They’re everywhere these days, in your face, demanding your attention, forcing you to change directions at every moment. They are cell phones and emails and they are the biggest time wasters since… probably forever. Time management, and managing the people who consume your time, is at the heart of keeping control over your projects.

This is Yada, the PMP Jedi Master, with some advice on how to deal with phones and emails when you’re a project manager.

The reality is that a project manager is more tied to the clock than almost anyone else in the world. Projects might have timelines of months or even years, but every single day, you have only minutes and hours to get everything done. This is even more important when you have multiple projects or if part of your team is overseas.

Handling Communications

Let me tell you how to manage emails and telephones so that people can reach you when it’s important, but otherwise, you can get things done all day.

  1. Set boundaries- Not just with your staff, but with everyone in your professional and personal life. Here’s what I explain: “If it’s a true emergency, please text me with a brief message that starts with 911. If it’s not something that I must know today, then please just email it to me. If it’s a crisis, a life-threatening crisis, dial my phone number, email me, and call my assistant, whatever you have to do to get my attention. Interruptions are only for things that I need to know today.”
  2. Set times – I have an autoresponder on PM email account that says, “I check my email at 8 am and 4 pm. If it’s urgent, please SMS me at (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Otherwise, please leave me a message here and I will get back to you.” The people who are sending me messages will almost without fail leave an email. By making it clear that only true emergencies are important enough to break my day, I have many fewer crises to work on.
  3. Arrive early – I get in every morning, sit down and read email, look over the schedule for the day, create to-do lists, and delegate tasks, all before I even speak to anyone. Everyone in the office knows to leave me alone (unless it’s a true emergency) until I come out of my office ready for the day. This might sound harsh, but they all get to see the benefits of having a team leader that is calm, composed, and has everything laid out for them when the day starts.
  4. Plan meetings – I always plan meetings meticulously and I have an agenda for even the seemingly most minor meeting. You would be amazed at how much can get done in 20 minutes when there is a clear expectation of adherence to time. What would take most groups an hour, my team can get done in 25 minutes or less. There’s always open discussion time, but we don’t want to get off on tangents. Everyone stays focused and we get it done.
  5. Reward goodness – When meetings are punctual, the work is getting done, and everyone is in their place when I expect them to be, I save up the time. If I plan a meeting for 30 minutes and it only takes 25 minutes, I don’t let other things slide in a steal the time. Instead, I save it up and I let my staff leave early. We have a list of to-dos. When that’s done, so are we. There’s no sense in working too far ahead. In project management, you’re often too far out ahead of the rest of the team. And there will never be an end to the work, so there’s no point in running hard in an endless marathon.
  6. Restrict calls – Don’t let phone calls drag on. People will get on the phone and will run in circles. I start many phone calls with, “Hi, so you know, I have another call in 10 minutes. I want to make sure we get to everything, so I will be pushing hard to get through things.” Again, it sounds snippy, but I can tell you that people who call me love it. They know exactly how long I will be on the phone.
  7. Time it – Set a timer. Everyone’s phone has a timer or you can use a kitchen timer, but actually time things. 15-minute calls should end when the beeping starts. A timer is an excellent way to keep everyone focused. Put it in the middle of the table and see how well everyone stays on point.
  8. Skip Skype – I find Skype to be one of the most useful tools in the world, but it can also be a dangerous time sucker. You can find yourself into hours-long messaging storms with folks on Skype. Use Skype like you do everything else. If you start a conversation with someone on Skype, let them know that you only have 10 minutes to “talk”.

The key to managing time and people is to make sure that everything you do has a time limit. Restrict the times and length of calls. Check email just twice per day. It’s all about maintaining control of your time the same way that you project manage everything.

Yada: “You can say no!”

Here’s one more thing: Yada, the PMP Jedi Master gives you permission to say no. No, to meetings that you don’t need. No, to long, pointless phone calls. No, to things that keep you from being as productive as you can be.

Project management is tough enough without working 14 hour days and trying to figure out to stop wasting time. Follow these simple rules and you can save yourself a lot of pain and hassle.