(This was originally published on Optimal Partners’ blog.)
The phrase “time management” is thrown around a lot and it’s an essential tool for project management, but there are still some managers that are better at keeping track of their team’s time than their own. This can create bottlenecks and slow their team’s progress significantly, which is detrimental to Higher Ed IT projects where every stage of the project is time sensitive, leaving very little wiggle room for managers to work with. Luckily, there are a few key strategies that will help you get your work done quickly, so that you have the time to focus on how the rest of your project is doing.
10. Identify Your Bad Habits
Everyone has them. Sometimes it can feel like you are your own distraction, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you need to get a task done at a specific time, try to put yourself in an environment that promotes giving the task your undivided attention. Make a list of the habits that could distract you, or help you procrastinate; maybe you’re always reading email from student services or advancement, or getting sidetracked by scheduling upcoming meetings. Whatever is on your list should be avoided for the time that you put aside for your current task, even if it’s an important part of your job. Everything that’s not an emergency can wait until you’re done with the task at hand.
9. Get Off of Social Media
We live in a world dominated by social media; important news and updates fly by your news feed at the speed of sound and disappear just as quickly. It’s very tempting to constantly check Facebook or Twitter to ensure that you never miss a beat. In spite of all its benefits, social media is the number one time waster for busy people like you. Just because many universities use social networks to engage with users does not mean you need to be constantly plugged in to those outlets. Everything has it’s place, but checking social media is bound to distract you from the task at hand. The next time you sit down to work, make sure to turn off notifications on your phone and be prepared to catch yourself anytime your cursor reaches to check your favorite news feed.
8. Focus on One Task at a Time
Many Higher Ed IT professionals pride themselves on their ability to multitask, especially when they have five meetings in any given day. The problem isn’t with multitasking itself, but rather in its application. Some tasks can be done on the go or when your mind is already on something else, but that’s not going to work for every situation. If your current job needs to be done quickly, give it the focus it deserves. You’d be surprised by just how many things you can complete when you focus on each one individually, rather than trying to complete three at a time.
7. Take a Break
Sometimes it feels like your project requires your undivided attention at all times. What if something happens right after you turn off your phone to take a break from work? Don’t worry, your project will be right where you left it when you come back from giving your mind a rest. Time management isn’t always about trying to cram as much productivity into the shortest amount of time; sometimes it’s about rationing your mental resources to get your work done well and on schedule. Instead of jumping to your next task, look at the work you’ve already completed and decide whether it’s time to take a break. If you’re working on campus, take advantage of what that environment affords you: go to a cafeteria for lunch or eat outside, or relax at a coffee shop and catch up on emails. Sometimes a break isn’t realistic given your schedule, but if time permits, a pause in your day could give you the energy and enthusiasm you need to be even more productive afterward.
6. Start Small, Build Big
When you’re faced with a large job to finish, one of the hardest things to do is start. Get the ball rolling by separating your task into smaller parts and giving yourself a short amount of time to complete each one. Once you’ve finished your first attempt, it’ll be much easier to keep going, using the momentum you’ve built up to finish the job without having to worry about splitting your task up any further.
5. Keep Yourself Accountable
Working on a team can help keep you motivated and productive, especially when others rely on you to get your job done on time. If you’re having trouble keeping on track for your own tasks, think about all of the other tasks that you’ll be able to complete once your current one is done. If that’s not encouraging enough, ask one of your team members or an assistant to remind you how important your current job is. Promise your team that you’ll demo some of your deliverables at your next daily standup meeting. It may sound silly, but a lot of people work better when others are relying on them, and creating those expectations for yourself or asking someone to motivate you can drastically help with your productivity.
4. Set Deadlines
Proper time management is about convincing yourself to get work done within an appropriate amount of time, but setting a specific time frame for your job can often be the most important piece of the puzzle. Without a set start and end time, it can be difficult to keep track of your progress and keep yourself motivated to finish your current task. Set a deadline for each task, even if it’s not necessarily a high priority for your project. It may also help to let other people know about your deadlines, to help keep yourself from pushing them back further and further on your schedule.
3. Break Up Larger Tasks
If your first thought when sitting down to chip away at your list of tasks is to complete the smaller ones first, you may find it hard to ever get to your larger tasks. Instead, try taking your more time-consuming jobs, breaking them into smaller chunks, and mixing those pieces in with your other tasks. If you’re creating a project plan for a large, complex project, try breaking that process into phases and deal with each phase individually. This will guarantee that you always have time to make progress on the jobs that require more investment, without forgoing the smaller ones that can quickly accumulate and bring your productivity to a standstill.
2. Delegate Less Important Tasks
If you’re getting overwhelmed with the number of tasks you need to complete in any given day, then it may be time for you to think about hiring a project assistant. Many managers would prefer to get everything done themselves, but that’s just not reasonable in most cases. Make the best use of your time by delegating tasksthat don’t require your specific expertise to someone else. This will ensure that the tasks that your team is relying on you to complete will get done without letting the smaller jobs pile up.
1. Learn to Say “No”
As a Higher Ed IT project manager, this may be the most difficult change to get accustomed to, considering that your job involves checking in on your project team leaders, making sure everything is going as planned, and helping people whenever possible. We’re not going to suggest that you stop doing your job, but it may be necessary to set aside time for your own work. If you notice yourself responding to emails throughout the day, schedule specific times to read them, and spend the time in between focusing on the tasks that you need to complete. If something is brought up that is low priority compared to your current task, put it aside and schedule a time later on for you to deal with it. Your team will understand if you close your door, whether metaphorically or otherwise, at a specific time each day. High priority issues will arise once in awhile, but the majority of your distractions can be kept on the backburner until your most important job is completed.
Project managers like yourself may deserve a chance to procrastinate, considering they spend their workdays making sure that deadlines are met, but sometimes it can be just as important to get the tasks that don’t have a specific deadline met done. The last thing you want is for your list of jobs to pile up, especially if someone on your project team is relying on them. Hopefully, these tips can help you keep track of your own time, so that you can focus on managing everyone else’s.