Detailed PMO Time Management Guide: Practical Productivity Hacks by@oleksandrsuprun
423 reads
423 reads

Detailed PMO Time Management Guide: Practical Productivity Hacks

by Oleksandr SuprunFebruary 16th, 2023
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

This guide is based on Toyota’s globally known Kanban. Kanban is a rule that states that no new portion of work should be started until the previous one is finished. Parkinson's Law is not necessarily a time management technique per se, but it can be helpful for us in the pursuit of optimizing personal work.
featured image - Detailed PMO Time Management Guide: Practical Productivity Hacks
Oleksandr Suprun HackerNoon profile picture

Time is an essential part of our lives and our most valuable resource. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about personal or work-related plans. Frankly, it is usually not the plans that make the difference, it’s the planning. You can find dozens and dozens of different guides that will mostly just tell you about “life hacks” like “just be focused”, “keep yourself motivated” or “don’t pay attention to small tickets and do big ones first”. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny the value of these assertions, but they lack constructive, practical steps.

That is why I decided to create a guide for our PMO, but it will also work for anyone who is searching for ways to increase their productivity. This specific guide is based on Toyota’s globally known Kanban, Parkinson’s Law, and the Action priority matrix, which I suggest that you use as guiding principles for managing your time. To make these principles applicable in practice, I collected some rules that I developed from personal and professional experience. Those will help you implement bigger principles in your daily routine.

1. Keep a strong mentality

If you are reading this article, chances are that you are already somewhat familiar with the Kanban methodology, so, I won’t repeat the theory. Instead, I want to focus on the history, reasons, and especially outcomes, as they are pretty important for this guide.

In the late 1940s, Toyota's top management noticed that workers in their facilities were burning out, their efficiency was falling, and the suicide rate started to grow. The company started investigating the problem by learning more about the worker's daily routine, which involved attaching doors to car bodies. Each worker received a new batch of car doors every hour, regardless if they had finished attaching the previous door. As a result, many workers had new work being brought to them while they were still working on current tasks. This situation brought significant stress to each worker. All of them were under constant pressure as every work day, they couldn’t complete their work in time while more and more tasks appeared on the horizon. Additionally, mechanics could not see that their work had any results. This combination caused was quite fatal, literally.

To solve this problem, Taiichi Ōno came up with a very simple solution that was inspired by the Wiggy Piggy supermarket chain that he observed in the US. He introduced a rule stating that no new portion of work should be started until the previous one was finished. He also advised attaching Kanban cards to every finished product, and once it was sold, the cards would move back to the production line. Team members could only work on the new item as the card signaling a demand for it moved back to them, and only once the number of pending Kanban cards reached a defined threshold. Every material used during production also had its own Kanban card attached so that the demand signal would ultimately flow down through the whole production chain, ending on external suppliers.

This had huge success not only in improving the production line but also (what’s most important for this guide) in workers’ day-to-day routine, mental health, and understanding of how much important work they can finish every day. In my guide, I recommend using Kanban for these exact reasons. It will help you follow the first rule: Keep a strong mentality.

2. Always set deadlines

This is how an essay published in The Economist in 1955 started. This law is not necessarily a time management technique per se, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be helpful for us in the pursuit of optimizing personal workflows.

Parkinson’s Law has broad implications, but we can translate the law in simple words: the time taken to complete the work is directly proportional to the time available to complete it. Think about it for a second. How many times have you wasted hours just because the task was overestimated? How many times have you had a task that needed to be completed in a day, but you only did it in the very last hours? How many times have you sacrificed the quality of a task because it was underestimated and you were pressured by the deadline? The beauty of Parkinson’s Law is that we experience its outcome every day, and not necessarily in work-related issues.

The graph above demonstrates how the allotted time for a specific task influences the amount of effort that will be spent on it. You can see that too much time allotted causes you to procrastinate and only start working in the last minutes/hours/days, which means that you waste a lot of time doing nothing because the deadline was set way too far ahead. On the other hand, if the task is underestimated and the deadline is set too early, this will cause frustration, overtime work, and stress. That is why people will often sacrifice quality to pursue unrealistic deadlines.

In this guide, I recommend that everyone follow this law while finding a sweet spot where you can execute different tasks within the most efficient timeframes. How to do that? Always follow the next three steps for your tasks:

2.1 Defining a deadline

While I was still in college, I had a lot of lab work to be done each week. So, the deadline was five days for each lab. What I ended up doing at that time was leaving everything for the last day. I wasted all week, and on the last day, I’d focus, concentrate, and gather all my resources to finish the task.

While this example still shows how unproductive I was, it also represents the crucial power of the deadline. Always set deadlines and never take tasks without any.

2.2 Work Execution

As soon as you set the deadlines for your task, you have to concentrate your effort on its completion. Make sure that you spend almost all of your time on task execution.

2.3 Revise estimation

After you finish your work, you need to step back and evaluate if the deadline was accurate. As simple as it sounds. If you felt a lack of time, then extend the deadline in the future for similar tasks. At the same time, if you accomplished something before the deadline or felt like you could’ve used your time more efficiently, just shorten the deadline next time. This will make you more productive.

