Do your projects sometimes (or often) feel like they’re outside your control?  Like the frequent requests from stakeholders will prevent you from ever crossing the finish line?  Like you could spend all day, every day responding to emails, calls, and “urgent” requests — and never find time to actually move the project forward?

If so, you’re not alone.  As project managers, we are often stuck in the weeds, managing all of the details of the project. We are overwhelmed by minutiae and struggle to get the important work completed on time.

To combat this, we need rock-sold strategies for working proactively and staying focused on the important stuff.

Fortunately, these strategies are simpler than you might think.

Strategy #1 – Block Out Time For Your Most Important Tasks

Given the deluge of email, direct messages, meetings, calls, and everything else that vies for our attention each day…

…it’s no wonder that we can easily spend all day every day in reactive mode.

The problem, of course, is that when you are reacting to inputs, you are allowing others to set your priorities.  And rarely will their priorities match yours. 

Even worse, the busier you are, the harder it is to truly prioritize the important but less urgent items on your list.

That’s why one of THE most effective ways to take control of your day is to block off time when you can work on your top priorities without interruptions.

Silence your phone, shut down your email, pause all notifications and take a couple hours to really dig into the most important tasks on your list. 

According to a recent study, employees who do this routinely get more done, are better able to meet deadlines, and feel less overwhelmed by their workload.

If you’re not used to taking yourself offline for large blocks of time, it can feel risky to do so.  But taking time to do what’s most important alleviates overwhelm… which allows you to be more effective and responsive once you’re back online.

The result is that you feel (and work) better, your projects stay on track, and you respond better to the requests that truly matter. 

Strategy #2 – Focus on the RIGHT Things 

Once you’ve blocked off time to work, your next step is to get crystal clear on WHAT is most important to work on.  

It’s easy enough to get distracted from our top priorities by the endless flood of new requests and urgent tasks that fills our days. But we can also, and just as easily, lose sight of our project’s true goals.

As team members proceed with implementation, their decisions and assumptions take on a life of their own.  Without frequent checks back to the original project intentions, we risk going off course – and staying there.

That’s why getting clear on your most important priorities for the day is actually a two-step process.

1) Close the gap between project execution and strategy.

Take 15 minutes every day to review the original intent of your project and the scope of what you are currently planning to deliver.

Ask yourself these key questions:

  • Are the original strategic objectives still relevant?
  • Are your project deliverables directly aligned to these objectives?
  • Are the project objectives clear or have you been making some assumptions about them? Has your project scope grown beyond what is required to achieve desired outcomes?
  • Do you have a clear set of success criteria?
  • Can you simplify your plan to focus on the most valuable deliverables first? 

This exercise, done regularly, ensures that you and your team are on track and focused on the correct deliverables at any given moment. 

2)Prioritize your highest-leverage tasks and activities.

Once you’re confident that you and your team are laser-focused on the right elements of your project, it’s time to turn your attention to organizing your day.

Start by taking five minutes to answer these questions:

  • What is the most important thing I can do today to move my project forward? 
  • Who do I need to reach out to today, no matter what else comes up? 
  • Who am I waiting on something from? 
  • What are my top priorities that I must do today? 

Your answer to #1 should be added to your calendar, to be completed during the time you’ve blocked out for focused work on your most important tasks.

Then, before you open your inbox and get sucked in, do items #2 and #4. 

With this system, you’ll complete your most urgent tasks before diving into the pile of messages and new requests sitting in your inbox.  And you’ll know in advance that you have time blocked out for your highest priority work.

The result is that when you do finally enter your inbox, you’ve already accomplished a lot – and you’ll be in a better position to respond appropriately to whatever you find there.

Over time, you will find that you make consistent progress on your most important projects and priorities.  That means you’re mostly likely to lead your projects to successful results — and you’ll feel more confident and effective while you are doing it. 

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