Effective time management means productivity and efficiency; it means deadlines are met. And for a team working on a project, it means that everyone does his part according to the scheduled plan. For the organization, it means goals and objectives are met.
But what if that team is composed of remote workers? More and more, this is how teams are comprised. Time management then involves more challenges, but none that cannot be met. What you need is a time management plan that will prove effective for any project that may come your way.
Here’s how to craft a plan that will stand the “test of time” and be “universal,” no matter what the project.
1. Set General Guidelines First
What “rules” will apply to all projects, no matter what type of complexity? The point is this: you cannot let each team member establish their own “rules” for efficiency, work times and days, and reporting. This creates chaos and destroys essential collaboration. And it leads to frustration and low morale on the part of team members. Everyone needs to be on the “same page” here.
Here are some of the rules that must be set:
- What times of the day and days of the week must everyone be available for discussion, collaboration, problem-solving, etc.?
- How will team members track and report their time-on-task?
- How often must individual team members report to you on their task progress?
- Is there a specific time management technique you have chosen (Pomodoro, Kanban, Eisenhower matrix, etc.)? If so, then your team members must be introduced to the technique and trained in its use. Each of these has training software, and you can even order multiple-choice tests help to present scenarios that will demonstrate mastery of any technique you have chosen.
- There should be no multitasking. A farmer can only plant and harvest one potato at a time. The same applies to completing tasks in an organized fashion. The full focus must be on each task as it is attacked and completed. The only exception might be to stop to help out a fellow teammate who may be struggling with something.
Setting these ground rules and ensuring that every team member understands them will eliminate misunderstandings down the road.
2. Know Your Team
One of the key leadership tasks is to know each team member individually, especially their strengths and challenges.
This is how, as a project leader, you know how to delegate tasks to the right people. For example, someone who is “slow and steady” but thorough should be given tasks with longer deadline requirements. Overwhelming any team member will cause friction, stress, dissatisfaction, and ultimate burnout.
And not giving other team members tasks that are challenging enough will have the same results.
3. Short- And Long-Term Goals Please
Set both for any project, and make them very clear.
Of course, they should be in writing, but even better is to use some type of visual as a motivator and monitor -a thermometer, a pie chart, etc., – something that will show progress and goal achievement.
These visuals act as both reminders of what still needs to be accomplished but also promote self-satisfaction over what has been accomplished. This, in turn, acts as a motivator to keep moving toward that “prize.”
4. Set the Milestones With Dates
Goals must be divided into smaller objectives, usually called milestones in project work. These can be set daily, weekly, or monthly, or all three if the project is highly complex and involves numerous smaller parts.
Once milestones are set, there should be a due date for each, calculated on a reasonable basis. Some will take a short time; others longer. A project leader must determine these due dates and then clearly communicate them to team members. Remember that thermometer? This would be the perfect visual for those milestones to be inserted.
One important note here: It is not always possible to develop the perfect timeline for milestones. As teams get into project work, they will find that some tasks may be more challenging and complex than originally determined. Timelines must be flexible to accommodate unforeseen circumstances and events. So long as everyone is kept apprised, such changes won’t surprise any team member.
5. Selecting and Developing a Checklist
This is the next obvious step in crafting a time management plan. Tasks must be assigned to individual team members based upon their specific skills and capabilities. Again, the entire delegation details should be in writing, preferably in some graphic form, and shared with the entire team. In this way, each member can see where his tasks fit into the big picture.
In terms of a checklist, consider the benefits of crafting one of these for each project:
- They ensure that no steps are missed in the completion of tasks and timelines
- There is a sense of accomplishment as each task is checked off
- Tasks can be prioritized
- It’s easy to see the entire project and the specific tasks that lie directly ahead.
The checklist may seem a bit redundant when you already have the tasks somewhat codified on a visual. But if you add the responsible individuals to each task in the checklist, everyone can see when each task is checked off. And as the team leader, you know who is on track and who may need a bit of prodding or help. If a team member is lagging behind, you know where your focus must be, as a leader.
Providing individualized communication and assistance as needed will be critical. A good strategy will be to do so privately, if possible. If you have the right relationship with each team member, they should be comfortable explaining their issues, and it is your job to put into place the steps and strategies that can resolve them.
6. Time to Prioritize
As the checklist is developed, think about a couple of things. Although you may have all tasks listed in somewhat of chronological and sequential order, because one builds upon the other, this may not always be the case.
Consider a complex piece of software development, for example, or the development of a new policies and procedures manual. Each of these projects is often divided into separate sections or elements. And some may be more challenging and tougher than others. It may make sense to prioritize the tougher and more challenging tasks, to get them out of the way first. It can relieve pressure on the whole team when these are accomplished and they have a little more “breathing space.”
Here is the other thing about prioritizing. Most of your team members will have several assigned tasks. They should learn to prioritize their tasks, set up their own checklists each day, and even share them with their peers.
7. Embrace Revisions to the Plan
Change is a given and a constant in any business. And so it goes with team projects too. New guidelines and changes may come down from above; one part of the project is going to need additional research or more time to complete; a team member may leave and have to be replaced. Accept the fact that any plan, no matter how smoothly designed, will face revisions in the process.
This is where collegial meetings come into play. They should be scheduled on a regular basis so that all members are prepared and ready to report progress and issues. But “emergency” meetings will also occur, during which the plan details may have to be revised or adjusted.
The less you show your frustration, the better. Frustration, as well as stress, is contagious, and it will impact both productivity and morale. Both, as you know, impact effective time management.
Before you hold such an “emergency” meeting, your tasks are the following:
- Be certain you are not “emotionally flooded” when you actually hold the meeting. You need to appear calm and in control
- Carefully analyze the issue and develop options for the adjustments/changes that must be made.
- Meet with the team, fully explain the situation, propose the options you have designed, and then rigorously ask for their input. All suggestions should be discussed until a final plan of action is agreed upon, put into writing, and newer tasks assigned, if necessary. It is much easier for team members to embrace plans if they know their input has been valued.
Your Time Management Plan Should Be a Framework
If you develop your time management action plan correctly, it should serve as a framework for any project your remote team is assigned. And once your team is comfortable with your time management concepts and framework, they will “take to it” easily with each new project.
The efficiency of work for any team does not happen without a plan in place. Granted, the challenges are greater when that team is remote, but the plan will accommodate those challenges if done right. As you craft your time management action plan, understand that you are crafting for your specific team.
To that extent, it will be personalized and may not work for other team leaders with whom you might share it, or if you are assigned to lead a fully new team. But the beauty is that you have the basic framework in place. The rest is all detail.
Jessica Fender is a professional writer and educational blogger. Jessica enjoys sharing her ideas to make writing and learning fun.