3. Prioritize, delegate, and lay off

For a long time, I used Eisenhower's Matrix to help me with prioritization. This means that I was using urgency and impact to prioritize my tasks, which is not bad. However, the problem here is that it’s not that easy to determine urgency, and usually, it takes a lot of effort, especially for junior specialists. I still use Eisenhower's Matrix for long-term planning, but I have developed a different approach for day-to-day activities. Instead of Eisenhower's Matrix, I suggest using a similar approach: the Action Priority Matrix. The key difference between the two methods is their x-axis. The Action Priority Matrix suggests assessing effort rather than urges. Here is an example of what the matrix looks like.

As you can see, depending on the Impact and Effort, you’ll be able to differentiate all your tasks into four types:

  • “Quick wins” — these are the most attractive tasks. Prioritize them as high as possible.

  • “Major Projects” — tasks that give high returns but are very time-consuming. This guide will propose to always break it down into smaller parts. Often you will find that a Major Project can easily be divided into several Quick wins.

  • “Fill-ins” — you shouldn’t worry too much about these tasks. Do them if you have spare time. But usually, it’s much better to delegate them.

  • “Thankless” — your time killers. Lay off these things before they start draining your precious time.

This approach will allow you not only to plan and prioritize your tasks but also provide an infrastructure to limit them and cut them into smaller and, therefore, doable ones.

Daily rules to help you follow the principles

This section will answer the question: “So, how do I manage my day in practice?”. Let me mention a couple of rules that help implement the principles described above.

  1. Stop multitasking.

    Now, I know that many positions include multitasking skills in their description, at the same time as many specialists include them in their resumes. In this guide, I strongly advise focusing on one work item at a time. Spreading your focus, attention, and resources two several separate tasks at a time just causes a lack of work quality, leads to failed deadlines, and turns up the amount of pressure on you. As a result, you can find yourself in a stressful situation and overwhelmed with work, trying to decide what you need to do and spending way more time than you would by executing every task one at a time. To follow this rule, you need to set a limit for your “In Progress” column that equals one while using Kanban to manage your routine.

  2. 15-minute rule.

    This could look controversial, but in my experience, most of the issues that you receive in the work chats can simply be solved if you let them hang for a bit. Rush decisions never served any good. Besides, half the time, your colleagues who signaled a “disaster” will shortly message you with something like: “NWM, I already fixed it”. So, that’s the 15-minute rule that I use every day: don’t rush with answers to every issue and let your team members accumulate more information before taking any action.

  3. Work in iterations.

    Once again, I’d strongly advise doing daily planning. In this case, you’ll have to break down all your activities into pretty small chunks, which will be a bit of a pain in the ass at the very start. But once you get used to it, you will see all the advantages of this method. You can also adjust it to a weekly iteration. Always work iteratively, and remember that every iteration starts with planning and ends with analysis. Analyzing your estimates, the amount of work done and the flow of each iteration has the same, if not higher, importance than planning. So, never forget to run a retrospective on your activities. What I do in practice is daily planning sessions and weekly retro of my workflow. This puts me at a huge advantage in terms of flexibility. Also, I’m still able to adjust my estimates, prioritization, and prioritization while not spending too much time on it.

  4. “Break stuff”. Always break down your tasks if you can. Try to keep your tasks as small as possible to make you more flexible and avoid large estimates because the larger they are, the less accurate they will be.

  5. Task-to-Slot Conversion. Treat your tasks like calendar time slots. This way, you will automatically assign a deadline for every task. Do not forget to include all your meetings as tasks as well. This will help you to understand when you have time for things. Always keep small spacers between tasks to let yourself adjust. You don’t want to be overwhelmed. Also, a nice thing to keep in mind while planning is that morning is the time when the body is capable of doing the most, and it would be a good idea not to waste this time and spend it doing the most.

  6. Use task management tools. First of all, create a kanban board for yourself to track your activities. Any board should work (e.g. Jira Notion, Monday, Asana, etc.); you can even have an actual board with sticky notes or use a notepad as long as you don’t need to spend too much time maintaining it. My personal preference since recently is the TickTick service. I particularly like it as it allows you to add your tasks as calendar slots. If you are using something else, just make sure that you set estimates, mark time spent (for future analysis), and treat your To-Do column as a separate day in your calendar. You should spend 5-10 min every morning filling that column with tasks. Don’t forget to actually update your board daily and always come back at least once a week to analyze your results, adjust estimates and acknowledge all the completed work.

Expected Results

If you manage to follow all the rules and apply the principles to your daily routine, I guarantee that you’ll be able to become much more productive, and less stressed and will notice that you still have plenty of time for side activities. I’m constantly using this guide myself and updating it from time to time. At this moment, it helps me input 65–70 hours of work on a weekly basis and still find time for personal activities and hobbies. I hope you found this guide helpful and that it will serve you well.