Describing what you do as a project manager is tough. It sounds simple: you plan, complete, and ship projects to clients. Easy, right?
It’s not as simple as it sounds. Project managers juggle tasks and priorities constantly. No two days are the same. Burn-out is a real risk as a PM.
But the feeling of satisfaction in successfully completing a project is worth it. As a project manager who works remotely, I can tell you that this job is challenging, but it’s also deeply rewarding.
Does that sound like something you’d like, too? In this post, I’ll give you a glimpse at a day in the life of a project manager. We’ll go over:
- The five things I do every day
- Time management and productivity strategies that keep things moving
- How I maintain my work/life balance, plus a few tips for dealing with challenges
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What are the daily tasks of a remote project manager?
As a technical project manager, I’m responsible for taking a project from beginning to end. The biggest question I ask every day is this:
What needs to be done today to bring my projects closer to completion?
The answer might include reallocating resources, planning sessions, budget-finagling, or anything in between. When managing multiple projects, I have to think about both the big picture and the individual projects. Time is a limited resource, and I need my team to focus on the right tasks at the right times.
It’s easy to lose track of things when each day is different. To help me stay focused, I perform these five tasks every day:
1. Check in with team members
As the project manager, it’s my job to keep the team working. I need to be hyper-sensitive about blockers. If there’s something stopping work, I address it as quickly as possible so they can focus and deliver.
Blockers come in a lot of forms. Work might stall if a key team member is out sick. An important tool can have an outage. Your office can close because of a global pandemic.
The thing is, you might not even know that there’s a problem until you talk to the person who’s stuck.
I make sure to have one-on-one conversations with my team members on a regular basis, but like I said, my job is to keep them working.
I don’t talk to each person every single day. That would not be helpful.
Daily meetings aren’t a great use of their time or mine. Instead, I set up custom workflows and track projects, tasks, and team member workloads automatically. If anything looks out of place, I can reach out to the right person to help.
2. Reassess the health of each project
I’ve already checked in with my team to look at the details of their tasks. Now, I look at the big picture.
- Is progress being made on each project?
- Am I on track to finish on time and on spec?
- Are there any concerns that I need to address?
Juggling multiple projects is the new normal for project managers. The more things demand your attention, the more likely it is that something will be missed.
Looking at the big picture and the health of each project helps me see if I need to move things around. This may involve shifting priorities, bringing in other resources, or setting new SMART goals.
While I don’t want my team to bounce between tasks too much, I also can’t let them spend too much time on one project when others need attention, too.
3. Update clients and stakeholders
I give my clients progress updates every couple of days. Sometimes, I have to tell them that their project is still in the same place as it was the last time we talked, but I always try to give them an estimate of when I’ll have new information. It makes a huge difference to keep them in the loop.
A lot of project managers are scared to tell their stakeholders that nothing new has happened. You might get a little pushback, but most people are reasonable enough to understand that your team has to work on other things, too.
Communicate proactively with project stakeholders. It’s a game-changer. Here’s why:
Radio silence gives the impression that nothing is being done.
The longer you go without reaching out, the more skeptical the stakeholders or clients become. It’s harder for them to trust that you’re doing a great job when they don’t know what’s going on. They’re more critical when they have to ask for updates all the time.
Don’t wait for them to ask. You might feel like you’re overcommunicating, but trust me — they will be thrilled to hear from you every day.
Giving regular updates will help reassure your clients that the project is on track. Even if you haven’t done anything since the last update, you’re still showing them that it’s on your radar and you’re not going to forget about them.
Depending on the project and the person, your stakeholder updates could even be a weekly meeting, an email every couple of days, or short Slack messages at the beginning of every day. Just make sure that you never go longer than a week without giving an update.
4. Make time for people to connect
When I talk about making time to connect, I don’t mean making time to talk about projects. I already did that in the first task, remember?
Making time for human connections is about getting to know people as people. Especially since I work remotely, I have to consciously think about this and set aside time to get to know the people on my team.
This is more important than it sounds. Watercooler talk helps you learn more about the people you work with. What motivates them? What makes them tick?
This quality time helps people feel more like individuals and less like cogs in a machine.
Maybe it seems counterintuitive, but taking time to hang out without working actually makes your team more productive. Connect with people before or after meetings, set aside time for social meetings, and set up casual Slack channels like #music or #catgifs.
Encourage your team to socialize with each other, too. The better they get along personally, the better they’ll work together.
As you set aside time for your own team, remember to be genuine. Nobody likes a faker. Opening up to your team on a personal level helps them trust you.
5. Be a dancer
In other words, I’m always ready to pivot quickly.
This is more of a mindset than an action, but being mentally ready for anything is one of the most important “tasks” in my day. It’s rare that a project crosses the finish line without a hitch.
Project managers have to be both disciplined and flexible. It’s tough when you have your to-do list figured out in your head, and then you get to work and realize that none of that stuff is getting done today.
