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A Manager’s 7 Tips for a Successful Project

A Manager’s 7 Tips for a Successful Project

I’m Simon and I’m an Account Executive at Higher Click. Previously, I worked for one of the biggest insurance companies in the world. My current position is between a purely managerial role and that of an executive, so I’m involved in quite a lot of project management. This article will summarize all that I’ve learned over the years.

A project manager’s main job is to bring a particular project to completion, both on time and within budget. There are all kinds of factors that can cause a project to veer off its tracks, both internal and external, but steps can be taken to ensure that your project experiences as little disruption as possible.

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With planning and preparation, you can put your project into the best shape even before you begin, and hopefully minimize the types of interruptions that can derail the best-laid plans. Proper work before beginning a project can also ensure that any unexpected occurrences can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

1. Ensure that you have full project detail up front

A completely detailed project scope, with approval from all stakeholders, is a necessity. Be sure the scope includes interim milestones, a detailed timeline, and a budget that is sufficient to cover all required work.
If you get everything in writing at the beginning of the project, you have an excellent foundation to build upon. Change is inevitable, but you have to maintain control and point out when the project begins to resemble something completely different from what was originally outlined. This is critical to avert disaster if your client tends toward “scope creep,” which is when someone asks for “just one more little thing” repeatedly, until the endeavor has become a lot more or different from when it began.

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2. Set realistic expectations

A PM I once knew was fond of saying, “You can have two of the three: good, fast, cheap. You CANNOT have all three.”
Make sure everyone on the team, including the client, understands the limitations of the project. You can finish a task successfully on time and within budget, as long as expectations are reasonable. You most likely cannot work miracles if expectations are not reasonable, and would only setting yourself up for project failure. Don’t begin your project with failure nearly predestined.

3. Establish measurable and reportable criteria for success

How can you know if your project is going to be successful if you don’t have any way of measuring success?  You will need interim milestones, especially for an endeavor that will span a long time, so that you can determine if you are staying on track or straying from the project’s goals.
You must have both internal checkpoints and client checkpoints. Never leave incorporating a client’s feedback until the very end of the project, unless you want to risk having to re-work substantial components if the client is not happy.

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4. Select team members, and assign responsibilities carefully

Gather your human resources, and make sure that skill-sets align with required roles. This is an important first step: If you assign the wrong person to a task, you are reducing your chances of success before the project even begins.
Make sure each team member is clear on what is expected from them and when. Encourage them to ask questions to clarify anything that may uncertain, and to come to you whenever something seems to be out of place or going awry. Clear and open communication is mission-critical.

5. Embrace your role as leader

You are the director of this project, so be sure to act the part and do not let any other team member assert dominance over your position. It’s your job to draw the best work out of your team members, so you are coach, mentor, and motivator. You may need to cultivate a team atmosphere among people who have not worked together before, so be sure to include team-building exercises if necessary. You also are the liaison with the client, so be accurate in your communications both internally and externally.
Be sure to provide strong and calm leadership to your team if your project encounters turbulence. It’s far more difficult to be a great leader in times of stress, but that’s exactly when your team needs you the most.

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6. Manage project risks

Hopefully you have defined the more likely risks up front during the project preparation, so you will already have contingency plans in place for certain occurrences. If you can see when a risk is imminent, you can take preventive action to avoid it, or you can quickly step in with corrective measures if necessary.
Be ready to halt a project if the risk becomes unacceptable. Part of your role as leader is to know when things have begun moving inexorably toward a failure point.

7. Evaluate the project when complete

Once a project has been completed, it’s important to do a “post-mortem” report, even if it is only for internal purposes. You can pinpoint what went right and what went wrong, determine what could or should have been done differently, and establish the best practices for use in future undertakings.

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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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