Project Management Institute

Banish Distractions

Here's How Project Professionals Can Regain Their Laser Focus—And Get More Done

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By Chad Husted, PMP

If I have learned anything in my 20-plus years of project management, it's that there is always room to grow and improve my skills. Yet, some of the best lessons I've learned about being an effective project manager didn't come from formal education, expensive seminars or even on-the-job training. When it comes to maximizing my productivity, I've learned the most through simple trial and error. If you're looking to become more efficient, here's what I suggest:

STOP TIME-WASTING ACTIVITIES

Identify your time-wasting activities, then figure out how to delegate or eliminate them. One of mine is social media. Scrolling the news feed for a “quick break” can end up consuming 20 minutes or more of my time. So I've learned to kill the news feed on my work computer to eliminate the temptation to look at it. Instead, I save social media for lunch and after-hours.

For project tasks, project managers must find a way to make them efficient—or eliminate them. Think about aspects of your job that seem cumbersome or inefficient, and ask yourself:

  1. Is this a task I must do, or can someone else do it for me?
  2. When is the most convenient time for me to do this task?
  3. What value does this task add? If it's not valuable, change it to make it valuable or stop doing it.

TAKE NOTES

Important but unrelated thoughts like to pop up when we're in the middle of something. Write down these thoughts to clear your mind, then go back to them later. If I'm away from my desk, I'll add a note or reminder with an alarm on my phone. It feels great to clear my head of these pop-up thoughts so I can focus on the task in front of me.

RUTHLESSLY MANAGE EMAIL

When it comes to streamlining email, I follow the 3 D's:

  1. Delete. Inboxes can easily get filled with worthless email. If I don't recognize the sender or the subject line is not related to my work, I delete the message. I also mark it as spam and have my email service block the sender from sending me more.
  2. Deal with it. Some project-related mail can be dealt with in two minutes or less. Do this immediately; otherwise you'll waste time reopening the email later. Make your reply thorough so you don't create unnecessary back and forth with the sender.
  3. Defer it. This is the hardest one for me. Answering email could fill my entire day, every day. So I defer email to specific times to get other work done. I block out time in my day specifically to handle email, which helps me fight the urge to react to the “ping” when new mail comes in. This might involve letting others know how you handle email, but set your rules and stick with them. For example, if someone emails me with an urgent project issue, they should not expect to get a response until my next email block. And if you expect an immediate response, skip the email entirely and just call. Then follow up with email at your convenience.

DON'T ANSWER YOUR PHONE AFTER WORK

Unless I'm aware of some mission-critical project activity taking place after my normal work hours, I do not answer work phone calls. It can wait until morning. In my experience, there is often very little that can be done after business hours anyway. Other organizations are closed, so no action of consequence can be taken until the next business day. Behaving this way teaches others how to respect your time and allows me to enjoy my family time. When I return to work, I'm more refreshed and ready to tackle whatever issue might await.

CREATE MARGIN IN YOUR CALENDAR

Despite our best efforts, the day of a project manager is routinely hijacked by the unplanned, the interruption, the hair-on-fire crisis. That's why it's so important to block out periods of time in your day and week for important tasks. These are closed-door, leave-a-message, I'm-not-available-right-now times so you can complete vital tasks. Here's what I've learned by doing this:

  1. The margin greatly reduces the stress of work. I feel more in control of my time and energy.
  2. I am more productive and produce higher-quality work faster.
  3. Work “emergencies” are resolved better when I have uninterrupted focus to handle them, versus trying to manage them while multitasking.

You can't change everything overnight. I recommend trying one or two of these ideas at a time to start. Get those practices firmly ingrained into your daily or weekly routine before moving on to the next one. Taking on too much at once is a recipe for failure and discouragement. PM

Share Your Thoughts

No one knows project management better than you, the project professionals “Getting It Done.” So every month, PM Network shares your expertise on everything from sustainability to talent management, and all project topics in between. If you're interested in contributing, email [email protected].

img Chad Husted, PMP, is a project manager at ETS-Lindgren, Temperance, Michigan, USA.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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