Productive PM: 5 Practical Systems to Get More Done

Practical systems have made me a more productive Project Manager.

I used to worry about tools that helped with my workload, ironically. Did they diminish my role? Should I be thinking more on my feet?

I’ve come to understand that systems are the foundation of successful individuals. They squeeze more tasks into each day.

Systems also add more value to our roles. How?

By completing tasks quicker, we earn headspace. In my Project Management role, that means testing work, managing change, and checking the team are well.

But what systems do I describe in this post?

Inbox Zero The Eisenhower Matrix (but only at busy times) Eating the Frog Servant Leadership Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)
1. Inbox Zero

I’ve used Inbox Zero for a decade and can’t imagine life without it.

It’s a system designed by Merlin Mann to keep mailboxes empty.

Our lives revolve around our mailboxes, and it can be overwhelming when they’re not organized. Dealing with high volumes of email is an essential lesson for Project Managers to learn.

By following Inbox Zero, you review and control email, getting your inbox to zero, every time you check it.

But, here’s the key. You only do this once an hour (max) and for no longer than ten minutes at a time. Otherwise, the email overhead still exists.

So we turn off our email, no distractions, and stop multitasking.

Practical step

Getting started is the hardest.

Most email systems (like Gmail or Microsoft Outlook) have an Archive feature, hiding emails but still keeping them accessible. Book time to go through your mailbox and archive email one at a time (serial mailbox cloggers, you might need several sittings). 

As you do this, reply where required, add any actions to your to-do list, and keep going until you get to zero.

Once you do get down to zero (congratulations), you can pencil some recurring slots in your daily calendar to check email following the model described above. Stay strong; you can do this!

2. Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool to prioritize lists, reduce stress, and increase productivity.

It was created by Dwight Eisenhower during WW2 to help with the endless tasks fighting the war.

The system focuses on two categories; urgency, and importance. By ranking tasks, you get four scenarios:

Urgent and Important = tasks you will do immediately. Important, but not Urgent = tasks you will schedule for later. Urgent, but not Important = tasks you delegate to someone. Neither Urgent nor Important = tasks you cut.

If you’re a visual person, this will help.

The goal is to start working in the “Important, but not urgent” category. The top right box, if you clicked on the link above.

It stops last-minute requests or spending time on tasks that we should delegate.

Practical step

These days I only use the Eisenhower Matrix in an emergency. Why? 

My current role isn’t as chaotic as previous ones. A simple to-do list works fine for me most of the time.

However, when things get crazy, it’s good to be able to roll it out to manage the chaos.

The easiest way of doing this is either with a whiteboard or post-it notes. Draw out four squares and title the four categories.

Get everything up on the board and keep

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