10: Give yourself time to think in a straight line

I’m writing about one hundred things I’ve learned as a product manager.

One of the many personal challenges I’ve faced in my working life was to overcome my natural tendency towards being erratic. I’m not talking about endearing (to me at least) eccentricities, more about practical things such as a rubbish memory for dates and poor time management.  Throw in a crisis and I could generally be found running around with my head on fire.

I got around my inability to remember dates by finding someone who could and immediately marrying her

I got around my inability to remember dates by finding someone who could and immediately marrying her. Cunningly I managed to propose on the anniversary of first going out with each other, then got married exactly one year later. As a consequence, I now have only one important date to remember, though equally the implications of forgetting are that much more dire.

Time management was a trickier one to solve as my other half declines to accompany me to work to remind me what I’m meant to be doing.  Nor am I privileged / well-paid / important enough to have an executive assistant, so here are a few practical tips I’ve used to manage my time more effectively.

  1. Form good habits.  Assign regular slots in your diary for specific tasks, such as reading and responding to emails.  The trick is then to be sufficiently self-disciplined to ensure that you use this time for that specific task and no more.  It also takes a reasonable effort to stick to a routine for a while before it becomes habitual, but once it is after a few days, it will be much easier to follow. Reinforce this with your company calendar system, namely by ensuring Outlook shows you as ‘busy’, and this will have the benefit of training other people to respect your routine.
  2. Have a ‘no meetings’ day each week. For a product manager, this sounds impossible, but think of it this way: when you’re on vacation, you don’t attend meetings and yet the business still manages without you, so it’s clearly not impossible.  If you really can’t stop people booking you into meetings, fake some leave to remove all distractions: set an out-of-office message, close Outlook, redirect all your calls to voicemail, sign out of instant messaging and, if needs be, work from home.  It’s a good idea to tell your manager you’re doing this, but reassure them that you’ll get far more done this way.  Then you can concentrate on all your work in peace.
  3. Habitually working early, late, at weekends is cheating and counter-productive. Not only do you wear yourself down when you should be having some time to yourself / your family, but you also set an unrealistically high expectation with your colleagues about how much work you do from week to week.  If you then stop working extra hours, guess what?  You’ll start looking like you’re not trying as hard.  So it’s best to avoid that by working the hours you’re meant to.  If you can’t get everything done in the time available, it’s going to have to wait.

I’ve just been reading a great book, Time: A User’s Guide, by Stefan Klein, which has much more advice to offer on making time management techniques work not just in the week or two after you’ve received training, but on  an ongoing basis.  More on this later.

Agree? Disagree? Join the conversation: