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.

 

7 Tips to Manage your Email (and not let it manage you)!

If you are reading this post, then like me, you would love to have a good guide on how to effectively use EMAIL. Unfortunately I am not aware of a single guide for this!!  However, I thought I would share some best practices on how to use and not be used by email.  The key is don’t let email waste your time!  I sometimes forget this tip myself – so don’t fall into the traps that can be huge time wasters.  Here are seven tips for managing your email.

  1. Do not use email to discuss long winded or complex topics. Don’t do it! Use other means to communicate and dialog with others. Email is NOT a substitute for collaboration and complex interaction. Remember that many people use their phones or small screens to read email these days – who wants to scroll down 10 times just to get to the point?
  2. Send an email to the right people. Don’t let your staff or project team copy you on every single email and communication that happens on your project! You already get way too much email (I average about 150 emails a day myself) and being copied on every email is a waste of your time. So don’t let it happen to you and don’t do it to others. So often I hear the word “inclusive” used as a crutch for copying half of the project team on emails they don’t need or want to see.
  3. Turn OFF those alerts that say “You’ve got Mail!” You don’t need to know every time someone feels the need to copy you on an email. And others around you will find it distracting if not annoying to hear beeps, buzzes and cute sounds announcing that you have just received yet another email. Think of this as turning on the silent ringer for your phone.
  4. Quit using unclear subject lines. Email subject lines like “meeting”, “Question”, “Schedule” or worst of all “RE:   “. These vague subjects beg the recipient to open the email to see what in the world the email is about. And just try to search and find that email later with a subject like that! Be specific in your email subject line and let the reader know what the email if about or for.
  5. Do NOT send emails late at night or early in the morning. OK, I am probably bad at this myself – but we need to stop this practice. For one thing it sends a bad subliminal message to people. If you send email to your client at midnight, they think you are “on call” 24/7 or that you are understaffed. If you send emails at off hours to employees, it can send the message that you expect them to be “on call” 24/7. Is this the culture you want to have for your organization? Now, before you jump all over this one, I am not saying there aren’t times that you have to work late and send those late emails. Just don’t make a habit out of it!
  6. Write better emails. So how long do you think about your emails before you hit send? As Nelson Biagio pointed out in his Writing Better Emails post, people receive so much email that your business email must stand out from the junk. You should care about the style, tone, grammar, and action that your email contains. Always remember that email has a long life. A good tip on writing an email is to step back after you have written the email, read it as if it was being published in the local newspaper, and then hit send if you are comfortable with that thought.
  7. Organize your inbox. This is a key productivity concept for any program manager. If you have ever read a book on personal productivity you will know that keeping your incoming communications organized is essential to managing effectively and making good decisions. If you need ideas on how to keep your email organized read David Charron’s post where he points out many useful techniques on how to manage your mailbox. Basically you need to quit using your inbox as a file box and start using tags and folders to organize.

 

These tips are just a start on how to keep email from wasting your time. Hopefully this post helps you to get a handle on what can be the best or worst tool in your management toolkit.  Do you have any tips on managing email?  Leave a comment.

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