The One Hour Manager


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stick_figure_leaning_on_stopwatch_400_clr_13325We think and talk about spring cleaning and new year’s resolutions, but what do we do later in the year to get ourselves reset and refocused on what matters? 

We all get so busy in the day to day of doing our jobs and sometimes that means we forget to do the things we know will help us be our most productive selves.

The most important thing you can do for yourself everyday as you are setting up, running, or just trying to figure out what the heck is going on with your PMO (or project), is to take time for yourself. Take time to think!

I always saw those folks that came in super early in the morning, well before their first meeting. For many years, that wasn’t me. Between family, commuting, and a packed calendar, all I had time to do was get in and get settled before my first meetings (oftentimes more than one an hour and two places I was “supposed to be” at once). That meant that I was rushing into work, rushing into meetings and before I knew it, my day was gone. I would look back on the day as I was driving through traffic to get home, between conference calls I would even have while driving, and wonder what was actually accomplished that day. I know I was busy. I know I was in a lot of meetings. I know I was able to move a couple of projects further down the road. But was I really as productive as I could have been? No, definitely not.

Ever feel that way? 

So what do you do?

Take an hour for you. Take an hour to think and plan before you do. Aren’t we always telling our stakeholders (and even our PMs) plan, then do. “Plan, plan, plan. That’s how you make sure your project will be most successful,” you find yourself saying, again and again. OK, so then why are we caught in a vicious cycle of do, do, do, with no time to plan?

I know, there’s just no way you can squeeze in one more hour on your calendar this week, much less adding an hour per day. Trust me, if you do it, you will be forever grateful that you did. Those people that are calm all day, even under pressure, I bet they are doing the planning before the doing. You may not see it, but they probably have a process that allows them to think and prioritize before they act.

You can start today, but you don’t have to. Just figure out when you are going to start and write it down. If you just think there is no way you could block an hour on your calendar today to start, fine, don’t. Start tomorrow. Start next week. Heck, start next month. Just start. The way you ensure you will start is to write it down. Look at your calendar now and find the first place you can block an hour and do it. Then do it again at the next possible spot, even if that’s a few days or a week later. Then, keep doing it until you are far enough out on your calendar to start doing it daily and make it a recurring appointment with yourself.

Then, protect that time like your job (and sanity) depends on it, because it does.

How to use the hour:

  1. 15 minutes to reflect: Take some time to ask yourself questions about your day to help you best prepare for the next one.
    • How did it go yesterday?
    • What worked?
    • What didn’t work?
    • What roadblocks kept me from progress?
    • Did I accomplish my #1 important goal for the day? If not, why not? How do I learn from that and do better today?
    • How does that win from yesterday help me prioritize my day today?
  2. 15 minutes to plan: This should be obvious to us, but do we do it? Sometimes. Think about your most important goals, what must get accomplished in the day and how you are going to have the greatest impact possible. Ask yourself:
    • What is the most important task I can do today to have the greatest impact?
    • Where will I spend my energy today doing what matters?
    • How many meetings do I have on my calendar and which ones could I delegate or decline?
    • Who on my team could really use some help?
    • What do I need from my leadership team?
    • Where am I stuck and who can help me move beyond this obstacle?
    • How am I going to make time to accomplish my most important task for the day?
  3. 15 minutes to manage: One of the best mechanisms I’ve ever learned for keeping your team on track and headed in the right direction is the 15 minute stand up meeting. Spend just 15 minutes a day with the team you manage and ask them three questions. Just three questions. And don’t let them go on and on with a laundry list of everything they have on their to do list for the day. That’s not the purpose of the meeting.
    • What was your biggest win from yesterday? Did you accomplish your #1 priority objective for the day? If not, why not? What lessons are to be learned so we can shift and retry? If so, why? This is a chance to thank someone else that helped, shine light on goals that are moving forward, or just bring general awareness where your priorities are impacting others.
    • What is your most important priority for today? Your goal is to get them talking to each other and you about their most important priority for the day. Verbalizing that priority with others creates a sense of accountability for the person and also creates an opportunity for alignment (or avoiding misalignment with what others believe their most important priority should be). These should be sized such that they can be accomplished in one day (otherwise everyone will just report the same thing over and over again and you won’t know if any real progress is getting made) and they show how you are progressing toward greater goals.
    • Where are you stuck? This is a great place for them to tell the team what is standing in the way of their progress. Again, not a laundry list, just the big thing (or person) that is standing in the way of them accomplishing their priorities. Don’t be tempted to solve all of the “stucks” yourself. Sometimes, there are other members of the team that can help solve the problem they have, while you keep others moving. Encourage others to step in and help their teammates solve a problem or point them in the direction of the answer they seek. Sometimes, just clarifying something in a sentence or two in response can remove someone’s perceived stuck and get them going. Do not problem solve in this meeting! There isn’t time. Answer a question, if that can keep them moving (like, “I need a yes or no decision from you on x”), but then that’s it. Keep the meeting moving.
    • Then answer those questions, yourself, for your team. Many people feel like they don’t understand their boss or what they are thinking, working on, or doing. This is your chance to help them understand where you are headed and what matters most for you as you look out for the whole team.
    • Make sure to keep it short, simple, with no more than a minute or two for each team member. Don’t worry. That doesn’t seem like much, but the commitment to meeting every day will help alleviate concerns that they aren’t getting enough air time with you. Remember, sometimes, this might be the only time during the day that you talk to your team members.
  4. 15 minutes to make progress: Before your day gets out of control, and because I know you probably work in an environment where it’s not easy to just block off all day to work on your most important priority, make this 15 minutes sacred. 15 minutes to focus on your most important priority for the day. It may not seem like a lot, but sometimes it doesn’t take much to keep the momentum going for your project. Have a meeting later in the day where you are hoping to get some decisions made? Send out a quick note thanking the participants for making time for your meeting, tell them what to expect and what you want to accomplish in the meeting. Is someone waiting on you for an answer so they can proceed? Make the decision and send the email now. Is there something you can delegate so that progress is being made while you are in other meetings? Find someone that can do it for you and make it worth their while to do so. People often need a little motivating to make your #1 priority, their #1 priority. Find their WIIFM and get aligned.

Can’t make it happen in the morning? That’s OK. Do it at the end of your workday or even when you get home after your workday. Just make the time to do it.

If you do this, this will likely be the most important hour of your day. The one that tells you whether or not you are accomplishing your goals, keeps your team moving forward and even offers the chance to course correct if things aren’t going as planned.

Now, go have a great impact on the world!

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  1. […] Laura Barnard advocates taking an hour each day to reflect, plan, manage, and make progress on improving your productivity. […]

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