Home » Time Management » The Most Effective Part of the Day In Project Management?

It only takes one key item to make a day successful. Often for me it is a project management tool such as a well written e-mail that outlines a problem and drives a set of actions. As busy as the rest of the day may be, this one item makes the day a success and often, if it was insightful enough, makes days or weeks successful.

At the Software Engineering Institute I gained some insight into how project studies were accomplished. What I noticed was that studies of successful software projects had a tendency to downplay the unique items in each effort. Instead the studies seemed to try and find what was common among the successful efforts. The belief was that if we implemented those common activities success should follow. It never seemed to worked that way however. Instead I found in my own practice that it was what was unique in each effort — tailored to the particular situation — that enabled the success.  The other factors were important and necessary but the critical factors for success were the unique things that were done (see more on getting perfect project management by tailoring it to the organization or team).

Doing One Thing Right Each Day In Project ManagementI was managing the Information Technology (IT) division for an organization that spanned five countries. We were implementing an upgrade to all our IT and had a multi-year plan to do it. I had worked myself sick. This was pretty normal for me, but this time I was really sick. I would get in at 6 am in the morning and by 8 am I was totally ineffective. I ended up doing this for about a week, working from 6 am to 8 am everyday. I would read and sent out e-mails, leave folks notes on their desks and then go home and collapse.

Even today, I recognize this as one of the most productive weeks of my life on one of the largest projects I had ever managed. I still look back at it and wonder how that could be. I came to understand that the critical part of my day was not very long. I also finally realized that the other 80% of my day was important also but, at least in my case, that other 80% dealt with things that would be important in the future. What was important now, to cause success to be a reality today was only about 20% of my day.

Along these same lines, I once carried a Daytimer. This is a little notebook that had each day of the month in it for taking notes and tracking tasks. I was reading about time management and one exercise was to track everything I did during each day for a week. So I went about filling in an entry in my Daytimer for each 15 minutes of my day. Boy, did I waste a lot of time each day I discovered. Boy, did I easily get distracted. I ended up keeping these 15 minute increments for many, many, months. Yes, this sounds like a simple time accounting system. The only difference was that it was my time accounting system, so I could be as precise and as honest as I was willing to be. (Check out more on the benefits of brutal honesty in project management.)

These experiences drove home for me that what made the biggest difference was doing a few things right every day. The time doing the few things right was always very small in relation to the total time in the day. It is important to note that the rest of the day might be spent participating in related activities and validating that those few things done were the right things to do.

See more benefits of Paying Attention

Realizing that the most effective part of our day might be only a few selective acts can help us recognize and leverage those acts. Pay attention to how we spent our time and what makes a difference. It can help us make our projects hugely successful by doing the few critical things each day that make the real difference.

Thank you for sharing!

4 thoughts on “The Most Effective Part of the Day In Project Management?

  1. Scott Snavely says:

    Does this really just get at Neil Whitten’s idea of focusing on your project’s top 3 issues each day? That allows you to focus on the most important issues now and get them out of the way ASAP before they get bigger. Just a thought…

    1. Bruce Benson says:


      This is very similar to focusing on top priorities but with a key difference. The difference is the notion that what makes our day successful – we accomplish some or all of our priorities and they make a real difference – is often a very small part of the day. We focus on top priorities because there is generally so much to do and so much competing for our time, that we need to work on a key set of priorities so that our time is applied to areas that maximize our project success. The insight here is that if we just accomplished those 3 priorities, and then went home (or hide somewhere) – say after a couple of hours – our project would be as successful, if not more successful, then if we worked the other N priorities for 8-10-12 hours.

      The suggestion in the article is to pay attention to what makes the real difference in our day and to use that insight to ensure more days are successful. It also allows us to ratchet back on the hours we spend (take some time off, take a vacation, go to our kids recital, go to the gym, etc.) while realizing that the project will do just fine. It also allows us to send our team members home (or on a vacation, or let them play a spontaneous soccer game on the lawn, etc.) and know that while they could have been busy all that time, they accomplished the key things that needed to be done, today.

      Good thought.


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