As one of the three parameters of every project, time is a commodity that project managers want the most, but often have the least. The business world is moving at an increasingly fast pace, so project managers are under pressure to deliver projects more quickly than ever before.
Upper management and clients will judge a project’s success not only by the achievement of goals, but by whether these goals were achieved within the deadline to retain the company’s competitive edge. As a result, project managers need effective time management skills to lead a project to success.
Apply the 80/20 Rule to achieve maximum results with little effort
Also known as the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule is simple: 80 percent of effort is used on 20 percent of the tasks that are not that important, so there is only 20 percent of your effort remaining for the really important tasks – those that bring in 80 percent of results. In short: most people waste most of their effort on the wrong tasks.
Identify those 20 percent of tasks that create the most value and make them your priority. Don’t get lost in the details, keep your eyes on the bigger picture and definitely don’t strive for perfection – ‘good enough’ in project management is most of the time truly good enough. Start with the essential and perfect your work later.
Identify the urgency
Not every task has to be completed immediately. A method to identify and prioritize important tasks is the Eisenhower Principle. It is a matrix that identifies two types of tasks, the urgent ones and the important ones. However, the urgent tasks are usually not that important, and the important tasks are often not urgent. Most people tend to concentrate on the urgent tasks, because they are time-sensitive, but if you want to work more effectively and efficiently, you need to plan your work day so that you have enough time to work on the important tasks.
Delegate the tasks that you don’t necessarily have to do yourself and use the time saved to concentrate on your own important tasks. If delegation is not an option, then start working through your task list by tackling the urgent, but not important items first. Additionally, don’t forget to set a deadline for your important tasks that aren’t urgent – you don’t want them to become important and urgent tasks, and risk not finishing them on time.
Create a schedule
It is simply not enough to identify important tasks and prioritize them, you also need to accurately estimate how much time you need to finish them. A schedule has to include time blocks for testing, meetings, etc., but should also break time and take into consideration time differences if you have a remote team.
There are a number of methods and tools that can be used to create effective schedules. Begin with time trackers to measure how much time each activity takes, and then use project management tools to create a schedule of project tasks and activities. Additionally, the critical path method in combination with a Gantt chart, can help you visualize the tasks that need to be completed and track your team’s progress throughout the project.
Include buffer times
Of course it would be ideal if everything went according to plan, but that’s not realistic. You will face unexpected events in every project, some that might not have a big impact on your overall project plan, and others that can seriously derail your schedule. The biggest mistake you can make when creating a schedule for your project is to forget to include buffer times. Buffer time increases flexibility, allowing you and your team wiggle room in case something happens unexpectedly and you need to shift priorities. If nothing unexpected does happen and everything goes smoothly, you can use that buffer time or “free slots” to start the next tasks early. As the saying goes “better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”