Project Management: Principles of Personal Productivity

By Andrew Horn, CCM, LEED GA

How to come out of each workday less stressed, more satisfied, and ready to come back tomorrow.

Inspiration is a funny thing.  I found inspiration for jotting these thoughts down when my wife encouraged me to blog about things that I do to keep myself productive each day.  She feels that I have a gift for schedule management. I certainly do have a passion for meeting deadlines, and I’ve found that employing the strategies below helps me to do that consistently. Hopefully, you will find at least one takeaway that will make your day more productive and fulfilling.

10 things to make your day more productive for you and your team 

1 | Connect With Your Purpose

Start each day by taking a minute to consider why you are doing what you are doing.  A paycheck can be motivation, but that doesn’t really touch deep enough into what inspires us as individuals.  My “why” is the guiding principle for everything I do. One of my “whys” is to ensure that everyone that I interact with, every day, feels important and cared for. I don’t always get this perfectly, but it is my goal. Despite the spreadsheets I produce, the drawings I review, or the meetings I conduct, if I feel I’ve done my best to help everyone feel important, then it’s a good day. I highly recommend examining what satisfies you the most, deep down, and then reconnecting with that thought before you begin your day.

2 | Schedule Your Day Like a You Are Building A Construction Schedule

When planning your day/week, consider employing the steps used in construction to build  project schedules:

  • Set deadlines for the specific efforts you are working on.
  • List the activities required for each task.
  • Estimate how long it will take to perform each task.
  • Identify any constraints (for example, need to follow up with Joe on Monday because he is out for the rest of the week).
  • Develop your sequence or logic by prioritizing what needs to happen first, second, and third.
  • Review your schedule to make sure it makes sense.

Additional tips on scheduling: 

    • Block out chunks of time to work on tasks. Consider using MS Outlook or other calendar software to block out time.  This can also communicate to others when you are available and when you’re not.
    • If possible, schedule 75-90% of your week. Leave the remaining time as “float” for responding to emails or looking ahead to anticipate any issues that may develop with your project.
    • If you complete a task earlier than the time you estimated to complete it, move up one of your later tasks or bring a task for tomorrow into today.

3 | Quiet the internal noise and the external noise

This is big. Do not let the anxiety of another pending task steal your focus from the current task. If a to-do item or an idea surfaces or an idea surfaces for a task you are not currently working on, use notes or a notepad to jot the thought down so you can follow up later. Let the notepad serve as your administrative assistant to remind you later of your earlier thought. Now you are free to focus again. Do not break your stride.

4 | My 4-Ds of task management

When you go through your emails or you are reviewing your tasks, decide immediately what to do with them:

  • Do – Respond or do it immediately. In this case, you either know what to do, how to answer or you know what to ask and it is clear that this item is a priority.  If you are unsure what the deadline is for the request, ask for one.
  • Delay – Emails or tasks that require more thought and time. Flag these for follow-up and use your “float” time to respond.
  • Delegate – To someone else that you feel is better suited to perform the task or respond to the email. Ask them for assistance.
  • Delete – Decide if it’s something you need to do or respond to. Or is it just a “nice” idea?  Some things that we think we must do, we actually do not.

Remember, do not be moved by need; be moved by priority. Each task represents a need, but you have to determine which needs are priorities for that moment. Also, can you structure your day, so you review emails first thing, right after lunch, and at the end of the day? Again, the point is not to let the tasks control you, but for you to control the tasks.

5 | Don’t be the Bottleneck

In construction, there are three issues that I treat like a hot potato – money (cost), time (schedule), and quality issues. These issues should not find a permanent home on your desk as you wait to find time for them. Try to get them off of your plate and on to the next step as quickly as possible. Remember that with money issues, in particular, your decisions could create a delay to someone’s livelihood. It is important to accelerate these issues to make sure they are resolved promptly.

If you are a leader in any capacity in your organization, keep your team going as well. Never treat them as less important. We always prioritize the tasks of those we report to, but prioritizing the tasks of those who report to us is equally important. Your job as a leader is to try to set everyone up to be as successful as possible. Do not be a hindrance to their productivity. Help them help you.

6 | Take a Break

If you experience task fatigue, take a break. We all have those instances when the inspiration is gone from that task (or the afternoon), and we need a recharge. When that happens, step away and indulge in something you enjoy. In my case, that means making a Matcha Latte.

Find what works for you!

7 | Move the Ball Forward 

For long-term goals, I think a good football analogy would help. According to ESPN, only 9.7% of Hail Mary attempts are completed. For those of you who do not know, a Hail Mary is a really long pass that is a last resort attempt to get in the end zone and score. Between 2009 and 2020, there were 193 Hail Mary attempts with 16 that produced touchdowns. I liken Hail Marys in task completion to those instances where you haven’t looked at the task until the day it’s due and now you have to work late to complete it. You get it done but you paid a heavy price in time and stress getting there. I prefer my task completion to be a little bit less nail-biter and a bit more boring. I need a better statistic than completing my tasks only about 10% of the time. This leads me to my own philosophy of incremental yardage. Most football plays result in a gain of only a few yards— either through running or passing with an occasional breakthrough play. I would much rather this approach. It’s better if I spend a little time each day working on a long-term task and making incremental progress rather than delaying and then cramming at the end.  As you are scheduling your week, schedule some time each day to work on that longer-term task.  The next point is related.

8 | Start Today

When you schedule some time every day to work on your task, you have time for questions to surface and time to seek out those answers. Don’t get caught the day something is due and realize you need outside help. If you have a task of unknown duration,  plan to spend 15 -30 minutes working on it (today) so you can get a better feel for what it will take to complete it. If after 15-30 minutes you make no progress or find yourself staring at the screen or easily accepting offers for free distractions, realize you need help and ask for it. Schedule a meeting with someone, ask a question but do something that moves the task (ball) forward today.

9 | Set Deadlines for Others

When you start your project early enough, you have time to reach out for help. When you do, set deadlines for others when you need something from them. Remember, you are at the mercy of their schedule.  Don’t get upset when they don’t get you what you need if you didn’t give them a deadline to work towards. Again, help them help you.  One of the things that I do is set follow-up flags on incoming mail that I need to respond to, but I also set follow-up flags on emails that I’ve sent others. If the deadline passes or the person seems to be taking more time than I expect, I simply follow up with them with another email, call, or text message to bring it to their attention again in the event that they forgot or overlooked it. Another technique is to create what I recently heard defined as “task tension.” Schedule a meeting to review what they are giving you on the due date you’ve agreed to.

10 | Give Good Customer Service

Last but not least, respond kindly. If you’re not able to respond kindly, step away, give yourself a break and calm down. Give people a reason to want to work with you. Give people a reason to want to include you in what they are doing. Give people a reason to want to answer your question next time or ask for your help in the future. Simply put, do to others (in a way meaningful to them) as you would have them do to you (in a way that is meaningful to you).

I know from my own experience that these techniques have made me more personally productive and allow me to end each day less stressed, more satisfied, and ready to come back tomorrow. I hope they can do the same for you.