There are no shortcuts in project management really, but wouldn’t it be nice if we had a few ways to speed things up?
I’m delighted to be partnering with BrightWork today to bring you 15 of my favourite time-saving and productivity tips (and there are some free templates for you to grab – scroll down).
1. Call People Before Meetings
Give people a ring before a meeting. Ask them if they are still coming and if they have anything for the agenda. If there are any decisions to be made, talk to them about the options and informally canvass their opinion on what they think is the right way forward.
This takes a little time but saves eons of time in the actual meeting, because you’ll be able to use the information you have gathered to head off conflict and bring the group to a decision far more quickly.
2. Trust Your Processes
You don’t want to worry about how to handle changes when they get raised. So set up processes that are repeatable and that work.
The extra bonus benefit of having documented processes is that you can then hand the work off to someone else – they can follow the process steps just as well as you.
3. Use Templates
I never write a project document from scratch. There is always something I can start from.
But you can use templates for more than just project documents. Find templates for project plans, your project management software tools, reports and more: it all helps save time.
For example, it takes ages to customise SharePoint sites to make them work just the way you want to for project and portfolio management. Whether you are managing tasks as a project team member, or a set of projects in the Portfolio Office, you can save yourself a lot of time by using templates that extend SharePoint beyond what is offered out-of-the-box.
BrightWork has a set of free project management templates for SharePoint and Office 365 that will instantly make it easier to get your projects started, tracked and controlled through the life cycle.
4. Batch Your Work
Switching between tasks isn’t productive because it takes you time to wind down one task and get into another.
Batching tasks is where you work on multiple things that use the same tools or skills at a time. For example, in my copywriting job I produce a video for a client once a month. I tend to record three or four videos in a batch because it takes time to set up the camera and pack it all away again.
I do the same with emails: I’ll block out a morning or an evening to just blitz emails. You could do the same with any similar tasks. Block booking meetings is a good one.
5. Write Your Reports as You Go
This tip saves me thinking time.
I take last week’s (or last month’s) project report and save it with the name/date for the next report. Then I highlight all the text that needs changing or updating in yellow. During the reporting period I go into the document regularly – sometimes I have it open practically all the time – and add in things that need to be reported.
So if I add a new risk to the risk register that is significant enough to make the report, I put it on the report at the same time.
At the end of the reporting period there will still be some bits in yellow that need to be updated or removed, but the bulk of the updates will be done and I won’t be struggling to remember what significant things happened.
6. Consolidate Your Notifications
Consolidate all your notifications so you don’t have to go to multiple systems to find out what is going on
I can’t be doing with managing app alerts from Slack on my iPad, Facebook messages on my phone and desktop alerts for meeting appointments.
My inbox is where I spend a lot of time. All my important notifications go there so I only have one place to check. Consolidate them (or turn them off).
7. Turn off Popups
This helps you focus without being distracted. Turn off the pop up in Microsoft Outlook (or whatever you use) that tells you when you have a new mail.
The extra benefit of this is that you don’t then get those notifications ping on the screen when you are busy trying to show someone something on your computer. Trust me, they won’t be able to stop themselves from reading your alerts and messages.
8. Stand up for Phones Calls
Try it, it works! If I want to get someone off the phone, I stand up. Somehow it helps me finish the conversation more quickly.
Generally, calling people is often faster than emails or instant message if you can get through to them.
Reading all those emails eats up time in the day. Unsubscribe! Be ruthless.
Not from my newsletter, obviously
You will burn out trying to do it all. Delegate as much as you can to as many people as you can. Say no a lot.
I have standards lists of people to whom I write every week. There are lists for people who get this report or that one, lists of project team members, Steering Group members, wider stakeholders, people who get the project newsletter… and so it goes on.
I can’t hold all those names in my head and I know the implications of what would happen if I left someone off accidentally.
I have email mailing lists for all these scenarios. Some are created directly within Outlook so I can use a short name and call up the mailing list people. Some I have in Excel and then open the file and copy and paste the names – this is for a particular user group that changes almost every week. It’s easier to add and delete members in a spreadsheet than it is to use Outlook’s email list function.
Set up lists for your own project and save a few seconds here and there trying to remember and enter all the names.
12. Cut Meeting Times
Check your diary. Are all your meetings in for an hour?
An hour isn’t the ‘right’ length of time for a meeting. It’s just the length of time that calendar apps default to.
Software shouldn’t dictate how long your meetings are. Challenge yourself to set up your next meeting for 45 minutes and to stick to it. I promise you will be more focused and you’ll still get through your agenda in the time.
Plus you get 15 minutes of your day back. Win!
13. Pick Your Battles
Sometimes, being right is not as important as getting the job done.
Sometimes, it is worth the fight and you have to do it for the good of the team. Sometimes, just let it go and save your time and energy for a day when you have to step up.
If your sponsor is asking for something that is a bit outside your job role but that you could do easily enough, or your team wants to do a task in a different way to how you would do it: think about whether it’s a battle worth getting into.
If it isn’t (and it probably isn’t), move on.
14. Use Checklists
This is another tip that stops you relying on your memory and helps you systemise more of your tasks.
Use checklists: for meeting prep, packing luggage for overseas business trips, for finishing a project stage, for starting a project… for anything really.
If you do it routinely, a checklist can help you work through the steps more quickly and with less stress.
15. Take a Break
Finally – and I know this sounds counter intuitive in an article about getting things done faster – take a break. Have a lunch break. Go for a walk.
You’ll come back refreshed, with more energy and a clearer head to face the rest of the day. Even a short break away from the screen can help. Get a coffee, chat to a colleague and preferably get some fresh air if you can.