How to Manage a Project while Doing your Regular Job

If you are reading this post, then like many other managers and PMs, you may have been given an extra duty of “Project Manager” for a new project in your organization. Not that your management has relieved you of your normal job role and duties—they just think you are the best person to manage this project and think you can handle it.

If you are a “git-r-done” kind of person, this is going to be a common occurrence. In today’s fast-paced business world, it’s likely that you’ll have more than one thing to work on at any given time for your whole career. To address this situation, I thought I would share eight (8) tips on how to juggle multiple projects and work – while keeping your sanity:

  1. Learn to Prioritize! If you had a full time job or your “work plate” was full already, then it is obvious you will have to prioritize tasks and projects in order to survive. Prioritization means determining the order for dealing with tasks. But the key to successful prioritization is using the right factor to determine the relative importance of each task. Tatyana Sussex suggests 6 steps to this in “How to Prioritize Work When Everything is #1.” One of her main points is to differentiate between what is urgent vs. important.
  2. Plan and document each project or work target. The old saying “Plan your work and work your plan” has been attributed to many people, from Vince Lombardi to Margaret Thatcher. But I bet it comes from experienced managers who probably had the same type of workload as I’ve had! What this means to me is starting with a clear agreement on what “done” looks like. (By the way, this is a key part of Agile/Scrum projects) This defines the end game. It also requires having a common understanding of this end game with the project sponsor and key stakeholders. All of this must be in place before you establish a timeline of actionable steps and begin to work through them. I addressed the importance of project planning in a previous post.
  3. Find the right resources and assign the work! You don’t need to do every task and part of a project yourself. Recruit, steal, find and assign people and resources to get the tasks and work done. An earlier post by Dr. Karen McGraw on how to interview and select the right candidate addressing recruiting the right people. Another key skill is knowing how to work with people at all levels: peers, subordinates and bosses because the project’s ultimate success will depend on it. Finally, when you assign a task, do so with clear and specific requirements and targets, then get out of the way—DON’T micromanage.
  4. Learn to be Flexible. Change is a fact of life, and so is uncertainty. Even the best plan is not immune to the unexpected. In the middle of one of our projects nature dealt us a flood that put lives, property, and the project at risk. Be willing to scale up or down to suit real-time project needs. Making course corrections or changing priorities when events happen is the best strategy to keep all of your work and projects moving forward.
  5. Streamline the work and tasks. Eliminate unnecessary work and non-productive tasks! I am always amazed at how projects and work processes have wasted effort included in the requirements. In addition, during your project you may be asked to do more with less, as organizational needs and situations change. I provided some suggestions for doing this in a previous post.
  6. Communicate often and effectively. Learn to communicate effectively and spend less time checking up on work. Put processes and tools in place that can communicate status easily and quickly. Learn what communication is best for each project member and each part of the project. Email may not always be best, and online conference calls may be wasteful in time. (In a previous post I offered tips to help you manage your email.) Use a variety of communication techniques which streamline messaging and help you to manage communication more effectively.
  7. Know your own limits. Knowing your limits means managing expectations, understanding your own limitations, and being realistic about them. This is a key productivity concept for any program manager. When you get overloaded, you are not effective. Taking on too much will be detrimental to your overall productivity and to your well-being. Personally I get real grouchy when I am in overload mode. Molly Connor provides some tips for things you can say to help you manage within your personal limitations.
  8. Get something accomplished every day. I try to set targets for each day that allow me to feel good when a complete items each day. They don’t all have to be large or significant, but the key is to get the work products and project tasks completed. To achieve my targets, I schedule chunks of uninterrupted time whenever I can. Research shows that it takes your brain 15 minutes to re-focus after an interruption. Convey the concept to your resources and team members. Some people even create a “To Stop List” in order to get rid of distractions that can get in the way of achieving tasks.

I wish I had used some of these tips early in my career – I wouldn’t have burned so much mid-night oil! See which of these tips you can implement in your work style as you are assigned those “extra” projects.

If you have additional tips for juggling lots of work and projects, please share as a comment.


