Project Management Institute

Time's up


To make the most of your time, zero in on what's really important.



How do I make time for essential work, like improving project management processes and practices, when I am too busy with the day-to-day management of my projects?

—Rich Weller, Pcubed, Ann Arbor, Mich., USA

A disclosure is in order here: I've actually been known to add items to my “to do” list after completing them—for a little emotional boost. Clearly, time management is not a personal strength, so I turned to three experts in the field.

The first is Stephen Covey, Ph.D. When a book stays on the bestseller lists for 15 years, chances are it has something to offer us. And while Mr. Covey's message transcends any one discipline, his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People [Free Press, 1990] speaks eloquently to those of us in project management. He argues all of the demands on our time have just two critical dimensions: importance and urgency. What's crucial to remember is that not everything that's urgent is important, and not everything that's important is urgent. By now, Dr. Covey's principles are well-known. We need to minimize attention to the “not important” tasks and focus on work that's not urgent but nonetheless important. That is the work he says is most likely to receive too little attention.

The book makes the following recommendations:

  • Make wise use of planners and lists.
  • Apportion time according to the various roles we fill in our families and our firms.
  • Prioritize tasks, so important work is not constantly displaced by more urgent demands on our time.

My second expert is Thomas Limoncelli of Google, author of Time Management for System Administrators [O'Reilly Media, 2005]. To our reader's dilemma, he makes some specific suggestions:

“Set aside a fixed time for long-term work. Make it the same time each week and protect it,” he says. “People will become accustomed to your schedule, and you'll have gained a regular respite for those ‘important but not urgent’ tasks.”

“Get to work a few minutes early, and don't use that time to check e-mail,” which he calls an “infinitely interruptible task.” Instead, use the uninterrupted peace of early morning for important-but-not-urgent work.

“Think beyond yourself to tasks you could do quickly that will free up others to do their jobs. What's on your desk that is delaying others on your project? A few minutes spent on approvals, coordinations and correspondence can advance your interests by letting others move ahead.”

Our final advice comes from Dick Scofield, a retired three-star general, the leading U.S. Air Force project manager of his time. His work included some of the largest defense projects, most notably the F-117 stealth fighter and the B-2 stealth bomber, and he was a respected mentor to generations of top Air Force project managers.


Gen. Scofield offers this advice: “You probably have people in your project office who are capable of being delegated the responsibility and authority to work urgent issues, freeing you to address the important but less-urgent tasks. Delegate now, and delegate enough of your work, over time, so that you have confidence in your people—and they have confidence in themselves—when those big issues come up…which they will.” PM


Set aside time to focus on work that's not urgent but nonetheless important. To free up some of your time, don't be afraid to delegate some of those more pressing tasks.


Bud Baker, Ph.D., is a professor of management and leader of the project management MBA at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, USA. Please send questions for Ask PM Network to

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