Fortitude, Personal Development

Manage Yourself: 3 Timeless Principles to Manage the Most Important Project


Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People teaches timeless, universal principles to help us be our best. I couldn’t help but notice how nicely these habits apply to making me a better Project Manager.While this article is not meant to be an exhaustive commentary on Covey’s 7 Habits, perhaps you can relate to some of my observations.

Habit #1 Be Proactive (You’re in Charge)

Proactive means acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes. Being proactive is a helpful quality for one who is to be successful and happy in life.

Unfortunately, many of us believe we are proactive when we really aren’t.

For example, it may surprise you to realize that failure to be proactive explains why you get upset about something that does not go your way. I’m sure you can think about many situations in hindsight and say, “Dang, if I had only ______, then this wouldn’t have happened.” Proactive people say in hindsight, “I’m sure glad I _____, so everything could work out like this.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that being proactive will make everything work in your favor every time. I am saying that it definitely helps.

Proactive people take responsibility for their actions. People who are not proactive often find others to blame when things don’t go right. They say, “It’s not my fault. If “they” would have _____, then none of this would have happened.”

Personal responsibility is important in project management. Generally, the project manager is responsible for the success of the project. The PM is the leader, the orchestra conductor if you will, to make all the moving parts of a project come together at the right time for the right price. A PM needs to be proactive by asking lots of questions, engaging the experts, and following up on the details. Expecting someone else to do these important tasks is recipe for disaster.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can be more proactive with your projects today:

  • Are you waiting for someone to provide info, answer a question, or give a status report? Make a point to follow up with them today.
  • Did someone tell you that a deliverable would be ready at some date in the near future? Trust but verify that date is still accurate today to ensure there are no changes to the schedule.
  • At the start of your project, record the items that typically hold up the project or otherwise provide difficulty. Initiate communication with your team on how these items can be mitigated before they come up.

Habit #2 Begin with the End in Mind (Have a Plan)

Having a Plan is important in project management as you might imagine. Nothing can set up your project for success more than having a solid plan. You can read my thoughts on project planning in Planning for Success in Projects and Triathlon.

Planning and being proactive go together. Being proactive means you have a plan. The key is to be disciplined and follow the plan.

Knowing the end product or primary outcome is necessary to building a plan for how to get to the goal. That seems obvious, but the reality is that many projects fail for lack of a plan.

Habit #3 Put First Things First (Work First, Then Play)

The idea of First Things First seems easy when we are telling our kids to get their homework done before they can play with their friends. The same habit should apply to our work as well.

Have you ever started your work day with great intentions for all that would be accomplished by noon, but when noon comes you realize nothing was accomplished?How did that happen? Aside from losing the discipline of Habit #2, my guess is you got bogged down in low urgency, low importance tasks, or you found yourself fighting fires all morning.

Urgent – requiring immediate action or attention

Important – of great significance or value; likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

What can you do to incorporate First Things First in your projects?

  • Understand the difference between urgent and important. Eisenhower nails it.
  • Go back to Habit #2 and follow your plan
  • Recognize that many tasks are important to others, but not to you. Remember: “Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”Sometimes you need to say ‘No’, or schedule it appropriately into your plan.
  • Limit mindless web surfing and other time wasting activities. Mental health breaks are necessary, but keep them in check to maximize your productivity. I like to incorporate exercise into my mental health breaks to care for my mind and body at the same time.

These first three habits are primarily inward or self-focused. To be successful in managing projects, I believe you have to manage yourself first. Live intentionally, purposefully, take responsibility for your actions, practice these three habits. The remaining four habits are outward focused or others focused. I’ll discuss them in a future post. I’d love to hear your ideas and tips for living these habits in your life and projects.

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