Let me throw you a hypothetical: Say you have free time between your last project and the next one that has yet to start.
I know, I know—who has free time anymore? But perhaps there’s a slow period in your work, where you aren’t inundated with projects. What’s the most productive way to spend that time?
Sure, you could busy yourself with small, insignificant tasks or old emails that don’t really matter anymore; but ultimately, that’s not productive—it’s just a way to pass the time.
Here are four activities that can help you evolve as a web project manager, recharge your batteries, and put in you in a ready state for the next onslaught of calls, meetings, and web work.
Review Past Projects
The world seems to be powered by forward thinking, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But there are times when you need to stop, catch your breath, and look back to where you’ve come from. A lull in projects can give you the opportunity to do just that.
In looking back at your past projects, take time to review both the big and little things. By big, I mean the overall success (or failure) of the project, including what went right, what didn’t go right, what milestones didn’t pan out, and so on. For the little things, do your homework—research the total estimated time it took to complete the project, analyze the financials to see if you were over or under budget, and go back to old client correspondences to identify any patterns of good (or bad) communication. You may even want to follow-up with clients to collect post-project feedback—always a source of excellent information.
I also recommend checking out the Web Project Debrief, which is a free download. You can use this document to quickly record end-of-project sentiments and facts, and it can serve as a great skim-through when your miles down the road.
Work On Your Workflow
People are known to be satisficers. Satisficing is the process of finding a near optimal—but really just adequate—solution. Adequate solutions are not the best, but they work.
On the flip-side is maximizing, whereby you give it your all to achieve the best possible solution. Maximizing may be impossible (is there ever a perfect solution?), but it’s an exercise worth practicing during downtimes—especially with your workflow.
Dust off any old document templates, workbooks, or procedural guides you may have and turn a sharp eye on them. What can you update? What can you remove? More importantly, what can you make more efficient? Or take a look at the software you’re currently using. Are there better solutions out there?
Don’t settle for a workflow simply because it’s worked in the past. Spend some time every so often critiquing it and finding ways to make it flow even better.
Take a Break
Even the Energizer Bunny needs a new battery at some time. And so do you.
If you can anticipate a slow down in project work, schedule a vacation or time away from the office. Going full bore on projects for an extended period of time can induce delirium, which leads to poor team and client relationships.
If your work isn’t as predictable as you’d like, then prepare a list of activities you can jump away to when the project valve suddenly tightens. Maybe this is a trip to the city, or a hike into the mountains; whatever the case, get away—and stay away from computers!
Hone in on Your Skills
You won’t become (or stay) the best at what you do by working endlessly. Excellence requires knowledge, and expanding your knowledge demands a concentration of effort.
Instead of tinkering on small tasks during a slow time, grab a book on HTML5 or read up on responsive web design (or whatever the latest trend is). This is valuable knowledge that you need to absorb if you want to stay on top of your game. And applying newfound knowledge in your projects will trigger better results.
I find weightlifting to be a good parallel to this topic. If you train with weights—and are serious about it—then you’re probably pushing each session to varying levels of intensity. However, if you keep doing that, you’ll find a plateau, meaning you can’t lift above a certain threshold anymore. A common tactic is to de-load, which is the process of reducing the amount of weight you lift for a short while. This allows your muscles to recuperate and lets you still get a workout.
Downtime between projects is similar to a de-loading period. You need a break from projects, but you don’t want to completely stop working (though sometimes a good break is the most beneficial activity). Choose less intense activities to fill your workflow and you’ll come back to your projects refreshed and recharged.