Top 9 Lifehacks for Higher Ed IT Project Managers

(This was originally published on Optimal Partners’ blog.)

Project managers are always looking for quicker and more efficient ways to get work done. Every minute saved is another minute that can be used to focus on other tasks, meaning that any advantage you can get goes a long way. Luckily, there are a lot of simple tricks for managing your Higher Ed IT projects as optimally as possible.

Number 9: Eliminate, Automate, Delegate & Concentrate

Although this may seem like separate “hacks”, these four steps work in conjunction to help lighten your project management load. You should first eliminate as many tasks as you can from your project that aren’t necessary to its success. Some tasks may seem important to completing your objectives, but could be replaced with something more efficient or simply removed from your schedule altogether. Your time is a precious resource, and you must be critical of what you spend it on.

Once you’ve refined your schedule to include only your most important assignments, you should figure out which ones can be done without your active involvement. There are tons of useful tools and resources to help automate your job, allowing you extra time to deal with tasks that require your specific attention.

Leave yourself the assignments that only you can complete.

When an assignment can’t be automated, but doesn’t require your individual expertise, it’s best to delegate it to someone else. Let someone take care of the jobs that don’t need your supervision, and go onto your next task. Many project managers would feel more comfortable doing everything themselves, but that’s just not feasible. If you surround yourself with talented and enthusiastic team members, then you won’t have to worry about sharing your workload. Leave yourself the assignments that only you can complete, and delegate everything else to other people. This will ensure that you don’t get bogged down and that your project runs smoothly.

Multitasking is one of those skills that many people think they have, but more often than not, acts against their best interest. The initial thought is that multitasking helps people get their work done quicker, because they’re able to complete multiple tasks at once. While this may be true in an ideal scenario, it’s much better to concentrate on one or two tasks that only you’re capable of completing, finish them, and move onto the next assignment. This approach not only allows you to finish your work quicker, but also ensures that the tasks that specifically require your attention get completed before those that could be delegated to someone else.

Number 8: Implement Daily Stand-Up Meetings

Working in Higher Ed IT means attending a lot of meetings, but a short daily meeting could greatly benefit your project team. A stand-up meeting consists of team members each standing up and taking five to ten minutes to discuss how they’re allocating their time and what’s most important for them to work on. These meetings are meant to keep everyone on the same page and working towards a common goal, which can help when many people are working on different tasks and rely on each other to get their work done. If coordinating a daily meeting isn’t feasible for your team, then scheduling one every two days or twice weekly is still better than letting issues pile up until the next major project meeting.

Number 7: Use Mind Maps to Present Plans Visually

Proper documentation is key to running an efficient project, but not everyone responds the same way to a project charter or plan. Mind maps, or other similar diagrams, can help get important information across to your project team or stakeholders by presenting the data visually, rather than in blocks of text. Creating a mind map can even help consolidate and focus your thoughts, by letting you get your ideas out on paper. Some people may prefer more in-depth documents, but for most, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Number 6: Implement Social Task Management

Keep your team on the same page.

If you’re having issues with your project team’s communication or with bottlenecks in your production process, then a social task management approach may be exactly what you need. This management strategy revolves around using a centralized digital platform for your team’s communication, task tracking and project feedback. Applications like Basecamp, Asana, and Trello offer a wide array of features to keep your team on the same page and make tracking the progress of your project as easy as possible. Keeping everything in one place helps organize each step of your project, keep your team members focused, and ensure that issues don’t pile up before they can be addressed.

Number 5: Hire a Project Assistant

Don’t you sometimes wish you could clone yourself to get twice as much work done? Despite having a dedicated project team, your job as a project manager can still be a heavy weight to bear. Hiring a project assistant will give you the flexibility you need to focus on the success of your project, rather than the minute details of your schedule or your project team’s meeting agenda. These types of assignments need to get done so that you can get to the important parts of being a project manager, but it’s much more effective to have someone you work with closely take care of them instead.

Number 4: Utilize Dashboard Status Reporting

While mind maps are useful tools for visually representing information, dashboard diagrams give a very concise outlook of how your project is doing at a glance. They utilize geometry, colors and short text descriptions to give your stakeholders informative and succinct reports. Dashboards work alongside more detailed documentation to make your reporting process much more flexible, both in how it’s created and how it’s presented.

Number 3: Complete Any Task Immediately That Will Only Take 10 Minutes or Less

A large part of project management is knowing how to prioritize tasks, but more often than not, managers get so tied up in scheduling assignments and allocating resources, that they let a lot of little jobs pile up. A good rule of thumb is that you should complete any task that will only take between five to ten minutes, instead of filing it away for later. This will help cut down on the amount of work you need to do all at once, and will help clear up clutter in your schedule. The last thing you need is for a lot of small tasks to become a big hassle that distracts you from completing more important assignments.

Number 2: Set Aside a Time To Respond to Emails

Set up an “out of office” email message.

Emails are a vital part of the life of a project manager, but also a gigantic distraction that can make it very difficult to focus on a specific task. Instead of leaving your eyes and ears open to all avenues of communication, set aside a time to respond to emails or texts. Let your project team know that you’ve set aside a time to respond to their messages and set up an “out of office” email message, so that everyone knows that you’re not ignoring them. Without the added distraction, you should be able to be more productive with your day-to-day assignments, while being able to responding to the messages from your project team and stakeholders in a timely manner. Management requires finding a comfortable medium between being available for your team and getting specific work done on time, and this strategy will help you find that balance.

Number 1: Run Away For a Day

Project managers are almost always busy, jumping from one task to another, always connected and working to deliver quality products for their organizations. While many people work best under pressure and thrive off of success, sometimes their workloads can be overwhelming. Instead of letting your stress elevate to unsafe levels, it’s best to completely disconnect from your work and run away for a day. Take a day off, turn off your email and text notifications, and only answer your phone for urgent calls. This advice is a very common problem-solving technique, but it works on a larger scale for stressful jobs, as well. Not only will your mini-vacation give you the rest you need to give your project your all, but it will also give you a fresh perspective on any lingering issues once you return to work. Running away once in a while is not a quick fix to a cluttered schedule and an overwhelming workload; however, it works in conjunction with the other “hacks” on this list to make your job as a project manager easier and more efficient.

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