Habits are becoming recognized more and more as a key to excellence and success. For many of us, the trend started with Stephen Covey’s classic 1989 book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In 2012, Charles Duhigg released The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. In early 2015, I’m looking forward to reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Rubin, like Duhigg, covers the importance of habits in all aspects of our lives.
Achieving success as a project manager depends on repeating the same fundamental behaviors over and over again. Building and maintaining these ten habits will make all the difference in your project management career.
1) Weekly Review
I learned about this powerful habit from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. It is so important that I’m starting this list with this habit. In fact, I consider a weekly review template to be a valuable professional asset.
To get started with the weekly review habit, use these four components (feel free to add more as you become comfortable with the process):
- Schedule 60 minutes on your calendar for the habit.
- Review your calendar for last week: you may see meetings and appointments from last week which will remind you of actions you need to take – remember to write those tasks down!
- Review your calendar for the coming week: this is your opportunity to prepare for travel, organize notes for meetings and more.
- Clean your email inbox to zero: that means filing, deleting and replying. A short reply is sufficient in many cases.
2) Follow Up Regarding Tasks and Projects
There is an art to effective follow up – too much follow up will anger people and too little will cause failure.
Tip: If you’re getting started, I recommend listening to this excellent podcast episode by Manager Tools: Following Up.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming a task is complete simply because you sent one email about the topic. This habit is also helpful in managing your personal affairs (e.g. bill payments, requests for information, organizing events).
3) Give Recognition
Giving thoughtful praise (and constructive feedback) makes a tremendous impact. For the best results, a recognition message specifies what the person did and the impact they did. I also recommend using a variety of communication methods: sending someone a thank you note in the mail, sending an email or even recognizing excellent contributions in your meetings.
For example: “John, thank you for your thorough risk evaluation. By identifying those risks early in the project, we were able to save $5,000 in insurance fees.”
4) Listen Actively to Team Members
Active listening is one of those skills that is easy to learn and difficult to maintain. Here are three ways to rebuild your active listening habit:
- Use your body language to indicate you are paying attention (e.g. nodding from time to time).
- Check to see if you understand what the person is telling you (e.g. “Jane, what I’m hearing is that you’re frustrated with the supplier’s quality.”).
- During meetings, take notes when someone asks you to do something. That behavior signals you are paying attention to the discussion.
5) Model the Big Rocks Approach to Time Management for Your Team
Knowing your priorities is essential to becoming an effective project management professional. I recommend taking a “big rocks” approach: identify no more than three priority tasks to execute each day.
To give credit where credit is due, watch Stephen Covey’s classic illustration of the big rocks time management methodology as presented by Brett Mackay from The Art of Manliness:
If necessary, start your work day earlier to accomplish your most important tasks. Speaking from personal experience, completing important tasks early in the day puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.
6) Use Meetings Effectively
Did you notice how the Project Management Body of Knowledge references “meetings” over 100 times? Simply put, meetings are an essential tool that you need to master as a great project manager.
Use the following principles and resources to become effective at meetings:
- Prepare and send a written agenda to all attendees in advance.
- Assign a meeting scribe to take note of decisions and to send out a meeting summary.
- Read Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni to become a true master of meetings.
Like the other habits described in the article, you may follow these principles from time to time. True excellence comes from following a disciplined approach for each and every meeting.
7) Set and Measure Personal Milestones
Do you have a major deliverable due several weeks into the future? If so, it is up to you to manage the obligation professionally. I recommend setting personal milestones (i.e. deadlines that you set for yourself and do not share) to approach these larger tasks. This habit also supports and reinforces habit #10 below.
8) Build Once and Use Often
How often are you reinventing the wheel in your work? In an ultimate sense, projects are about creating unique results. However, many of our day to day processes are very similar. For example, you may have forms for budgets, meetings, managing risks and so forth.
In some cases, you may have templates and similar resources provided by your organization. If not, build them yourself. Not sure where to start? Start by building professional assets.
9) Proactively Manage Stress
Last year, I read <span>Greg McKeown's excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. One of the book’s greatest messages concerns our attitude toward sleep. There are some high-achieving people who view sleep as a waste of time. This is a sadly mistaken view.
As a leader in your organization, you owe to your team to “protect the asset” (i.e. your physical and mental health) by getting enough rest. Beyond getting proper rest, it also makes sense to proactively manage stress. Learn how with this short guide to stress management techniques that I published last year.
Warning: If you ignore this habit, your health and performance will slowly but surely decline.
10) Ask for Help and Support (and Give It!)
“Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What's in it for me?’ ” – Brian Tracy
How do you respond when faced with a major struggle? There are several options available. You can keep working harder at the problem. You research alternative solutions. Or you can give up.
Fortunately, there’s another option. Ask for help! In fact, Forbes recently reported that asking for favours can build relationships. Asking for help demonstrates that you value the other person’s ideas and approach – it is quite the compliment when you think about it.
Of course, the flip side of this coin is that providing help and favors to others is part of the habit. In the world of demanding projects, taking a “lone wolf” approach will not serve you well.
Question for the comments: which of the ten habits outlined here makes the greatest impact on your success?
Bruce Harpham is the editor of ProjectManagementHacks.com, a resource for growing IT project managers. Bruce's experience includes leading projects in the financial services industry and in higher education. Bruce received his Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto, Master of Arts (History) from the University of Western Ontario and Master of Information Studies degree from the University of Toronto. Outside of his professional pursuits, Bruce's interests include history, world travel, wine and science fiction. Bruce lives in Toronto, Canada.