I recently held an AiU session for the company (deck below) focusing on my personal productivity hacks and habits that get me through my day. As a Project Manager, the only constant is change. Even the best-laid plans go awry and even the most proven processes go off-the-rails. The true test of your mettle as a PM is how you respond. In the transcript and deck below I share ways I’ve found to ensure success by turning to a repeatable system that gets better over time.
My Journey: Earning my black belt
I’m going to share a bit about my journey of improving how I manage my day and my life overall.
I played sports growing up and throughout college where time management and productivity was all about my tasks and me. I didn’t have to worry about tasks that others were doing. I didn’t have to set expectations with people about timing (I couldn’t tell a professor that I’d be two days late with an assignment)… It was, here’s your homework, here are your projects to get done, be at the gym for practice at 2pm, etc. The structure was set for me, and I just had to figure out how to balance keeping up with schoolwork, playing volleyball / traveling and having a life outside of both.
I went from a volleyball team in college to a team of less than a dozen here at Ai as an intern in college in our office on Park Ave South. I wore many hats, and the concept of managing time and tasks for others was something I struggled with. I didn’t know how to prioritize, because I didn’t have a full view of what was in the mix. I often stayed late at the office because I didn’t have a system to help me.
Enter the Treo. Alex (our CEO) and I had a system where he would get a new phone, and I would get his old phone. The concept of a digital calendar, tasks always in my hand, rather than a paper notebook entered my world.
Projects grew, teams grew, and responsibilities grew.
Here we are now. Projects grew, teams grew, and responsibilities grew. Over time I developed a system for me so that no matter the size of the team or the project, the principles of managing the associated tasks still applied.
For me, repeatability is key. We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel with every project. The process I use to manage work projects is the same process I use to manage trips I take, fundraisers I plan, my wedding, etc.
You need a system in place that allows you to make wiser choices and see the full picture.
So, when you ask me how I can get all of my work done but still make time to be with my friends, family, and workout – the process I follow is how I do it, and you can do it too. I have a system in place that allows me to get stuff done, make priority calls, and still be able to do things I want to do.
The second I feel like I don’t have control of what I need to accomplish or what my teams need to accomplish, I freak.
We all go through this; we have a plan for the day, things come up, our to-do list goes out the window, and we end up staying late or leaving early with anxiety.
Maintaining control means I hit deadlines, I can set appropriate expectations, and I can manage my personal time. Everything I’m about to cover allows me to maintain that control.
Meet the Playas
Over the past 9 years I’ve tried a ton of tools. I keep coming back to a core set that work for me so that sense of control and comfort and less stress are real. I’m not looking to have everyone adopt my entire way of working. It’s not the only way, and different personalities and brains think in different ways and need different views, but we all share common needs in terms of things we need to solve.
My GTD Army
I use every single one of these tools daily to Get Things Done:
- Todoist: This is, by far, the most important tool in my toolbox. Without Todoist, my work would not get done.
- Evernote: I use this for all sorts of data management. Tagging is key.
- Dropbox: I use this for file management and to be able to access them on any computer / phone. Dropbox has become my new “local” and what I use to transfer files between my phone and computer.
- Flickr: I’m the one who always can find that photo. Flickr is my tool for photo storage. It’s the forever home for my photos all placed in albums.
- Alfred: I use Alfred to access things on my computer quickly.
- Dashlane: I use Dashlane to save passwords, contact info and credit card info to make logging in and checking out on websites much quicker.
- Text Expander: I setup snippets once and then type using abbreviations for words and phrases that I use all the time to save time and brain space.
- IFTTT: I use IFTTT to create recipes for automation to connect systems that I already use to minimize the duplication of effort.
- Feedly: Feedly aggregates all blogs and sites I want to read from grouped by topics I have created.
- Pocket: This is where I save things to read for later. My Feedly feeds my Pocket.
- Pinterest: This is where I save things to buy later or browse later as gifts or for myself.
This may seem like a lot, but most of them are doing the work for me. I set it and forget it.
There are things I need to manage, and each of these things needs a home – not multiple homes – that’s what gives me the sense of control and relieves stress.
Tactics my GTD army and I use to go to battle – i.e. manage my days here at Ai and really, my life.
1: Get on a cycle
I cycle through my Inbox and my Todoist task list multiple times throughout the day, but on my time, not when a notification is telling me to.
As a PM, if I assign a task it is really still on me to make sure it gets done. Trust the people, but trust your system.
Check your calendar before you leave for the day and your to-do list for the next day before you walk out the door. If your calendar “free time” does not line up with the time it will take to complete everything in your to-do list then you need to re-asses and reset expectations. You’re only setting yourself up for failure if those things don’t line up.
2: Set it and forget it
For me, things will happen and get done if I write it down, assign it, and give it a due date, and that’s what my Todoist workflow allows me to do. I have a project specifically for orders that I place online so I can check off that I received it once I do. It is the only project where tasks don’t have due dates because they aren’t tasks, it’s just a list, but a list I want to make sure I’m checking regularly.
For recurring activities, include notes that you need to reference every time when completing it. For example, when I create weekly status reports for clients I reference my calendar, project schedule, Todoist tasks, Basecamp tasks, etc.
3: Implement visual cues
These are equivalent to what we do for users on websites in our UX/Designs to make it easy for them to get done what they are looking to get done.
For example, color code items per project or per client to recognize colors associated with projects (e.g., calendar appointment categories, Todoist projects, physical folders to hold paper, etc.).
Add photos to your Outlook contacts. Make them funny photos if you want. It’s easy to recognize who messages are from at a glance, and it reminds you that there’s more to the message than just the text. There’s a human behind those words!
Visual cues can still be text. For example, I sort my iPhone folders by verb – “watch, listen, pay, eat” etc.
- Create iPhone alarms based on what you are waking up for and when.
- Add photos and emoticons to contacts so it is easy to associate messages and calls – e.g., my husband gets a heart and my friend with a star tattoo gets a star emoticon so it’s easy to find them when scanning a list.
Surround yourself with things you love. Visual cues help to get things done but also remind you of things that just make you happy. I surround myself with my favorite color, photos of my family, an image of a kettle bell to remind me to go workout and finish up work so I can – it’s a form of stress relief and constant reminder that things just aren’t that serious.
4: Keep things lean and clean
Anything on my computer desktop is something I’m currently working on. When finished working on it, I place it in the appropriate folder on my computer and on our shared work drive. And, an actual physically clean desk to work on helps too.
5: Take shortcuts
- I use Dashlane to autofill forms within my browser
- I use Jira tabs to open all Jira tickets listed on one page in new tabs all at once
- I use the Google Chrome Bar to set search engines and trigger JS snippets for easy access to URLs I go to all the time
- I use TextExpander snippets all day every day – e.g., By typing “meetingnotes” I get my template at the start of every meeting to take notes within.
6: Silence the unnecessary
This goes along with minimizing distraction to feel in control. Notifications and badges are only on for things that I want to react to immediately. Otherwise, I’m in control, and I decide when to look and when to respond.
Share the wealth
Productivity blogs to follow:
Have other tips to share? Questions? I’d love to hear them! Comment or holla’ anytime.