Advertising

Published on July 29, 2021

How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity

Advertising
How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity

In our “always-on, always-connected” world, time is at a premium. Most people spend every day jumping from one task to the next, scrambling to get everything done. But just being busy doesn’t mean you’re successful.

On the contrary, most people could be doing far more with the time they have. The reason they aren’t is that their approach to getting things done is all wrong. And while some might attack that problem by applying various productivity tips and tricks to whittle away their to-do list, they’re only treating the symptoms of a larger issue.

The real problem is that they lack the right mindset to organize and tackle their daily tasks and get the most out of their time. As it turns out, the mindset they need to succeed bears a striking resemblance to that of a professional project manager, and that’s good news—because it means that anyone can learn to think like a project manager and supercharge their productivity.

But don’t just run out and sign up for a project management certification course. That would be overkill (unless you’re looking for a career change, anyway). Instead, read on to find out how you can apply a project management mindset to everything you do.

I’ll cover what project managers do, the skills they rely on, and some actionable tips on how you can think like a project manager and get more done. Are you ready? Then, let’s dive in.

What is Project Management?

If you were to look up the role of a project manager, you’d find some vague—if not utterly confusing—descriptions of the job. The trouble is, it’s hard to describe what a project manager does without repeating the word project about half of a dozen times. And any description that doesn’t do that tends to leave a lot to the imagination.

Take, for example, the description offered by the Project Management Institute:[1]

“They are organized, passionate and goal-oriented [individuals] who understand what projects have in common, and their strategic role in how organizations succeed, learn and change.”

That doesn’t help much, does it? But having worked with project managers of all kinds and in multiple industries allow me to give you a more useful definition.

Advertising

Project managers are people who lead teams (both large and small) to work on well-defined projects with the goal of completing them on time, on budget, and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. The projects they work on can be anything: creating a piece of software, building a building, running an advertising campaign—whatever needs doing.

But what’s more important is how project managers go about their work. It’s their job to assemble all of the resources needed to get their work done, and then to put those resources to the most efficient use to achieve their stated goals.

Think of them as the ultimate coordinators—the producers of the business world, if you will. And they accomplish that using a very specific set of skills.

5 Essential Project Management Skills

An effective project manager relies on a few major skill groupings to do their job. These include:

  • Planning Skills – Planning skills involve knowing how to get from a project’s starting point to its completion with a minimum of disruptions and delays along the way.
  • Scheduling Skills – Scheduling skills involve understanding how to segment necessary work into smaller tasks, prioritize those tasks, and schedule the right amount of time for each (without under or over-allocating time).
  • Budgeting Skills – Budgeting skills involve having a complete understanding of the costs involved in completing a project. This can mean material costs, labor costs, and even indirect costs, and then building a realistic budget that doesn’t overpromise or underdeliver with the resources available.
  • Risk Management Skills – Risk management skills refer to being able to spot potential risks before they interrupt or derail a project, and knowing how to avoid or mitigate them when necessary.
  • Communication Skills – Communication skills involve knowing how to communicate the knowledge contained in the preceding skills to others and how to listen to feedback from others to avoid unnecessary confusion or delays in work.

In a real-world context, project managers do rely on some additional skills, like leadership ability, networking, and contract management. But since those aren’t relevant to an individual applying a project management mindset to their daily life, we’re not going to go into detail about them.

Now, at this point, you may be wondering: What good is a project mindset without the skills to back it up? And that’s a valid question.

But the truth is that if you’re already doing the work of managing your job and your personal life, you probably already have enough of these skills as they relate to your specific situation.

For example, you should already understand what’s required of you at work, and you have the skills relevant to your job. That means you should also know how to tackle a work-related project from beginning to end, have a decent idea of how long each part of the job takes, and what kinds of things might get in your way.

All that’s missing is knowing how to apply that information to make the most effective use of your time—and that’s what a project management mindset is.

Advertising

Sounds simple when you put it that way, right?

With that said, let’s get to some actionable tips that you can apply every day to start thinking like a project manager. Before you know it, you’ll have gotten your schedule under control and your efficiency off the charts.

5 Tips to Get You Thinking Like a Project Manager

The best part of all of this is that there are some very specific ways that you can apply a project management mindset to your day to boost your productivity.

You don’t have to take any courses to learn them, and you don’t have to radically restructure your daily life. And once you begin to do these things, you’ll begin to see the logic in how they help you to maximize your productivity in everything you do.

1. Set Aside Dedicated Planning Time

Of all of the ways you can apply a project management mindset to your life, this one is as close to a must as it gets. It’s that you must set aside at least 15 minutes each week to plan out what you need to get done in the days that follow. That means no distractions, no interruptions, and no multitasking. Just you, your to-do list, and your preferred scheduling app.

The time you spend planning will determine how efficient you are for the rest of the week, so it’s important to get things right. And that’s not just my opinion. There are volumes of research that demonstrate the direct link between planning quality and project success. And besides, it just makes sense. You can’t manage what you haven’t planned for, right?

When you’re making your plan, it’s also important to break down the work you have to do into as many smaller sub-tasks as you can. This will increase your flexibility and help you to deal with unforeseen difficulties and other problems as they arise.

2. Never Begin a New Project Without a Complete Understanding of it

Another thing you can do to apply a project management mindset to your life is to make it a point to avoid taking on any new projects without gaining a complete understanding of what’s expected of you. If you’re dealing with work-related tasks, this means taking the time to speak to your manager or any stakeholders involved in the work to nail down their precise vision.

