Unlocking Your Market Potential

SVPMA Presentation, Jan 6 2009

Product Management Productivity
How to get twice as much done in half the time

Brian Lawley, CEO and Founder, 280 Group

October 2009

Write up by Keith Rayner.

This is a particularly timely topic for PMs as those lucky enough to still have their jobs have seen their already heavy workload increase with additional projects inherited from their less fortunate colleagues. However, strategies and tips on being productive at work, prioritizing tasks and meeting those deadlines amid a mass of distractions can benefit everyone in Silicon Valley.

To set the stage, Brian made the important distinction between being productive, and not just being busy. You can be busy on emails and in meetings all day, but the true measure of productivity is producing deliverables. And to achieve this while maintaining a positive attitude and not getting burnt out is key to a balanced work life and successful career.

Brian’s talk contained quite a few gems to help us focus on what’s truly important, free up time, and reduce stress, and the audience also threw in a few ideas for good measure. The presentation in the form of a Top 10 list can be viewed on the SVPMA website in all its bullet-pointed glory, but here’s a quick synopsis.

1) Master emails

Avoid constant email distractions by processing emails at three predetermined times a day (morning, after lunch, late afternoon, for example). Delete the rubbish, answer short responses immediately, and turn important emails into tasks (more about task lists later). Avoid getting involved in long email threads as much as possible. If you stay out of the thread they often resolve themselves. And answer personal emails at home (or lunch hour, if you have one).

2) Master Outlook (or your favorite email program).

Your email apps get used so much that some up-front  time spent learning all the features and shortcuts is a worthwhile investment.

3) Consolidate all your to-do’s from all sources in one list of tasks.

Post-it notes, cell phone notes, emails, all get put into one to-do list. Outlook has a task section for example, but you can use your own favorite software.

4) Prioritize your task list.

Now that you have a single list, prioritize it: must do today, would like to do today, not important today. Set your priorities in the morning - any incoming tasks during the day get ranked against this list. Work on getting the a-list done today, and enjoy the sense of satisfaction at the end of the day when you actually achieve this!

5) Master meetings.

Opt out of meetings where possible (yeah!), schedule 30-minute meetings instead of one hour. Off-topic items are dealt with outside of the meeting. Start the meeting promptly - public humiliation of latecomers (humorous or otherwise) works wonders, although you might reconsider this if it’s your boss who’s late. Providing donuts is a good addition to meetings. Providing two less donuts than the planned number of attendees is a great incentive to arrive early. A more draconian measure is to lock the conference door two minutes after the start time. Take electronic meeting notes of discussion points and action items. Send out the meeting notes immediately at the end of the meeting.

6) Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Use templates, white papers, books etc – there’s a lot of good guides on the internet which incorporate a lot of tried and tested know-how. Explore industry and LinkedIn groups as well.

7) Use and master great tools.

Take time to learn them properly – this is a very valuable investment of a couple of hours that will pay off for years.

8) Learn to be politely rude to people who distract you such as salespeople and other timewasters.

9) Stick to a routine.

Process emails three times a day, web twice a day, background reading once or twice a week. You can also set aside specific times for more strategic planning of large projects and critical deliverables to make sure you keep the big picture in perspective.

10) Get help!

Consultants, admin, junior PMs, peers, etc. can all help to balance your workload. Don’t try to conquer the world by yourself.


Getting your day and tasks structured and understanding what your priorities are allows you to more easily set deadlines for yourself, and actually meet them!.

There are bombshell days that can disrupt anyone’s best intended schedule, but if you have a structure to your day you can better recover from firefighting diversions, and also react appropriately to calls for immediate attention to other tasks – if those are not more important than your number 1 task then it’s just gonna have to wait – and with your list you can also justify that to your boss. Now there’s a gem right there.


Having advocated the use of templates, whitepapers, tips and blogs, here’s some links to get you going:

SVPMA’s very own resource pages at www.svpma.org/resources.html and 10 years of event archives at www.svpma.org/archives.html

the 280 Group’s extensive set of templates and guides can be found at www.280group.com/resources.htm

And last but certainly not least, Brian’s new book, The Phenomenal Product Manager, contains these tips and much more!

Keith Rayner, Kemarra Inc: Jun 2010


subscribe to RSS feed 

tweet this article