The Bad Boss Experience

Yelling at an employeeThink about the jobs you’ve held. If you are like most people, you have had your share of “bad bosses.”  My first manager would warmly encourage us to come to her when problems arose. But the first time I did so, she screamed and threw a trash can across her glass office while I watched, terrified. I am confident I’m not the only one who has had a boss like that. Here are a few I’ll bet you recognize:

  • The Bully Boss– Bullies don’t supervise with guidance, they manage through fear and intimidation. The people who report to them feel nervous and distrustful, and may even worry about keeping their jobs. Finding ways to avoid being yelled at and belittled becomes more important than performance and productivity.
  • The Dreadful Communicator Boss—This boss may be bad at sharing information, communicating tasks, listening, or all three. They fail to give good instructions, and often contradict themselves if their initial instructions do not produce desired results. They may purposefully keep you in the dark because they don’t want anyone but them to have the full picture. When you come to them with questions or issues, they are so busy interrupting you that they don’t even listen to what you need.
  • The Demanding Boss—This boss often makes you feel that you just can’t win. In an effort to please their direct leader, they set or agree to unrealistic goals for the team, usually without even asking for input from the people who do the jobs. Instead, they announce the goals and the timeframe for achieving them. Then, they throw their people “under the bus,” blaming them when the goals are not attained.
  • The Micromanaging Boss—This boss doesn’t trust you because you might not think exactly like them. When assigning you a task to complete, they already have a preconceived notion of what ‘done’ looks like. Heaven forbid you try to apply any creativity to the task. They ask for frequent “check ins,” and use that time to edit or completely refocus your work. And when you deliver the completed task, they often ignore your work and simply redo it themselves.

(Many positions in an organization require the skills of being a good boss. In an earlier post we describe the challenge of being a Project Manager and a boss at the same time – “The Project Manager as Boss.”)

From Bad to Best

Experiences with bad bosses are frustrating. But we can use them to frame “what not to do” when we find ourselves responsible for leading a project or a team.  In addition, recent research in leadership effectiveness can inform our view of what a good boss looks like. Here are a few traits you may want to strive for in your own leadership:

  1. Authentic – Self-aware leaders show their real selves to their followers, building honest relationships with them. They know who they are and what they believe in. They act consistently in private and public. And they are able to put the mission and goals of the organization ahead of their own self-interest. Kevin Kruse further describes this attribute in “What is Authentic Leadership?“.
  1. Optimistic, Can Do Attitude—Optimistic leaders are inspiring communicators. They believe in a better future, a better way, and their “can do” attitude makes you believe it, too. They rally their followers to help them stay positive and keep the big picture in view, even when things go wrong. Check out “5 Reasons Why Optimists Make Better Leaders.”
  2. Fair and Ethical—The fair and ethical leader has a clear code of conduct that demonstrates respect for the beliefs, values, and dignity of others. They promote an environment of open and honest communication, while showing their staff trust and respect. They create a culture in which employees feel comfortable voicing concerns and dealing with problematic issues. Linda Fisher Thorton has a good book on Amazon about “The Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.”
  1. Grants and Honors Autonomy—Most leaders want employees to take initiative, make decisions, and generate ideas. But the best leaders delegate effectively and help their employees define their responsibility. They provide enough information to allow the employee to be successful in the task. And they are careful not to undermine their employees’ decisions or take over the job when it isn’t going fast enough. Be careful to avoid autonomy-crushing behaviors like Jen Roberts describes in her article on “Five Leadership Mistakes You’re Making That Sabotage Employee Autonomy.”
  1. Provides Constructive and Reinforcing Feedback—Strong employee engagement is directly aligned with a leader’s ability to give honest feedback in a helpful way. This ability is one of the most important leadership skills and requires that the leader is comfortable giving both positive and negative feedback. This skill correlates strongly with the leader’s overall feeling of self-confidence. For more information, read Joe Folkman’s article on “The Best Gift Leaders Can Give: Honest Feedback.”
  1. Demonstrates a Sense of Humor—A sense of humor is a key to success at work, building trust, boosting morale, driving creative thinking, and increasing productivity. Researchers have long known that humor can be a potent stress buster. Leaders who can laugh in response to a conflict experience a cognitive shift from convergent to divergent thinking, where multiple ideas can be considered. Leaders who use humor effectively also tend to be more approachable—and the more approachable you are, the more honest and open people will be with you. Finally, leaders who use humor effectively create an upbeat atmosphere that encourages thinking outside of the box and encourages employee interaction. A good article for further exploration of this is “10 Reasons Why Humor Is A Key to Success at Work” by Jacquelyn Smith.

Have you survived a bad boss? Are you striving to be a good boss?  Share your thoughts and tips on how to be a better boss.

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