An old varsity friend contacted me the other day for some advice. He also now works in project management but as a scheduler for several projects happening on various sites. He recently had an incident where the incorrect information was communicated for the progress on one of the sites – which landed him in some hot water. He asked how he could better keep track of the various tasks and bits of information you have to juggle and keep track of in the fast-paced world of project management
6 Top Tips for Time Management
Tip 5 – Keep a tracking register
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the vast amounts of content generated by a project and are finding it difficult to keep track of everything, a useful tool is a tracking register. It’s a simple excel spreadsheet where you log each task you are responsible for and input any and all bits of information you can add to each task, including responsible persons, follow-up reminders, due dates and contact information of key persons. I have used this tool with great effect. The best part is that you can tick of completed tasks which is sometimes a much-needed ego boost in the demanding environment of project management.
Tip 5 – Record everything as it comes up
Make sure your tracking register is in an accessible location on your computer, phone or tablet so you can add any new information you receive from site, suppliers or the design team as soon as you become aware of it. If you can’t carry a tablet on site, keep a journal and record absolutely all information. Its amazing how much you will forget when you have a lot going on so don’t rely on your memory.
Tip 4 – Be wary of secondhand information
I have been burned several times by relying on information which I took to be facts, and which ended up being a stretch of the truth. When it comes to keeping track of progress and the completion of tasks, the best thing to do is check for yourself. I cannot tell you how many times a person has sworn that a milestone had been reached only to discover for myself (or worse, from my project manager) that they contractor was still busy! If you cannot get onto site to check, make sure that the contact you have on that site is reliable and not conflicted.
Make sure you do spot-checks every once in a while to ensure that everyone is being perfectly honest. Remember, different people have different motivations and reporting a task that has run behind may cause that person great discomfort in his/ her chain of reporting.
Tip 3 – Never open an email twice
How many times have you opened an email and flagged it for a follow-up only to overshoot the deadline on the task? Take a systematic approach to your emails and action anything important immediately. If you cannot action it, mark it as unread- this is sometimes more effective than flagging it.
Tip 2 – Prioritize
Within our project team, we use the following method to prioritize tasks: a priority task is either flagged as urgent or important depending on what it is. With so much going on, its easy to just manage the urgent tasks and let the important, yet not immediately urgent tasks overrun your schedule. Sometimes you need to take a firm stance on taking on new urgent tasks and put them on the back-burner for a bit while you attend to the important ones. This may mean being assertive enough to refuse a task or being firm about how realistic your deadlines are.
Tip 1 – Communication is key
Working within a multidisciplinary project team, you have a constant stream of information coming in. It also means that you need to constantly be feeding back to your team members and updating them on the tasks under your scope of responsibility. If you’re falling behind, its best to communicate this early so that your teammates have the opportunity to assist you in easing the load, and are conscious about the amount of new work they are giving you. When you become aware of a problem or a hiccup, the golden rule is to communicate this immediately to the relevant party. By keeping the lines of communication open at all times, your project team and manager will feel confident in your abilities and you will gain the appreciation you deserve.
Whether you are a student, graduate or professional engineer, project management is a critical skill and good time-management abilities are essential for success. Use the above techniques as they are tried and tested and will make your life a little easier.