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How to Be a Productive Project Manager: 7 Tips


Many project managers feel overwhelmed with emails, phone calls, and meetings. They often work overtime, but few feel as though they are making progress. Although we are all given the same amount of time each day, some project managers are able to produce greater value for their organizations. Some are more engaged.

Imagine yourself as a more productive project manager, one with greater capacity and energy to complete each day’s tasks. Let’s look at common problems that impede our progress and what to do about each:

1. The problem: I am spending more time managing issues than managing upcoming project activities.

Susan, the project manager, had a gnawing feeling that the network team might fall behind schedule on a high profile project. The network manager failed to order the network cable and routers on time, and now the team is scrambling to make ends meet.

How can project managers prevent fires? The answer is grounded in a simple assumption: Successful project managers proactively identify project hazards – the things that increase the probability and impact of risks – and take action.

Develop a risk management plan – define how you and your teams can identify, evaluate, respond to, and control risks. Teams should take preventative measures to minimize issues and develop contingency plans for risks that may become issues.

2. The problem: I have more work than I can do.

I keep a to-do list in Evernote. Here’s what I’ve noticed through the years. Many of these tasks were never completed. Guess what? The world kept turning.

Valuable project managers do valuable work, not busy work. One of the most important things you can do each day is to prioritize your work. Some things that we think are important are not.

When should you prioritize your work? Some individuals invest the last five to ten minutes of their work day prioritizing the next day’s activities. Others prioritize the first few minutes of the work day.

3. The problem: I’m so busy at work that I have a problem keeping my personal commitments to family and friends.

I’ve had a habit for years – I plan my week on Sunday afternoons. I schedule my personal and work activities. The weekly planning helps me keep my priorities right at home.

Healthy relationships can give you greater capacity to perform at your highest levels. Some project managers fail to invest time with family and friends. Consequently, negative events occur outside of work that affect their ability to focus at work.

4. The problem: I feel stressed and I’m making more mistakes than normal.

We expect a certain amount of stress at work, but bad stress for long periods affects our ability to do quality work. If you’re finding yourself making lots of mistakes and having to rework items often, it’s time for more breaks and rest.

Do you make time outside of work to do things that you enjoy – play golf, read, learn a musical instrument? Do you take vacations? These breaks reduce stress and provide mental clarity.

5. The problem: I don’t have much energy in the day, particularly in the afternoon and evenings.

Tom has worked overtime for the past three weeks attempting to catch up on his projects. When asked about his exercise, Tom says, “I don’t have time. I’ve got too much work to do.”

Busy, productive individuals make time to exercise. Consider some of these exercises and find something you enjoy: walking, swimming, biking, jogging, or doing upper body workouts. It’s great to take breaks during the day to walk and stretch.

Sleep is essential for productive project managers. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep. For you geeks, check out an app I use called Sleep Cycle – pretty cool!

I find exercise and sleep save me time by giving me greater energy. I also have energy to give to my family and friends in the evenings.

6. The problem: I am overextended at several levels of my life. I have no margin or free time.

Individuals don’t get into this state over night, and you will not correct the problem quickly. However, here are some tips. First, evaluate all of your activities at work and outside of work and eliminate what you can. Second, start saying “no” to requests when you can. Third, don’t let people guilt you into things for which you don’t have time.

7. The problem: I have meeting problems: Individuals come unprepared, people get off track, and others constantly check email.

First, make sure you need a meeting. If so, distribute an agenda prior to the meeting specifying the purpose of the meeting, what individuals should bring, and how they may prepare.

Work with your team to define meeting ground rules. What behaviors does the team desire?

Start the meeting by stating the purpose of the meeting, ground rules, and reviewing the agenda. Begin with the first agenda item. When someone gets off topic, gently bring them back to the agenda topic. For large meetings, you may wish to assign a gatekeeper who has the responsibility to keep everyone on track.

Additional Resources

If you are interested in my recommendations for project management tools, iPhone apps, books, blogs, and podcasts, grab your copy of The Project Management Toolbox – 2016 Edition. What tips do you have for being more productive?


For more brilliant insights, check out Harry’s blog: The Project Risk Coach

Additionally, check out Harry’s latest book!: The Intentional Project Manager

Harry Hall

Harry Hall is a coach, speaker, teacher, and blogger in Macon, Georgia. He’s led projects and implemented PMOs for General Electric, IKON Office Solutions, and the Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company. Harry received his B.S. and Masters from the University of Georgia. He has certifications as a project management professional (PMP), risk management professional (PMI-RMP), and has an associate in risk management (ARM-E). When Harry is not conducting project management workshops and helping project managers prepare for their PMP and PMI-RMP exams, he enjoys gardening, golf, guitar, and teaching others how to speak Southern. You can get Harry’s project management tips, tools, and techniques at The Project Risk Coach by clicking the little "house" button directly below.

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