Time Management: Tips for Product Managers

Time management can make or break your career as a product manager. You are never “done”. There’s always more to do than you can possibly fit into a 60hr week. And the cult of the rockstar PM only exacerbates the situation. Organizations are hesitant to split the role for fear of incurring coordination costs or losing that single “wringable neck”. It’s a recipe for burnout, and a big reason why people do their time in the PM ranks and then leave for greener pastures.


Say No (Nicely)

Shorter Recurring Meetings

Your best bet is to timebox a handful of recurring meetings (weekly, bi-weekly, perhaps) to deal with more “transactional” communication. A well run 20 minute meeting can trump a poorly run 2hr meeting. Use constraints to force focus. Instead of answering every single request from Sales adhoc, just schedule a 30m optional weekly touch base and Q&A. They’ll thank you eventually. This will leave more time for the open-ended / divergent brainstorming meetings that yield great breakthroughs and a happier team.

Organize Information (Quickly)

The trick here is to leverage all available tools. Find a good transcription service (I use rev.com). Record meetings. Use a tool like Evernote which features OCR, full-text search, tagging, integrations, and a solid API (see this great video by Aaron Walter on “Connected UX”). Put together an information radiator on a whiteboard. Most importantly, be disciplined and constantly iterate on how you provide context to your team. If no one is paying attention, find a better way.

Work Less and Time-Block

High Leverage

  • Passing new data and context to your team is high leverage
  • Figuring out how to be optional and dispensable — not being the blocker
  • Being available to your team when they have questions
  • Sensing patterns, drawing together disparate sources of information
  • Untangling what stakeholders (including customers) say they want vs.what they really need

These are the things you should focus on. Going to a meeting where nothing gets done every week is not high leverage. High leverage work doesn’t necessarily need to be glamorous. A quick set of meeting notes summarizing a brainstorming session can move mountains. So be honest with yourself about what work actually moves the needle.

One of the highest leverage things you can do as a product manager is to figure out a way to build less, but still drive value for your customers. That takes time and it takes testing. It also takes a fair amount of relaxation and creativity on your part (see above). But the rewards are great. You can save the team weeks and weeks of work. And any time you can get some piece of software out there into the hands of customers earlier rather later is a huge deal. The highest leverage work gets straight to the crux of the problem … making valuable software.

Eat Lunch…

  • Use lunches for creative brainstorming with coworkers. Get outside. A change of scenery can often spark great ideas
  • Take breaks and exercise. You’ll be more effective when you are “on”
  • Know when you are at your best. Use that time for your highest leverage work.

Check out this classic HBR article: Manage Your Energy Not Your Time

In Closing

The goal isn’t to work 80hrs, but to discover those things that make everyone — and especially your team — more effective. Then, everyone wins — you, your team, your customer, and your business..

Multiple hat-wearer. Prod dev nut. I love wrangling complex problems and answering the why with qual/quant data. @johncutlefish on Twitter.

Multiple hat-wearer. Prod dev nut. I love wrangling complex problems and answering the why with qual/quant data. @johncutlefish on Twitter.