of sales typically come from 20% of the customers. ” In other words, 80% of your team’s results come from 20% of their actions.
What does this have to do with time management? Well, think about the 80% of your time being spent on 20% of your results. What are these tasks you’re spending so much time on? Are you prioritizing the wrong things? Once you accept the 80-20 rule, you should have an easier time setting up your day for maximum efficiency.
Take a look at the projects coming in and gather as much data (from your own research, previous projects, business information, other people in the company) in order to prioritize and schedule the tasks that will make the biggest impact on and add the most value to the business. The rest can probably wait.
Once you know which tasks are most important, consider the project timelines. Using a tool like a Gantt Chart can help determine what tasks are most critical to each project’s success, as well as the related timelines. They offer a great way to quickly visualize project progress and outlook, making it as easy as possible to keep tabs on that critical 20% output.
More efficient meetings
Kick-offs, status check-ins, and retrospectives are all a part of most project workflows. As a project manager, it’s your job to schedule and facilitate meetings. While it’s easy to just add everyone to every meeting, it’s absolutely not the best use of your team’s time. If you need a wake-up call, take a look around the table at an overstuffed meeting and estimate each attendee’s hourly wage. Add this up to get the real cost of the meeting. Chances are, the number is mind-boggling. Like they always say: time is money.
You always need to be aware of who is doing what — and whose attendance is crucial for each and every meeting you schedule. Does the designer need to be in a meeting about the color palette for the brand refresh? 100%. Do they need to be in a meeting about the sales team’s new workflow? Probably not.
Once your attendee list is thoughtfully considered, you need to actually run a more effective meeting. Want to make sure you don’t waste anybody’s time? Think about these common meeting faux pas:
- No plan or clear agenda
- Attendees who haven’t read the brief or prepared adequately
- Off-topic discussions and tangents
- Team members unnecessarily on their laptops (this can be highly distracting for others and shows a lack of engagement)
- Unbalanced discussions
- No clear outcome or action items for moving forward
To remedy these issues, The Project Management Institute (PMI) suggests the following tips for making meetings better for everyone:
- Be efficient. Assign homework ahead of time and after the meeting so not a second is wasted reading through reports or other content that can be done on everyone’s own time. Another way to facilitate this is by getting attendees to fill out a standardized project update form before the meeting.
- Look back — look forward. Try to stick to reviewing tasks and action items from the previous two weeks and the next two weeks. This lets all meeting participants focus on a specific aspect of the project, rather than getting thrown off-topic.
- Insist on accountability. When team members aren’t held accountable, projects undoubtedly suffer. Begin all status meetings with a review of previously discussed action items to foster a culture of accountability.
- Simplify the agenda. There should be no surprises here. Do a quick review of items from the last meeting, do the look back-look forward review, review any open issues, discuss action items, and go over a brief summary of the meeting.
- Stay focused. Tangents take the meeting off course and waste time. If issues arise, ask members to take the discussion offline. If there are items that everyone agrees should be discussed, use the timer on your phone to dedicate time to these conversations.
We’re not saying meetings are unnecessary. The opposite, in fact. Most meetings can actually save your team time in the long run. The trick is making sure to use them wisely.
Use the right tools
It’s no wonder everyone on Mad Men always seemed so stressed out. Their project managers didn’t have any of the tools available to modern PMs. Time management skills are one thing, but having the right tools can do wonders for your team. During the course of a typical project manager’s day, there are multiple components that affect time management. The good news? There are also multiple tools to help with each.
When you need help with prioritizing tasks:
As we explain in our post on the common habits of productive people, “Wrike has a customizable “Priority” field. This is a great option if you have a centralized PM team that can agree on established company-wide priorities.”
Asana is another tool that can help immensely with prioritizing your team’s tasks. Users can add “custom fields for prioritization of tasks within a project. This is great for smaller teams that are managing their projects independent of the larger organization.”
When you need to track team members’ time:
This isn’t about micromanagement. It’s about helping you resource tasks more effectively and fairly. Tools like Wrike have time trackers that your team members can easily switch on and off when they’re completing different tasks. Once you know how long certain tasks take, it’s much easier to resource and prioritize in the future. Check out Wrike’s breakdown of the time log feature for more detail on this helpful tool.
When you need to limit meetings:
A tool like Basecamp gathers all project information in one place so team members can always see and monitor progress and information. Basecamp lets you “see where everything is, understand what everyone is working on, and know exactly where to put the next thing everyone needs to know about.” Instead of having so many meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page, or that all team members working on the project saw the newest update, Basecamp lets everyone check-in and see progress at their own convenience — while still being held accountable.
When you need to work in batches:
Manually inputting similar data is a big time suck. Use something like Asana to perform batch operations by multi-selecting tasks. You can “assign batched tasks to one person, give them all the same due date, mark them as complete or incomplete, or — maybe the biggest timesaver of them all — delete all of the selected tasks.” In the case of Trello, you can create a master board to automatically gather all of your most important tasks (or the ones whose deadlines are closest at hand) in one place for easier prioritization.
When you need to stop switching between tools:
Multitasking across a bunch of different tools can decrease productivity by 40%. Unito can help. Unito creates two-way syncs between different project management tools so teams can easily collaborate — and save time doing so. Basically, you can keep working in a tool like Asana or Wrike and collaborate with people in other tools, saving you a ton of time and effort along the way.
There you have it: everything you need to become a master of time management. Learn more about some of the other skills you need to excel as a project manager.
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