Every day is different. That’s one of the best things and one of the hardest things about being a project manager. Keep a dancer mindset and enjoy the ride.
Balancing the rest of my day as a project manager
Those daily tasks get me started. They help me build my to-do list for the rest of the day so that I know I’m focusing on the right things.
Prioritizing my other tasks
After going through my five daily tasks, I might have a long list of things that need to get done, like this:
- Find a freelance copywriter to finish website copy for a past-due project
- Request another team resource from the marketing manager for the next sprint
- Reschedule project meetings around team vacation schedules
- Update project timelines to reflect the impact of team member vacations
- Ask the client for clarification on a deliverable that’s running into some development problems
- Start interviewing PR firms for an upcoming software launch
- Check-in with outsourced developers for a detailed progress report
- Schedule a live demo to show stakeholders a completed MVP
- Submit a budget request for a new prototyping tool
These all get prioritized and added to my task tracking software. I give priority to things that are holding up work and weigh everything on this list against my other outstanding to-dos.
My task list is always full, so I delegate whatever I can. For example, I don’t need to write that budget request myself. I’ll just create that task and assign it to the designer who asked for the prototyping tool.
Maximizing my productivity
To manage this kind of workload, I need to do whatever I can to maximize my productivity. I also need to think about how to help my team stay as productive as possible.
My flexible schedule is my secret productivity weapon.
For me, I know I get a boost of creative energy around 7 PM after I’ve had dinner and taken my dogs for a nice, long walk. The middle of the day is always a little too hectic for focused work, and no amount of coffee can make me a morning person. I know I’m going to get most of my deep work done in the evening, so that’s when I dive in and knock out my to-do list.
My team doesn’t all work the same way, though. I have some perky morning people who like to handle all of their most involved tasks before the sun comes up. A few hit their stride right after lunch.
If I need to have a real-time chat with someone, I don’t do it during my deep work time or theirs. Interrupting that deep work time causes a ripple effect and slows everything down.
Basically, on my team, we respect each other’s focus. It makes a huge difference.
How I maintain work/life balance and deal with stress
Maybe you just read that I work at 7 PM and cringed. Believe it or not, I’m far from a workaholic.
Even though I work from home, I try not to take work home with me.
If you’re a PM, you know this already: it’s easy to get so wrapped up that you never mentally log off. Sometimes, everything will seem to go wrong and your stress will be through the roof. It happens to all of us.
Here’s my secret:
Setting boundaries and sticking to them
When I’m not at work, I’m not at work. I turn off notifications. There’s no work email on my phone.
I have an elderly dog that takes a lot of love and attention right now. It’s important to me that he enjoys these years of his life just as much as all of his puppy years, and I want to spend as much time with him as I can.
I also spend time with loved ones, go on road trips, learn about things that I find interesting, and invest in new skills. My boyfriend and I have an online business that we build together. There are lots of things that matter to me outside of work.
Here’s something to remember:
Your personal boundaries are smart and healthy. It’s totally okay to stop working and live your life.
In fact, time away from work is just as important for performance as the time you spend on your computer. Productivity and motivation plummet when you never take breaks.
You can’t do a good job when you don’t take care of yourself. Plus, there’s absolutely no reason to make yourself sick over a job. The National Institute of Mental Health warns that chronic stress can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
Of course, you can’t avoid stress completely.
Dealing with workplace stress
Most of the problems I deal with at work are totally outside of my control. People quit, sometimes I get sick, clients make crazy demands, and it’s always my job to pick up the slack.
I don’t know about you, but I’m the type who likes to take the bull by the horns. Situations like these make me feel like I have to ride into battle and do whatever it takes to vanquish the problem. Work-life balance, shmork-life shmalance.
That’s not always great for my stress management plan, though.
Sometimes, it hits the fan. That’s life. I’m not always great at following my own rules here, but I try to remember these three things when work-related stress starts to bleed into my home life.
- Be flexible. Roll with the punches and course-correct. Accept that circumstances have changed and stop fighting the new reality.
- Like every marriage counselor says: communicate, communicate, communicate! Tell the manager that you’re overwhelmed. Ask the team for ideas. If it’s appropriate, tell your client what’s going on.
- Take a breather. When all else fails, walk it off. Come back fresh and read these rules again.
And remember: as much as the chaotic times are part of the job, so are the good times.
Completing a long, challenging project and seeing your stakeholders thrilled with the result feels so satisfying. Your pride and self-confidence grow with each project successfully brought to completion. You may even look forward to logging in each day and seeing what new challenges await. I do.
The world of a PM can get pretty crazy. It’s also exciting, rewarding, and always interesting.
I stay on track by building my day around the five daily tasks. I need to be rigid enough to drive a project to the finish line, yet flexible enough to dance as circumstances change.
My five core tasks help me plan the rest of my day. I prioritize the things that keep my team working smoothly, and I get more done by working when I can be most productive. Since I work from home, I’m careful with my boundaries to make sure that work doesn’t take over my personal life, too.
Are you a project manager, too?
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