Time Management Tips For Product Managers: How to Prioritize Your Work

Editor’s note: the following is a guest post from Donald Fomby. If you’re interested in writing a guest blog, contact gaby@productschool.com

Many people starting a career in Product Management make a mistake that costs them a lot of unnecessary stress:

They think that doing more is better, so they work their tails off every day. 

However, what days of work typically lead to is exhaustion and little to no results. The truth is that a product manager is never really “done,” as there’s always something to take care of. Experienced product managers, on the other hand, know very well how to deal with this.

They figure out how to prioritize their time to ensure that they’re working on something that contributes to the bottom line. For example, any task that doesn’t meet this requirement is either delegated or killed altogether. 

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced product manager, learning more about time management is something you absolutely need to do. According to a recent IBM survey of business executives, “Time management skills and ability to prioritize” are in the top 2 behavioral skills critical for employees in 2018. 

With that in mind, let’s talk about four time management techniques for product managers to know what they should focus their time on.

1. Have Shorter Meetings

If you have experience in product management, chances are you’ve been stuck at a meeting multiple times, hoping for it to end as soon as possible. One of the reasons for this situation is that most meetings run too long, and some of them aren’t even required (in other words, they don’t contribute to the project’s goals).

Indeed, meetings can stall productivity, so making them shorter – or removing some altogether – is a step in the right direction, as far as time management is concerned.

Clock

Here’s how to take that step: 

  • Invite fewer participants where possible. Fewer participants equal fewer questions and more focus on issues at hand (you’ll have a better chance to hear everyone and make sure that the participants understand your decisions). Having a meeting with a few people will be much shorter and more productive than a long one with a bunch of participants.
  • Try to avoid catch-up meetings unless absolutely necessary.
  • Try to make the agenda as simple as possible. A long and complex agenda is a sure-fire way to get stuck and make very little progress on a meeting.
  • Make a list of your weekly and daily priorities before scheduling meetings. This way, you’ll be more focused during each meeting and know what you need to achieve
  • Have a little talk with the most important participants before a meeting. By doing so, you’ll be able to get feedback from them and have an idea of what to expect before the actual meeting. 

There are many other ways product managers can make meetings shorter and more productive, so feel free to try at least some of them to know what works for you.

2. Learn How to Delegate 

As mentioned, experienced product managers have mastered the art of delegation. You know very well that product managers get caught up in their work on a daily basis, and they often do tasks they’re really not supposed to be doing. 

Yes, that’s where that “overworked product manager” stereotype typically begins.

If you feel like you’re spending too much time doing tasks that spread you too thin, I strongly recommend you consider delegating

Man working

Here’s a framework that will help you to know what to delegate. Ask yourself the following three questions:

  • Am I the only person in the company who knows how to complete this task?
  • Am I the only person in the company who has free time to do this task?
  • Is this task so important that I should be the one completing this task?

If you answer at least one of these questions with NO, then chances are good that you should delegate. 

For example, if you’re a Vietnamese speaker and the project you’re working on has a text in Vietnamese that needs to be translated in English, doing so is not your job. The cook doesn’t have to buy the groceries. Be sure to find a Vietnamese to English translation service, like PickWriters, to do this work for you. 

In fact, here are the top product manager responsibilities together with the percentage of professionals who report doing them, as described by this Product Management report

Top Product Manager Responsibilities graph
Credit: Product Management: Themes and Benchmarks, 2019 report, Product Management Festival

Another important thing to keep in mind that you need to know the tasks that are really yours. For example, let’s consider sales. Chances are there’s an entire team whose job is to sell the product, but this also is in your job description. So how to differentiate which task is yours?

It’s simple. You don’t need to do stuff like setting up sales funnels, calling leads, or persuading leads to buy. Your job is to explain how to relate to leads, answer their questions, and highlight the product’s benefits in a way they can appreciate.

3. Limit the Numbers of Tasks in Your To-Do List to Three

One piece of advice that constantly gets thrown around in time management guides is to “write down every task you need to get done.” While this is sound advice, when it comes to getting up to date with current tasks some people actually think of it as a way to create a to-do list. Often, this leads to multitasking and other things that hurt productivity and mess up your schedule.

