Remember that old adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day?” If there’s any certainty about Project Management, it’s that all projects take time. Whether it’s measured in days, weeks, months, or even years, every project has a timeframe, and, of course, a deadline. Without effective time management, your project could end up late, over budget, or both—if it even gets completed.
In keeping with our recurring theme for this Project Management blog series, we’re going to put effective time management into the context of (you guessed it) a spaghetti dinner. If you’re the lead organizer for a spaghetti dinner, effective time management means the difference between happy attendees with full bellies and people leaving hungry, or worse. Making sure ingredients get ordered, staff are synchronized, and deadlines are met, requires no small amount of discipline when it comes to watching the clock and the calendar.
Here are five elements of effective time management that you can use to stay on track:
Efficiency is always important, but it’s especially vital when it comes to time management. Time is too valuable to waste, and we always want more of it than we have. If you’re like most people in the corporate world, chances are you have meetings all day—sometimes back to back. Making sure that those meetings are meaningful and focused can turn what would have been an hour-long time sink into a 15 minute wrap-up. Get straight to the point, and make that point clear. Being efficient with time also means being punctual. If you’re ten minutes late to a meeting, that’s ten minutes wasted that you likely can’t afford to lose.
For our spaghetti dinner, being efficient with time could mean knowing exactly how long noodles take to cook, when the garlic bread needs to come out of the oven, and when each of your line cooks’ shifts start and end.
Your team will appreciate your efficiency, because it ultimately means less time working and more time at home with their families.
“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” – Ron Swanson, Parks & Recreation
Leave it to a TV show to perfectly encapsulate an important maxim. Multi-tasking is part of life, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose control. If you try to do too many things all at once, you’ll most likely get sidetracked and waste a lot of time going back and forth trying to figure out where you left off. You end up either getting everything done about 50% successfully, or getting nothing done completely. Take some time to prioritize your list, and check things off one at a time as they are completed.
While Chef Gordon Ramsey may be able to make spaghetti sauce, chop lettuce for a salad, and toast garlic bread at the same time, chances are you won’t be that successful. Delegate tasks to your team members and focus on the discrete items on that checklist. And before you know it, dinner is served!
Without a clearly defined project plan, schedule, and list of deliverables, your project is dead in the water. While this structure may be subject to change, it’s important that it’s established early on so that you will have something to fall back on if you get hung up later. What are your established deadlines? Is there any wiggle room if something goes wrong? In the Project Management world, we call that “float” or “slack,” which is basically the amount of time a scheduled activity can be delayed without derailing the whole project.
For your dinner, that might mean establishing how much more time the noodles might need to cook without missing your serving time of 7 p.m. Establishing a clear structure of timetables and deadlines will help your team stay on task and will minimize the amount of time wasted.
While it may seem counterintuitive to have “Structure” and “Flexibility” on the same list of Keys to Effective Time Management, they actually complement each other. Having a structure is very important, but knowing how to be flexible in response to the needs of your team and your client is just as vital. Constraints or unknown variables could create issues that require deadlines to be shifted or extended. While the deliverables and milestones themselves may not change, their placement on the timeline might. As the Project Manager, it’s your job to reconcile those shifting structures and make sure that the project stays on track.
Maybe your Head Chef has to show up late the night of the event because his car broke down? What if you can’t get in the building on time because you forgot the keys. Part of being flexible is being able to adjust and adapt to those changes, often on the fly.
From my experience, a lot of time management, from scheduling, to resource availability, and meeting deadlines involves negotiating with clients, team members, and outside parties. Negotiation goes hand in hand with problem solving. When problems arise, you have to know how to work with your team and those around you to move the project forward on time and on budget.
For your spaghetti dinner, you could have a couple of servers that have to leave early because of an unexpected commitment. Negotiation could mean compensating by having them show up earlier to help set up. Or maybe your client wants to fill 200 seats when you know it’s only going to be possible to fill 150 within the budget. As the Project Manager, you might have to work with your client to expand the budget or reduce serving sizes to meet their goals. Negotiation uses all the above skills and wraps them all together to make the client and your team as successful as possible.
With effective time management, your project is much more likely to go off without a hitch. Using time efficiently, focusing on the task at hand, sticking to a structure, being flexible, and negotiating for success are all great ways to ensure that your most valuable asset is not wasted.
Don’t miss the final installment in our PMO blog series: Risk Management!
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