Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]Effective time management is essential for a successful project! Honing these skills will help you be a highly effective project manager. Below are some strategies to help you save time by working smarter, not harder:

Clearly define your objectives. One of the factors that differentiates successful project managers is their ability to work out what they want to achieve in advance. Often, they have written goals that they can review constantly. Your long-term goals should affect your daily activities and be included on your "to do" list as the project date approaches. Without a goal or objective, your project will drift and be unproductive.

Analyze your use of time. Are you spending enough time on high-priority tasks? Do you constantly ask yourself, "What is the most important use of my time, right now?" If so, it will help you to focus on important tasks and stop reacting to tasks that seem urgent (or pleasant to do) but carry no importance toward the goal of your project. If it helps, apply the 80/20 Rule — also known as Pareto’s Principle. It can be a very effective tool in helping you manage time and tasks effectively. The 80/20 Rule posits that for every project, only a few things are vital — approximately 20 percent — and many are incidental — approximately 80 percent. Program and project managers know that 20 percent of the work (most likely, the first 10 percent and the last 10 percent) consumes a large majority of time and resources. The Pareto Principle serves as a valuable reminder for managers to focus on the 20 percent that matters most. When the fire drills of the day begin to sap your time, remind yourself of the 20 percent you need to focus on. If something in the schedule has to slip — if something isn’t going to get done — make sure it’s not an overwhelming part of the project’s productivity. Let the 80/20 Rule serve as a daily reminder to focus the majority of your time and energy on the percent of your work that is really important.

Have a plan. How can you achieve your goals without a plan? Most people know what they want but have no plan to achieve it except by sheer hard work. Your project plan should be reviewed daily and reset as your achievements are met. Successful project managers make lists constantly; this enables them to stay on top of priorities and to remain flexible to changing priorities. Know the aspects of your project that need improvement. Problems will always occur. The value of a good plan is to identify them early and seek out solutions. Good time management enables you to measure the progress toward your goals. Be honest about areas of your plan that may need improvement.

Beware of:

  • Shifting Priorities and Crisis Management – Make sure to plan ahead for safety and have contingency plans ready in case the project needs to take a turn. Don’t give power to the Crisis Management time stealer!
  • Communication Distractions – Have you ever had one of those days when you thought your true calling was in customer service or training? Pre-project communication, one of our greatest communication tools, can be our biggest enemy to effectiveness if all of the necessary plan details aren't communicated to volunteers prior to the event.
  • Lack of Priorities/Objectives – Vague or ambiguous priorities and objectives are often the biggest and most important time waster. It affects all we do both professionally and personally. A lack of planning in this area often results in too much time spent on the minor tasks and not enough time spent on mission-critical tasks.
  • Attempting Too Much – Many organizations feel that they have to accomplish everything yesterday and don't give themselves enough time to do things properly. Take time to scope out your project plan in detail, and in advance Do this so you fully understand the tasks that are achievable and the time it will take to meet your goals. Remember, you don’t want your volunteers to half finish the project and feel as if they didn’t achieve any one task.
  • Ineffective Delegation – Good delegation is considered a key skill in both program managers and project leaders. Project managers should have an ability to delegate work to staff/volunteers and ensure it is done correctly. This is probably the best way of building team morale while simultaneously reducing your workload.
  • Procrastination – The biggest thief of time is not decision making but decision avoidance. By reducing the amount of procrastinating you do, you can substantially increase the amount of active time available to you and your volunteers on the day of the event. The more time we spend planning our project tasks and activities, the more time we will have for those activities.

As a project manager, you should focus your time on setting goals, eliminating time stealers, and prioritizing project tasks accordingly. If you do all three of these things, you may find you will have extra time at the project to spend on those people and activities that are most important to you. Learn the difference between "Where can I help?" and "Where am I really needed?" Experienced project managers learn that the latter question is much more important than the former. In addition, learn the difference between "Do I need to do this now?" and "Do I need to do this at all?" Be able to quickly answer this question when faced with a new task.

Avoid Time Stealers

During a project, many distractions can occur that take time and focus away from the mission of the project — ultimately reducing the effectiveness of the project. Use time management strategies analyze your time and see how you may be both the cause and the solution to time challenges such as:

  • Procrastination and indecision
  • Acting with incomplete information
  • Dealing with conflicting personalities
  • Crisis management
  • Tasks you should have delegated
  • Unclear communication
  • Inadequate technical knowledge
  • Unclear objectives and priorities
  • Lack of planning Inability to say "no"

Planning Allows Time for the Most Important Things

Effectively managing your time is not hard to do. The lesson to learn is that the more time we spend planning our project tasks and activities, the more time we will have to perform those activities. By setting goals, eliminating time stealers, and prioritizing tasks, you will find you have extra time at the project to spend on those people and activities that are most important.

Service Project Timeline

The following are tips and to-do’s for a one-day project. This timeline can be easily adapted to fit most volunteer opportunities.

Welcome (15-30 minutes)

  • Ask volunteers to sign in, fill out any necessary forms, and take a name tag.
  • Gather volunteers together and thank them for participating in the project; introduce yourself and your project partners. Welcome and introduce volunteers.
  • Give a brief orientation, including an overview of the project, its importance, and how it will affect the community, agency, and/or the clients you are serving. Ask your project site contact to talk briefly about the mission and history of the organization.
  • Review the schedule for the day. Inform volunteers about the lunch / snack plan and restroom locations. Review safety procedures. Set a goal for the first half of the project

Assign Tasks (5-10 minutes)

  • Describe the project tasks to be completed.
  • Introduce the task leaders, or assign task leaders if they have not already been identified.
  • Assign volunteers to the different work areas. Make sure that each task has the right number of volunteers and that each volunteer feels comfortable and prepared to complete the task at hand.

Distribute Supplies (5-10 minutes)

  • Supervise supply distribution.
  • Remind volunteers to follow the safety procedures that were discussed.

Note: You may choose to distribute the supplies to the work locations prior to the volunteers' arrival at the project site. This can save time and confusion once your volunteers are ready to get started.

Project Task Implementation (1-4 hours)

  • Monitor volunteers and maintain communication with task leaders to ensure the project is running smoothly.
  • Watch for conflicts, supply shortages, injuries, or other issues of concern.
  • Keep an eye on the progress being made and be prepared to make adjustments as needed. Share the progress and encouraging stories with volunteers to keep them motivated.

Lunch or Snack Break (10-20 minutes, optional)

  • Encourage everyone to eat together and meet new people.
  • Evaluate your progress so far and discuss how the rest of the day will go.

Close the Project and Clean Up (30 minutes - 2 hours)

  • Finish all projects at least 30 minutes before the designated end time to allow time for clean up and reflection.
  • Supervise clean up, making sure all trash is disposed of and all supplies/materials are stored.

Reflection and Wrap-up (15 minutes)

  • Thank everyone and talk about the impact of the work accomplished.
  • Discuss the highlights and the challenges of the day.
  • Engage volunteers in the reflection or wrap-up activity you planned for the project.
  • Discuss next steps: Does the project need to be finished at a later time? Are participants interested in volunteering again?
  • Conduct an evaluation with volunteers, staff, beneficiaries, or others from the community.