Try limiting your daily to-do list to just three items. Doing this not only makes your schedule more manageable but also reduces anxiety and anticipation (which are also quite common issues faced by product managers). A big and complex list is doomed to fail, anyway, so try picking up only three things to focus on during your day. 

List

This could be compared to losing weight. For example, if the goal is to lose 20 kg, then writing it like that in a to-do list is simply pointless. On the other hand, setting a goal to lose 2-3 kg per month makes it achievable and more realistic.

4. Master Effective Communication

Oh, this is a big one. Communication skills top the list of the most important product management soft skills, and for a good reason.

Most important Product Manager soft skills
Credit: Product Management: Themes and Benchmarks, 2019 report, Product Management Festival

A lack of effective communication skills often results in a packed calendar because more time is needed for communicating with various stakeholders. As a product manager, you absolutely need to communicate more than execute, but knowing how to do that effectively is something that should be learned. 

Here are the areas of communication skills where you should concentrate your effort to ensure that the time you spend communicating has business value.

Communication with Your Product Team

Don’t spend your time trying to come up with the best ideas, once again, it’s not your job. Chances are that your responsibility is to nurture and maintain a working environment that welcomes collaboration, productivity, and creativity. In fact, if you take one more look at the list of the most important soft skills for product managers above, you’ll see that communication, teamwork and collaboration are on the top.

On top of that, try focusing on identifying ideas that could work the best and work with the team to turn them into actionable items.

There’s no single perfect communication style for product managers to apply for communicating with the team, but here are the characteristics that work across industries and products:

highlighter
  • Empathy. Understanding the limits of your team as well as their personalities is tremendously important to create a good working relationship with them
  • Coordination. Your job is to provide a destination for the team, lay out a plan for getting there, and make sure that everyone is on the path
  • Inspiration. A product manager is a key figure in building a team culture, as his or her personality often defines important characteristics of the workplace culture. For example, the majority of product managers (62.5%) rely on their personality and influence rather than official authority to make decisions
Decision-making effectiveness
Credit: Product Management: Themes and Benchmarks, 2019 report, Product Management Festival

Communication with Other Stakeholders

This is where many product managers fall short. According to the above-mentioned report, communicating with stakeholders outside of the core product team – cross-functional teams, other employees in the company, customers, etc. – is something that many product managers choose not to do. 

In fact, more than 50 percent of them don’t inform cross-functional teams and whole companies about strategy or vision updates. As you can see, almost 85 percent don’t even update customers on that, too. 

Stakeholders informed of strategy/vision updates
Credit: Product Management: Themes and Benchmarks, 2019 report, Product Management Festival

However, communicating with stakeholders could be tremendously important for fostering product success. For example, clearly explaining your project and providing updates to the top management, senior-level stakeholders, and customers often helps with choosing the best way to go. 

Here are some tips to increase the effectiveness of your communication skills:

  • Product team: tell them the what and the why – these people rely on evidence and facts
  • Executive-level colleagues: try to keep the details to a minimum but be ready to present figures when asked. Try talking in outcomes rather than features and other tech-related functionalities
  • Sales team: these people care about how you can help them make sales, so show them why your decisions are the most relevant to customers, therefore, can play a role in increasing sales.
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In Conclusion

Prioritizing your work like a pro by mastering time management is something you can do. Don’t make the mistake by thinking that doing more is better. Being a great communicator, for example, doesn’t mean filling your daily to-do list with a bunch of meetings just for the sake of following some kind of agile approach.

Great product managers know how to prioritize their time and work on the tasks they’re actually responsible for as well as those actually contributing to the product’s goal.

Effective time management skills are tremendously important here because they’re the key to doing less and accomplishing more. You’ve just made the first step in the right direction by reading this article, so hopefully, your ability to manage your time and prioritize work will be improving.

Meet the Author

Donal Fomby

Donald Fomby is a writer and editor at Best Writers Online. He has experience in product management. Besides doing his work as an editor and writer, Donald has been applying his knowledge of psychology and product management in order to contribute some valuable insights to product managers who want to find and apply best practices and innovative approaches to their team strategy.

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