Before I became a project manager I was a sailor.
During one of the voyages, I had a morning shift on the bridge for four months.
In 20 minutes after the shift, there was breakfast.
So, these 20 minutes were kind of useless. You can’t do anything with them.
20 minutes a day for four months gave me 40 hours of pure reading. That’s ended up with about eight books.
Not bad for a useless in-between time.
A Project Manager Learns Non-Stop. Get Used to It!
At that time, it was a voluntary decision.
When you are a PM, it’s a necessity.
There’s no such book or a course that will teach you all things about project management.
So, you need to learn all the time.
Otherwise, in a year or two, people you manage will see you are outdated.
If you’re not a project manager yet – good. Build a habit now!
And it all starts with this:
Nail Down Your WHY
Why do you want to be a Project Manager?
Why do you want to be a great leader?
Why do you want your people to love you?
You need to be clear about your WHY. What does it mean to you? Why it’s important?
That’s something that will help you build the habit of learning.
And here’s the trick:
You need to write it down!
You will keep your WHY in front of your eyes all the time. I’ll show you how to do it.
Here’s why it’s important to start with the WHY:
1. Helps to Set Priorities
Every day you will face a dilemma:
Should you spend those 20 minutes to read or watch funny cats on Youtube.
Should you spend 20 minutes on professional development or waste your best hours on a low priority task.
(We’ll talk about your “best hours” below as well.)
Your WHY will help you rule out everything else in favor of learning.
2. Helps to Overcome Challenges
Sooner or later you’ll get overwhelmed with project management.
It’s a huge knowledge domain.
You’ll get confused. You’ll be frustrated with conflicting information.
There are no specific “follow the checklist” approaches.
So, more than once you will feel like you don’t have what it takes to become a Project Manager.
Your WHY should help you remember what you want to achieve.
3. Helps to Be Consistent
I hope you are ready for this:
It won’t happen overnight.
It won’t happen after you get a certificate.
It’s a long journey. First to become a Project Manager. Then, you become a great PM and Leader.
Year after year, you will need to keep the pace.
Moreover, you will need to spend money on your professional development to boost the process.
And you need to do it consistently.
Analyze the Workload of Your Day
Now it’s time to find a perfect spot for you to learn.
All you need to do is to find 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time.
Don’t touch your lunch time!
Actually, it’s a break time you need to use wisely. You need to eat and restore. Ideally, you need to take a nap.
To restore energy and willpower.
It will increase your chances to efficiently use those 20 minutes.
Here’s how to find your ideal time:
Find Time When Your Boss is Busy or Not Around
From one side, I want you to be fully transparent about your intentions to develop professionally.
You should not close the browser in haste when you read something work-related or professional.
On the other hand, priorities on a project are the number one reason for conflicts.
Your boss may think you are not doing his priority task right now. Therefore, the reason for conflict.
You need his or her support and understanding.
So, it would be better to avoid any conflicts at all.
Identify Periods With Less Distraction
During a day there are periods when everyone is interacting.
Such moments as:
- In the morning when people come one after another and they want to great you.
- Right after Sync-up meetings when everyone wants to clarify something.
- Before and after lunch time.
You need uninterrupted period. You need to avoid these heavy traffic moments.
Prioritize Periods of Day When You Have More Energy
I worked in an office across the city. It took 45 minutes on the subway to get there.
It was a fabulous time!
That year, I had a problem finding books to read :).
Then, I got another job. It was a five-minute ride from home. Now, I need to be very intentional in finding the time.
So, commutes to the office are a great moment unless you drive a car.
(But even if you do drive there are audiobooks.)
For most of us, late morning is the best time to learn.
You got your breakfast and a caffeine fix. Maybe you walked a bit in the fresh air.
So, another great period is when you just got into the office.
Without opening your email or chat, sit down read or watch your educational materials.
So, you might want to come 15 minutes before the balk of your colleagues.
The next energy spike is somewhere around 4 PM.
Do the Top Priority Work Before Learning
So, you either learn right in the morning before getting to work or after you finish top priority tasks.
Again, you don’t want unnecessary conflicts.
So, do up to three priority tasks and the fourth is the meeting with yourself.
If you don’t limit the number of these top one you will procrastinate.
Otherwise, you will use the “one more task to do” as an excuse. And when you do the work – you are too tired to get anything intense into your brain.
Be Open With Your Manager or Boss
Here’s why you need to transparent with your manager:
- Your boss should rest ensured that you don’t ditch your work in favor of your professional development.
- You need to prove that you actually put some extra to do the work quicker and learn on the time you saved.
- Later, you may need his or her support to get a promotion. If you show your dedication and hard work – you may get a recommendation.
- When a conflict arise your boss will be more empathic and direct to resolve it with you. There won’t be guessing. She will notify you that you crossed the line somewhere.
On the flip side:
Accept That Small Commitments WORK
The math doesn’t lie. Long term effect is huge.
Adding one or two 20-minute periods more and you skyrocket your output.
If that doesn’t sound convincing check this out:
Set an Appointment with Yourself
What gets scheduled gets done.
