As a PM, time prioritization is crucial. It goes without saying that choosing to do one task implies that there is a trade off with another task. In order to be efficient with my time, I logged all my “work related” activities to learn about my time usage and how it can be improved.
Stephen Covey’s book – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, highlights the challenges of managing time and achieving strategic goals. He divided tasks into four quadrants.
- Urgent and important: are activities associated with immediate deadlines
- Important but not urgent: includes activities such as strategic planning, preventive actions that have a more distant deadline
- Urgent but not important: involves such things as interruption that can wait or issues that are not yours to solve
- Not urgent and not important: are activities that are time wasters such as excessive socializing, unnecessary meetings, web surfing, etc
- For the two days that I logged my time for, I concluded that:
- Most of my time was spent in the second quadrant – Important but not Urgent. I did tasks such as completing design documentation, attending meetings, driving to a site to meet the client and, performing my site survey. All of these activities were scheduled in my calendar and were on my “to-do” list for the week. For any reason, if any one of the activities needed to get re-scheduled, I would have been able to do that with some notice. Hence, this work was important but not urgent.
- There was one instance, when my work fell in the first quadrant – Urgent and Important. This is when my manager came to my desk and started discussing a conflict that we were having with the client and to find a resolution for it. I had to stop doing my tasks at hand, and attend to the situation immediately.
- Remaining time was spent in the fourth quadrant – Not Important, Not Urgent. Going for coffee, lunch breaks, chatting with friends/co-workers on the messaging client or in person, responding to SMS, etc. These tasks had the flexibility of when and how I complete them.
- My particular time wasters are:
- Chatting with people (sometimes non-work related talk) while grabbing coffee, before or after lunch, before or after meetings and, people walking up to my desk
- Instantly responding to chat messages in the messaging client. I get distracted when somebody messages me and I read/respond to it almost right away.
- I read SMS or other messages on my phone as soon as I get a notification. This is another disturbance for me.
I think these time wasters take my focus and concentration away. Sometimes, the interruptions itself end up becoming a new task without me having finished the original task. For example, if I am working on a technical design document and if another team member messages me a question about one of my previous designs, I feel obligated to respond to him/her right away. Sometimes, my responses have lead to more questions and the task gets bigger than expected. In such cases, I lose track of time and I find myself stressed finishing the previous task. For the two days that I logged the time for, I had few (4 or 5) interruptions, but when one of my designs is suppose to go “live”, my entire day is interrupt driven. I get contacted (phone, email, texts, chat) from contractors, technicians, PMs, functional managers and, engineers. Hence, it can vary depending on the day and tasks.
Ways to improve time management:
One of the best ways that I can manage my time better is my not letting other people/tasks take control of my day. If somebody wants to get an answer from me, then they can email me rather than using a shortcut to message me to “just get it done”. If at all, any task falls into the Urgent and Important category, they can explain why or they can escalate it to my manager, who in turn can ask me to re-allocate my time. I think its about re-channeling and following proper process.
Another way to minimize interruptions is to not constantly feel the need to reply to SMS right away. It is my own shortcoming and I need to work on self-control and detaching from the phone.
Also, I need to keep my “water cooler” talk to work-related conversation. Most of the time, these discussions are about work but sometimes they are about other/personal things.