Published on July 29, 2021

How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


More Project Management Tips

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Chris Porteous

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

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Last Updated on September 9, 2021

10 Best Productivity Planners To Get More Done in 2021

10 Best Productivity Planners To Get More Done in 2021

Productivity planners and journals are tools of a trade. There’s an art to productivity. Just like art is very personal to the artist, productivity is very personal to the person. What works for you may not work for me. This is an important distinction if you really want get more done in less time.

Too many of us dabble in productivity hacks only to move on to the next tool or trend when it didn’t workout for us, missing the lesson of what worked and didn’t work about that tool or trend.

We put the tool on a pedestal and miss the art. It’s worshipping the paint brush rather than the process and act of painting. We miss the art of our own productivity when the tool overshadows the treasure.

As an artist, you have many brushes to choose from. You’re looking for a brush that feels best in your hand. You want a brush that doesn’t distract you from your art but partners with you to create the many things you see in your mind to create. Finding a brush like this may take some experimenting, but when you understand that the role of the brush is to bring life to your vision, it’s easier to find the right brush.

Planners are the same way. You want a productivity journal that supports you in the creation of your vision, not one that bogs you down or steals your energy.

Let’s dive into the 10 best productivity planners and journals to help you get more done in less time.

1. The One Thing Planner

The NY Times best selling book, The One Thing, just released their new planner. If you loved this book, you’ll love this planner.

As the founder of the world’s largest real estate company Keller Williams Realty, Gary Keller, has mastered the art of focus. The One Thing planner has its roots in industry changing productivity. If you’re out to put a dent in the universe, this may be the planner for you.

Get the planner here!

2. The Full Life Planner

The Full Life Planner is Lifehacks’ ultimate planning system to get results across all your core life aspects including work, health and relationships. This smart planner is 15 years of Lifehack’s best practices and proven success formulas by top performers.

With the Full Life Planner, you can align your actions to long term milestones every day, week, and month consistently. This will help you to get more done and achieve your goals.

Get the planner here!

3. The Freedom Journal

Creator of one of the most prolific podcasts ever, Entrepreneur on Fire, John Lee Dumas released his productivity journal in 2016. This hard-cover journal focuses on accomplishing SMART goals in 100 days.


From their site:

“The Freedom Journal is an accountability partner that won’t let you fail. John Lee Dumas has interviewed over 2000 successful Entrepreneurs and has created a unique step-by-step process that will guide you in SETTING and ACCOMPLISHING your #1 goal in 100 days.”

Get the planner here!

4. Full Focus Planner

Michael Hyatt, author of Platform and host of the podcast “This is Your Life”, also has his own planner called the Full Focus Planner.

From the site:

“Built for a 90-day achievement cycle, the Full Focus Planner® gives you a quarter of a year’s content so you aren’t overwhelmed by planning (and tracking) 12 months at a time.”

This productivity planner includes a place for annual goals, a monthly calendar, quarterly planning, the ideal week, daily pages, a place for rituals, weekly preview and quarterly previews. It also comes with a Quickstart lessons to help you master the use of the planner.

Get the planner here!

5. Passion Planner

They call themselves the #pashfam and think of their planner as a “paper life coach”. Their formats include dated, academic and undated in hardbound journals with assorted colors. With over 600,000 users they have a track record for effective planners.

From the site:

“An appointment calendar, goal setting guide, journal, sketchbook, gratitude log & personal and work to-do lists all in one notebook.”

They have a get-one give-one program. For every Passion Planner that is bought they will donate one to a student or someone in need.

They also provide free PDF downloads of their planners. This is a great way to test drive if their planner is right for you.


Get the planner here!

6. Desire Map Planners

If you’re looking for a more spiritually oriented planner, Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, created the Desire Map Planners. With Daily planners, Weekly planners and Undated planners you can find the right fit for you.

Behind this planner is the Desire Map Planner Program including 3 workbooks that not only support you in using the planners but guide you in your thought process about your life and intentions you’re using the planner to help you fulfill.

Get the planner here!

7. Franklin Covey Planners

The grandfather of all planners, Franklin Covey, has the most options when it comes to layouts, binders, and accessories. With over 30 years in the productivity planner business, they not only provide a ton of planner layouts, they also have been teaching productivity and planning from the beginning.

From the site:

“Achieve what matters most with innovative, high quality planners and binders tailored to your personal style. Our paper planning system guides you to identify values, create successful habits, and track and achieve your goals.”

Get the planner here!

8. Productivity Planner

From the makers of the best selling journal backed by Tim Ferriss, “The Five Minute Journal”, comes the Productivity Planner.

