We’re all busy these days, and one way to make it easier to get more done at work is to use the so-called downtime when we are travelling for work. In fact, whether you are stuck at the airport, waiting for a train or simply need to check the status of your project when you are out and about, there are now hundreds of products that can help you, thanks to the accessibility of tools from your smartphone or tablet.
Apps for productivity
First, I think we should look at productivity, although this means different things to different people. If you want to get more done in a day, some apps are going to make your life easier, but if you aren’t the sort of person who likes to keep your to do list in a notebook app, then you’ll actually find it slowing you down.
So, start off by working out what it is that you are trying to achieve. Do you want your task list all in one place? Do you need collaboration tools like Skype or instant messaging when you are out and about? Then look for tools to meet those needs. Read more »
If you’ve been working as a project manager for some time, you’ll probably remember the days when all your project team sat together in the same office. In fact, you may still have that, especially if you work in an Agile environment. There are certainly plenty of benefits of having your team around you.
But for many project managers, that isn’t the reality any more. Project teams are increasingly split and project managers have to manage their resources from wherever they are in the world. Add to that an increase in people with flexible working options, the requirement to work from home or from the road and you’ll realise that it’s essential for project managers to be able to collaborate effectively with their team mates, regardless of location or time zone. So how do you do that? Here are 5 easy ways to collaborate with your colleagues.
1. Share your files online
Online document storage has to be the easiest way to get everyone using the same files and to avoid miscommunication. Don’t waste time looking for the latest copy of the project plan or hunting through emails for the most recent version. Store everything online and then the whole team will be able to see the latest revision of your plan.
With everyone being able to see and work on the latest version you’ll save time and stop some of the general queries that project managers have to deal with every day. A tool like Seavus Project Viewer, which enables cloud-based online document sharing, will help with this.
At the PMI UK Synergy conference for International Project Management Day this year, Alison Charles gave a presentation about dealing with the stresses brought on through managing projects. She is a transformational coach although she was paralysed by shyness as a child. She talked about stress and coping strategies. Do you worry about feeling stressed at work? Maybe some of her ideas can help.
What does stress feel like?
“We’re all in the fast lane, aren’t we?” Alison said. “Is there even a slow lane anymore?” Stress, she explained, leaves us feeling muddled, with mood swings and loss of confidence. You can feel exhausted, emotional and like you are letting people down even though you can’t help it. There’s no chance to switch off and it feels like you don’t have a life outside of work.
As a manager, you may begin to doubt your own judgement and need to get reassurance from others about your decisions.
Even if you don’t feel like this yourself, you should be watching out for the signs in your colleagues. Maybe some of them are feeling stressed as a result of project work, and as a project manager you can help to spot this and help them through it.
The individual will see more isolated, or perhaps quieter or louder than usual. They may be more aggressive or more emotional than you’d normally expect and they may lack confidence when previously they had plenty. You may also notice a drop in performance with the team member being unable to complete project tasks to the standard or in the timeframe that you would expect.
What can you do?
Alison had 4 ideas to help tackle the feelings of stress at work.
Being busy is not the same as being productive
Just as we’ve discussed in part 1 of this post, being busy does not always equal being productive. In fact, sometimes being busy is a sign that things have gone wrong.
There are two ways to look at “idleness”:
1. That employee is a parasite, sitting around getting paid to do nothing while others work hard to pick up the slack
2. That employee is finished with their work, ahead of schedule, and waiting for productive work to make itself available
We often confuse the second situation with the first. When communication is poor, this becomes an especially common issue.
It’s well understood in the lean manufacturing model that machines wait for parts, parts don’t wait for machines. If a machine is running constantly, it means that parts are backing up, projects are falling behind schedule, and supply is not meeting demand. When machines are sitting idle, waiting for parts, it means that supply is meeting demand, projects are ahead of schedule, and things are running smoothly.
This is a question of bottlenecks.
Assuming projects are reaching completion on time, you don’t want to see busy workers. A worker who is too busy to get anything done is a bad thing. A busy worker is a bottleneck. To remedy this, you need to expand your workforce, cut down on unnecessary tasks, or increase efficiency.
It’s never about keeping people busy.
Just Say No to Multitasking
This is the source of the problem, right here.
We already pointed out that overcommitting leads to scattered teams and poor communication. This is what happens when you try to multitask. You separate teams, people constantly need to bring each up back up to speed, and vital information gets lost in translation.
But multitasking doesn’t just disrupt teams. It slows down the mind.
When a single person works on two tasks sequentially, instead of at the same time, they cut errors in half and cut total time by 30 percent. It takes time to switch between tasks, and even longer to achieve a state of “flow” where you are completing the task most efficiently. The lag time that comes from switching back and forth between tasks makes our brains work harder. That makes us feel like we’re getting more done, when in fact we’re just working harder to get sub-par results.
Furthermore, the constant exposure to new information, paradoxically, hinders creative thinking processes. One Harvard study investigated 9,000 people assigned to work on tasks for extended periods of time, versus people who switched back and forth between various tasks rapidly. Those who approached the tasks in fragments never achieved the kind of depth necessary to come up with innovative solutions.
Perhaps worst of all, multitasking is actually addictive. It allows us to escape truly challenging tasks by solving menial ones. This is despite the fact that multitasking elevates stress hormones and may ultimately be damaging to your health.
Unfortunately, most management disciplines make no effort to fight this addiction to multitasking. While some may institute rules against cell phone or Facebook use, they do nothing to combat the bigger problem of multitasking. In fact, most management disciplines encourage multitasking. They do so by committing workers to multiple projects at once, by disciplining workers who don’t look busy enough, and by rewarding workers who go out of their way to do menial tasks.
Multitasking is a drug. You need to kick the habit if you hope to escape the trap of looking busy and accomplishing nothing.
About Author: Mary Prescott is working as a community manager at WorkZone – A web-based project management software company. She is @MaryP_WZ on Twitter. When she’s not working, you’ll find her reading fiction or hiking with her dog.
You know why you do a project plan, right? Lots of people think that producing a plan is just something that ‘project managers do’, but it really does serve a useful purpose when it comes to managing your project. Here are 4 reasons why project plans are an essential tool that you really can’t do without.
1. They help track progress
This is the most obvious one – you can’t track project progress unless you have something to track against. The project plan serves as your road map to success. By marking off what you’ve managed to achieve on your Seavus Project Viewer Gantt chart you’ll be able to see at a glance what’s completed and what isn’t.
If you spot something that should be completed and isn’t yet, then you can do something about it. If you didn’t have the plan, you’d be relying on your gut feeling to tell you that something was going a bit wrong, and that can be unreliable!