If you put a visit to a dentist in your calendar – you show up.
If there’s a meeting on your calendar you’ll be there.
So, you need to create a meeting with yourself.
a) You need 30 Minutes Per Day
By now you know how to identify the best period to learn.
Create a calendar event at that time.
If you work in a corporate world ensure you really blocked your time from everyone else. They should see you are busy.
If possible you can book a meeting room for 30 minutes.
Try not to put this time slot close to other important events.
That’s an opportunity to sacrifice your learning time to the work.
b) Treat it as a Meeting With Expensive Doctor
Think about it this way.
Whether you show up or not – you need to pay.
There is even such actionable technique – you pay your friend every time you miss your habit.
Set up an accountability system that will remind you about your WHY.
c) Consistency is the Key
That’s where the majority will fail.
Let me be frank here:
If you can’t pass this test of consistency – there’s nothing for you to do in project management.
As a project manager, you have to be role-model for consistency. You’ll need it to:
- Follow the workflows.
- Keep to the processes.
- Use tools continuously.
- Keep project information organized.
All of which is key to project success.
Setup a Self Education System
Now it’s time to ensure you never run dry on the materials to learn.
0. Use Evernote to Leverage Every Opportunity to Learn
I find Evernote the best tool to store digital information I want to read or review later.
Moreover, it’s my brain dump.
There’s a pile of research that proves you should NOT keep your ideas, tasks to do, or any notes in your head.
It’s not a safe place to store information. Also, it hinders your focus and productivity.
I’ll wait here.
1. Create Your “Why” Note
Now, create your first note.
Put your WHY in it.
Drag the note into the Shortcut sidebar.
Let it sit at the top.
Every time you open up Evernote – take a glance at that note to remind you about your priorities.
2. Setting Up Notebooks
Next, you need to create several Notebooks.
You need only two for now:
You’ll put all new materials into the Inbox.
When you read a piece and it’s a good one – you’ll put it into the Cabin.
If it’s a poor article or a video – trash it at once. That’ll happen quite often.
3. (Optional) Getting Fancy with the System
I don’t suggest you overcomplicate the system.
But at some point, you’ll feel a need to categorize the materials.
You can add tags to each note.
I recommend starting a tag name with a dot – “.”
Like this “.scope“ or “.cost“ or”.motivation“.
This way you’ll be able to filter out knowledge domains to focus on.
Do add the tag at the moment you put something into Inbox.
4. Create a Collection of Project Management Resources
Now you need to find sources of information.
For sure I recommend you get one or two books on project management and leadership.
Make it digital! You don’t want to drag a book around 24/7 as you do it with your phone.
But books are not enough. You need different perspectives and you need information based on practical experience.
The best free source of such information is project management blogs.
Here are several compilations of good PM Blogs.
- The Best Project Management Blogs for 2019
- The Best 53 Project Management Blogs You Should Be Reading In 2019
Also, I have my own Library of valuable articles. So, if you don’t have access yet – click here to get it now.
But here’s a catch:
It’s inefficient to visit all of them on a regular basis.
Therefore, meet Feedly.
5. Get Free Account on Feedly
Feedly is an RSS reader. It means it will collect fresh articles from all your favorite blogs once they are published.
Feedly will help you to collect and review fresh content in a convenient way.
You need to:
- Create an account.
- Add all those blogs to your watch list.
- Review new articles once a week.
- Save articles to Evernote.
That brings us to the next point.
6. Evernote Clipping Extension
You need to install the Evernote Extension into your browser.
It will give you an ability to save whole articles into the Evernote with two clicks.
7. Keep the Reading List Full and in One Place
The idea is simple.
You should have more materials that you can read in one day.
Most articles on the Internet have links to related articles. Review them and save for later if you liked the initial one.
You’ll get into the habit and you’ll get knowledge.
Soon, you will scan lots of materials rather than read them.
So, you’ll need lots of articles.
8. Maintain the Open Questions List
And here’s a secret ingredient:
Whenever something’s not clear – write it down.
At first, there’ll be lots of questions.
Your goal is to get the answers to them.
Google it. You’ll find the answers.
Or you can join Project Management Communities and ask your questions there.
Add Reading Books to Your Evening Routine
So, you’ll read or watch something once a day. Ideally in the morning.
It’s a substantial boost if you can add another slot during the working day.
I would specifically use it for watching one video. It can be five to ten minutes. You don’t need a full 30 minutes here.
And I would recommend you reading a book in the evening.
Personally, I don’t read professional literature before bad. Only fiction.
But if you don’t have other options – that’s your opportunity.
You can use this time to read about soft skills. Books on motivation, leadership, presentation skills, communications.
They’re easier to digest.
If you read this far – congratulations!
You’re good at reading. You have a focus.
OK, I get it!
It may feel complicated.
But if you are really short on time and budget to go over paid training that’s the best way to become a project manager.
That’s how I built my career as a PM.
Moreover, you will need to learn continuously throughout your career anyway.
So, start doing it now. Good luck!