Combining the Ivy Lee method which made Charles Schwab millions with the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused in the moment, the Productivity Planner is both intelligent and effective.

It allows for six months of planning, 5-day daily pages, weekly planning and weekly review, a prioritized task list, Pomodoro time tracking, and extra space for notes.

From the site:

“Do you often find yourself busy, while more important tasks get procrastinated on? The Productivity Planner helps you prioritize and accomplish the vital few tasks that make your day satisfying. Quality over quantity. Combined with the Pomodoro Technique to help you avoid distractions, the Productivity Planner assists you to get better work done in less time.”

Get the planner here!

9. Self Journal

Endorsed by Daymond John of Shark Tank, the Self Journal takes a 13 week approach and combines Monthly, Weekly and Daily planning to help you stay focused on the things that really matter.

Self Journal includes additional tools to help you produce with their Weekly Action Pad, Project Action Pad, the Sidekick pocket journal to capture your ideas on the go and their SmartMarks bookmarks that act as a notepad while you’re reading.

Get the planner here!

10. Google Calendar

You may already use Google Calendar for appointments, but with a couple tweaks you can use it as a productivity planner.

Productivity assumes we have time to do the work we intend to do. So blocking time on your Google Calendar and designating it as “busy” will prevent others from filling up those spaces on your calendar. Actually using those blocks of time as you intended is up to you.

If you use a booking tool like Schedule Once or Calendly, you can integrate it with your Google Calendar. For maximum productivity and rhythm, I recommend creating a consistent “available” block of time each day for these kinds of appointments.

Google Calendar is free, web based and to the point. If you’re a bottom line person and easily hold your priorities in your head, this may be a good solution for you.

Get the planner here!

Bonus Advice: Integrate the 4 Building Blocks of Productivity

Just as important to productivity planners as the tool are the principles that we create inside of. There are 4 building blocks of productivity, that when embraced, accelerate your energy and results.

The four building blocks of productivity are desire, strategy, focus and rhythm. When you get these right, having a productivity planner or journal provides the structure to keep you on track.

Block #1: Desire

Somehow in the pursuit of all our goals, we accumulate ideas and To-Do’s we’re not actually passionate about and don’t really want to pursue. They sneak their way in and steal our focus from the things that really matter.

Underneath powerful productivity is desire. Not many little desires, but the overarching mother of desires. The desire you feel in your gut, the desire that comes from your soul, not your logic, is what you need to tap into if you want to level up your productivity.


A productivity planner is just a distraction if you’re not clear on what it’s all for. With desire, however, your productivity planner provides the guide rails to accomplish your intentions.

Block #2: Strategy

Once you’re clear on your overarching desire, you need to organize your steps to get there. Let’s call this “strategy”. Strategy is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. You must first turn over all the pieces to see patterns, colors, connections and find borders.

In business and life, we often start trying to put our “puzzle” together without turning over all the pieces. We put many items on our To-Do lists and clog our planners with things that aren’t important to the bigger picture of our puzzle.

Strategy is about taking the time to brain dump all the things in your head related to your goal and then looking for patterns and priorities. As you turn over these puzzle pieces, you’ll begin to see the more important tasks that take care of the less important tasks or make the less important tasks irrelevant.

In the best selling book, The One Thing, the focusing question they teach is:

“What’s the One thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else is easier or unnecessary?”

This is the heart of strategy and organizing what hits your planner and what doesn’t.

Block #3: Focus

With your priorities identified, now you can focus on the One Thing that makes everything else easier or unnecessary. This is where your productivity planners and journals help you hold the line.

Because you’ve already turned over the puzzle pieces, you aren’t distracted by new shiny objects. If new ideas come along, and they will, you will better see how and where they fit in the big picture of your desire and strategy, allowing you to go back and focus on your One Thing.

Block #4: Rhythm

The final building block of productivity is rhythm. There is a rhythm in life and work that works best for you. When you find this rhythm, time stands still, productivity is easy and your experience of work is joyful.

Some call this flow. As you hone your self-awareness about your ideal rhythm you will find yourself riding flow more often and owning your productivity.

Without these four building blocks of productivity, you’re like a painter with a paintbrush and no idea how to use it to create what’s in your heart to create. But harness these four building blocks and find yourself getting more done in less time.

The Bottom Line

Your life is your art. Everyday you have a chance to create something amazing. By understanding and using the four building blocks of productivity, you will set yourself up for success no matter which planner, or “paintbrush”, you choose to use.


As you experiment with different planners you will narrow which one is best for you and accelerate your path to putting a dent in the universe.

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Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via

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