This is a step that most non-project managers often rush through, preferring instead to dive right into whatever work’s assigned to them. But when you do that, you leave yourself open to disruptions when your deliverables change.

Advertising

You know that feeling when your manager sends you an email at 4:45 PM on a Friday to let you know that they’ve just remembered a change a client requested to something you’ve worked all week on? You’ll be surprised how many of those nasty surprises you can avoid if you insist on hashing out as many details as possible in advance of beginning your work.

But before you tell me, “I’m not in charge, so I have to roll with the punches!” Let me tell you this: No matter your position at work (or in your personal life, for that matter), people will be generally receptive to answering questions upfront if they know it will result in a better end product.

I mean, you wouldn’t even buy a car without finding out everything there is to know about its history, would you? So, why would anyone ever expect you to work on something you don’t know enough about to get it right on your first try? Just remember that as long as you’re clear about what you’re asking for and can demonstrate why it matters, you should be able to get the clarity you need to get any project off to a solid start.

3. Set Clear Communication Standards and Goals

Now that you know how critical it is to understand the full scope of any project you’re working on, let me add a caveat: no project outline is ever perfect, and you’ll always need to be able to make changes on the fly when necessary. But that’s what makes setting clear communication standards and goals so critical.

Letting every stakeholder involved in your work precisely how, when, and where to address issues with you as they come up is vital. Remember that 4:45 PM Friday email I just mentioned? Even if you were thorough in mastering your project’s details upfront, an unexpected change could come up, anyway. But you don’t have to be blindsided when they do.

At the outset of each new project, let everyone involved know the exact process they should follow for common topics that require communication between stakeholders. The idea is to prioritize real-time communication methods like phone calls and online chat for items that require immediate attention—like those changes the client requested a week ago but that didn’t make it into that email until late on a Friday afternoon.

You can set up a group channel using Slack or the collaboration tool of your choice for daily back-and-forth communications. Also, consider leaving email as the option of last resort for your least-urgent messaging. It’s slow, inefficient, and a major time-waster, anyway.

Think that’s an exaggeration? It’s not. Workers in some places spend up to 5 hours and 52 minutes per day checking and responding to emails.[2] That’s time you could be putting to much better use actually getting work done.

4. Set Boundaries and Take Care of Yourself

Good project managers know that if they make solid plans to get tasks done, they’ll have all the time they need to meet their deadlines. And if they don’t, the solution is to make better plans, not to just throw more time at the problem. They also recognize that setting clear boundaries and sticking to them keeps them working at peak efficiency and avoids burnout.

Advertising

So, no matter how much work you have ahead of you, it’s crucial to know when to call it quits. That means keeping your work life separate from your personal life and permitting yourself to disconnect from one or the other when it’s time to do so. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with making yourself a priority. After all, you need to eat, sleep, and relax, too.

Also, remember that the people that work to excess are often doing it to cover up some kind of deficiency somewhere else (often, one that’s not their responsibility, anyway). So, make it a point to take care of yourself. Play a game of solitaire or listen to some music to reset your mind or to unwind at the end of the day. It’s okay—you’ve earned it.

5. Use Data to Keep Expectations Realistic

One of the reasons that project managers can consistently meet their goals and get things done on time and a budget is that they don’t commit to unrealistic goals in the first place. That’s another critical part of the project manager’s mindset that you can use to supercharge your productivity—it means never biting off more than you can chew and then struggling to keep up.

But before we continue, let’s be clear: I’m aware that sometimes it’s others setting unrealistic expectations for us, and that we can’t always control that.

Even when the unrealistic expectations aren’t your own, however, you can still work to disabuse others of them. The key is to do your homework and use as much data as you can to explain why your view is correct and theirs is not. The reason I suggest using data is that it makes it more difficult for the other parties involved to use illogical arguments to buttress their points of view.

For example, if you’re called upon to complete a task in less time than you know it will take, don’t be afraid to point to previous work that proves your point. The more, the merrier, in fact. Most of the time when you do this, common sense will win the day. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll have plenty of ammunition to explain why things haven’t gone to plan later on, and nobody can fault you for it.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the project management mindset is all about three things: preparation, planning, and execution.

You don’t need to be a certified project manager to apply those principles to the way you manage your life and work. The five tips laid out here will get you off to a good start, but they’re not the end-all-be-all of the project manager’s mindset. Really, any workflow you can devise that fits into those broad categories and helps you get things done could pay dividends to your productivity.

After a while, it should even start to feel quite natural to think about the tasks that you have ahead through a project managers’ lens. And once you do that, you’ll find yourself working at peak efficiency and using every minute of the day to the fullest. You may even find yourself with more free time left over than you know what to do with. And wouldn’t that be a welcome change in your otherwise busy life?

Advertising

More Project Management Tips

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Chris Porteous

The CEO of Grey Smoke Media / My SEO Sucks, helping entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity 16 Tips For Success from the World’s Most Influential People 10 Tools to Start an Online Business without Breaking the Bank 11 Reasons Why We Fail to Achieve Our Goals

Trending in Time Management

1 How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity 2 STOP Being Busy and Create More Time with these Productivity Hacks 3 5 Techniques to Tackle a Busy Schedule (And Create More Time) 4 Does the Pomodoro Technique Work for Your Productivity? 5 10 Common Mistakes You Make When Setting Deadlines

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

Advertising
How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

Advertising

Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

Advertising

Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

Advertising

3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

Advertising

The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next