Use your time wisely


It’s been two years since I wrote about time management but the topic is still close to my heart. The reason is pretty obvious but given the nature of product management I find it even more relevant to tightly manage your time or by end of the week you’re going to scratch your head on what have you accomplished.

In the last Product TO meet up I moderated a session on this very topic. In addition to my own tactics, I came away with a few tricks on how other people manage their time. Let’s go through them:

Have a plan of attack

Have a plan of what you want to achieve in a week. It is extremely important to write it down and prioritize it based on what’s important and urgent and equally important on what’s important and not urgent like reading, learning and talking to customers. If your schedule is all over the place and you are constantly fire fighting plan your day to the hour. Of course you will have to change your plan several times as your day/week develops but having an plan and a framework of what you want to get out of your time will help you decide which meetings to skip and if things must be done or can wait.

Take a easy with M&Ms

M&M was the term used in “rework” (and if you haven’t that I strongly recommend that you do. It’s easy to read and oh so good) which refers to “Meetings and Managers”. While I do have a few tips on how to work with your boss my following are my tips will focus on avoiding and eliminating (zombie) meetings.

I hate nothing more than those 1.5 hour meetings you go with 20 other people where everyone discusses something and you come out of it with no decisions made, no clarity on anything and a promise of yet another follow-up meeting to continue this torture. I know you feel me, you’ve been there too!

Yes you can! Eliminate status meetings

Status meetings (specifically product team status meeting) are one of the most annoying ones ever. I’m talking about the one where each PM reports back what they’ve done with their teams in the past week. While this is valuable for director of product or stakeholders working with those PM, it’s completely useless for peers who’re working on totally unrelated products/projects. The best way to solve this is to ask everyone to write their updates/blockers etc in a wiki page by a certain time and day and the managers and stakeholder go over it themselves and pull certain PMs for further questions. This approach also has the bonus of providing a historical week-by-week view of who has done. Pooofff one meeting gone from your calendar forever!!!

Don’t schedule recurring meetings

I challenge you to instead of a scheduling a recurring weekly meeting, evaluate every week to see if you still need to have it. Be honest with yourself! If you’re driving the meeting and you’re not ready (more about this on point below) with what you want to discuss postpone it. I even suggest to experiment with daily standup meetings, I haven’t seen any major downside in reducing daily stand ups from every day to every other day.

Also if you are invited to a recurring meeting and you realize you haven’t had a thing to say in the last 20 minutes of the meeting, you’re clearly not adding value. Start skipping them!

Go into meetings with an agenda and come out of it with a clear outcome 

If you are driving the meeting it’s extremely important to do upfront work. What is the purpose of the meeting? Are you bringing up a proposal and looking for feedback as part of ideation? are you trying to make a decision? are you answering questions as part of grooming and sprint planning? Whatever your goal is make it clear in the agenda. Have someone to take notes, or write them yourself and then summarize what discussed, what actionable items are and who is responsible to act on them and by when.

Action items must be clear enough that it doesn’t leave room for interpretation and small enough that is doable within the timeframe proposed. Having a date attached to action item makes it more palpable makes it actually happen.

Another neat trick is instead of going through a proposal or presenting a slide deck during the meeting, send it in advance to everyone to read and because most people don’t read, send a reminder before the meeting. Make sure to make it clear for everyone that the meeting is intended for deeper discussion or answering questions as oppose to high-level presentation.

And finally if I had the authority and power for my meetings I would ban cellphones and laptops except for note taker and presenter. I have been to way too many meetings feeling I’ve wasted my time because no one is listening or paying attention. It is disrespectful. If something worth our time then it’s worth our time. How useful a meeting can be when attendees are slacking with one hand and tweeting with the other?

Please Slack responsibly

If you are working completely remotely I get it! Slack (the hottest messaging app du jour) is very useful to have short and efficient outburst of communication to get answers and stay connected but if you are slacking with your co-worker across the room all day long, then what’s wrong with you? No matter how fast you type you can still talk faster if you have a 5 min conversation.

And please don’t get me started on a making a product decision with 15 other people across a slack channel. The conversation almost always goes through a tangent and what remains of it is one-liners that 15 people chimed on without any conclusion. This is the opposite situation that eliminating a meeting actually works worse! Have a super short ad-hoc meeting with few key people, look at the trade-off make the decision and then feel free to broadcast in Slack!

Hope this is useful for you!

Picture is taken from news18 website.

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