Organize your day

What does it mean to be a good project manager? To me it means to be 110% productive each day, spending every single minute at work bringing value.

The biggest challenge for a PM is to be effective while multitasking. Every project manager has 20-30 pending tasks in his/her backlog everyday in addition to regular meetings he/she needs to conduct. How do you decide what to and when?
Many of you may have already developed an approach to this, but for those who have not I would like to share the way I do it.

Plan your work and work your plan

I start my day with careful planning, using three desktop tools:

  • Email
  • Tasks
  • Calendar

Step 1: Keep your inbox empty

I’m always trying to keep my inbox empty to make sure I don’t miss any email. Every email I process goes into the appropriate folder I’ve created to make navigation through emails quick and effective.

I split email into 3 categories:

  • Informative emails – Just read and move to the appropriate folder.
  • Emails needing an immediate reply – These are either emails I can reply to quickly, or they contain information I should share with my team. After forwarding or replying I move these to the
    appropriate folder.
  • Emails that require actions – These are more complex. For each of these emails I create a task and then . . . you guessed it! I move them to the appropriate folder.

 

As soon as my inbox is empty I can move forward to the next step of planning.

Step 2: Manage your task backlog

I keep a backlog of tasks on my desktop, but I also carry a notebook with me to write down any task as soon as it comes up. When I am back at my desk or have time to file them, I add these tasks to my backlog.

When I enter a task I specify a time value for it on the following scale:

0 = 5-10 min
.25 = 15 min
.5 = 30 min
1 = 60 min
2 = 120 min

I also enter the due date if any, and how critical this task is for me. Once I’ve given a value to the tasks, I define their priority, taking into account due dates as well as their critical level.

Step 3: Plan your day

Now you simply open your calendar and create an event for each task according to its estimate. There are two things you need to take into account while doing this:

  • Try to schedule your meetings one after another to free up relatively big time slots for execution of your tasks. When you leave 15 – 30 minutes between meetings you will lose time because you will not be able to focus on another task. Try to create one-to-two hour slots for working on your tasks during this period of time.
  • Leave two or three half-hour slots empty to have some flexibility in your day as people ask quick questions, or you need to solve minor issues, etc. Never keep your calendar 100% busy.

Now you are ready to work your plan. But don’t even try to accomplish all your tasks. It is not possible. Concentrate on doing those tasks that must be done today.

Here are a few tips that might help you implement this approach:

  • If you are using Outlook just drag and drop your email on the Tasks tab to create a task with the email body in its description.
  • Again in Outlook you can create an event by dragging and dropping a target task on the calendar, using an appropriate task name and description.
  • To prioritize tasks in Outlook, create a custom decimal field “Priority” and sort your tasks based on this field. This decimal system will allow you to insert a task between other tasks. For
    example you have tasks with priorities 1, 2, 3 and 4 and you need to insert something between priority 1 and 2. In this case you can just assign a priority of 1.5 to the new task.
  • Always have a notebook and pencil with you to keep notes and not lose track of any task.