Are you being a busy bee or a busy fool?

Are you being a busy bee or a busy fool?

How to be more effective with your time


On any project there is always plenty to do. Spare capacity is something project managers can only dream of.  So, if there is more work than time available, how do you make sure that you are maximising your resources by focusing on the most important or the most value add activities?

As part of our ExtraordinaryPM Mastery Programme and 5T’s Framework, as part of our Time module, we talk about time mastery rather than time management.  For us, time management is about efficiency whereas Time Mastery is about effectiveness.  We could all be very efficient by sorting and organising our e-mails, but that doesn’t mean we are being most effective in the use of our time and, most importantly, in moving the project forward.

Ask yourself this:  “Is the team being really focused or are they just running around like busy fools?”.  It is a very powerful question designed to stop you in your tracks, to take time to pause and to check that everyone is focused in an aligned way and are being truly effective, not just busy.

There is an interesting observation in Graham Allcott’s book ‘How to be a productivity Ninja.’  He advocates that time management is dead because it was developed during a time when information was delivered to you by post, once or twice a day taking about an hour to deal with leaving the rest of the day free for your ‘To Do’ list.  Nowadays we have constant inputs to deal with in the form of e-mails, voicemails and conference calls not to mention social media and the pressure to remain connected and on-top of the ever-increasing volume of information.

Spoiler alert – we are never going to complete our ‘To Do’ lists, which is why we need to have a different relationship with them.  We need to accept that some items will never get done and be intentional about choosing which ones those are.


Spinning plates

When we are teaching and doing presentations as part of our ExtraordinaryPM Mastery Programme, we frequently use the analogy of plate spinning for our role as project managers.  Let’s assume you have ten plates spinning on their sticks – everything is calm and under control (OK maybe this bit is not a good analogy for the life of a project manager, but bear with us!).  Then two plates start wobbling, then three, then four.   How are you going to decide which one to attend to first?  How many can you save?  Your ‘To Do’ list simply says that all four plates need to be spun.  Reality says you can’t get to them all at the same time.  You have to choose which ones to spin and which ones to let drop, or at least are at risk of dropping.

Now let’s assume that two of the plates are plastic and two are made of china – you’d probably let the plastic ones drop as the impact would be smaller – you can pick them up later and start spinning them again, plus there is no broken china to clear up nor a replacement cost.

In another scenario, one plate is ready to drop and three are just a bit wobbly.  You might decide to keep the wobbly three on track and then deal with the problem of the one that has fallen.  Unless of course you have someone else who can manage the three wobbly ones while you focus on the one that is most at risk.  Equally, you might know that if that one plate smashes it is going to make such a mess that all the others will fall over too, in which case your decision might be different again.

This is the challenge of Time Mastery. You cannot save all the plates so you have to choose quickly and intentionally what you are going to do – where are you going to invest your energy and resources, because you simply can’t do it all.  You need to ensure that you and your team are being effective and not just busy fools.


Project Reporting

Project reporting is a prime example – and a pet topic of ours for that matter – in the debate of ensuring an effective use of time.  Frequent reporting does not necessarily provide better and more timely information for your stakeholders or ensure that issues can be spotted and dealt with more quickly.  What it does guarantee though, is more data and additional work for you.

Many of us will have been on projects with weekly reporting routines that are so time consuming (progress meetings with the work-stream team, progress meetings with the project team, preparing progress reports and managing RAIDs) that the work-stream leads are lucky if they have two or three days a week to actually make any progress on their deliverables. Meanwhile the plan still assumes a full five-day working week available for delivery!

Whilst we are not suggesting that any of these activities are not essential on a project, we do, however, question the frequency.  Focusing too heavily on progress and reporting can mean that you are not even looking at the nasty volcano in the corner which is about to erupt, simply because it is not on your plan or your RAIDs log.  That dreaded reality on all projects – the unexpected event.  As project managers we need time to be able to continually survey the whole project horizon to check that there are no nasty surprises lurking where the project reporting light doesn’t shine.


Making more of your time

As an extraordinary PM, try taking more of a Time mastery approach to reporting.  Is there a way to produce quick informative weekly flash reports and then a full monthly progress reporting routine ready for your project board?  Equally, remain adaptable. Sometimes the reporting routine set in place works really well for a while, but then the project moves to another phase and daily reporting is required.

Our role as project managers is to be creative – look for the most effective reporting approach so that the value of the information is worth the cost of collection.  Make sure you are using your precious project resource as effectively as possible and that it is for the sake of the success of the project, not just for the sake of keeping everyone busy.

Taking time to reflect and being creative is just as important on a project as ticking off the deliverables.

Remember being busy does not necessarily mean that you are being productive – take time to reflect.  Celebrate what is working well, where you and your team are being truly effective – and have the courage to change anything that is not.


Don’t just take our word for it …

As a leader, you must consistently drive effective communication. Meetings must be deliberate and intentional – your organisational
rhythm should value purpose over habit and effectiveness over efficiency.
Chris Fussell

Effectiveness comes from those qualitative things that give you the ability to network, communicate, and lead people toward an outcome they can’t see.
Lynn Good

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.
There is nothing so useless as doing something efficiently that should not have been done at all. If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old
Peter Drucker


*Time is critical in project delivery. ExtraordinaryPM’s focus on Mastering their Time, not just managing it, so they get the very best from the precious and limited time available to them and their Tribe. On our Mastery Programme, we teach you how to be more productive and balance and prioritise your efforts in order to hit your Target within the time available to you and your Tribe. everyone’s working at the right pace.

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