June 24, 2023
Product Management

Productivity Hacks for Product Managers

As product managers, it is important not only to excel at managing your products or portfolio – it is also critical to excel at managing yourself. As you climb within your organization and take on increasing amounts of responsibility, your energy, attention and focus become increasingly important. In this post, we will lay out a few tips and ways to think about productivity-managing the most precious resource you have: you!

Managing your productivity is important to invest effort in – but how does one do this, exactly? Productivity boils down to two key factors: what you choose to do, and how you do it. We will look at each element separately, and we will attempt to view them through a product managers’ lens.

Choosing What To Do (and What Not To Do)

This is arguably the most important facet of productivity, because it is what enables focus. Even the most productive or efficient person will not be effective if they invest their time and effort on the wrong activities.

Consider this through the lens of product management, and pretend that you, yourself, are a micro-business within your company. It is likely you have your objectives or goals set in cooperation with your manager, but what are your strategies and tactics to accomplish them? Ensure that you are using these as the filter for everything you do; constantly ask yourself the question, “Does this get me closer to the objectives the business needs me to accomplish?” If the answer is no, consider dispensing with them.

Additionally, it is important to choose a system to manage your activities. This doesn’t need to be complicated, but it needs to exist. As David Allen, author of the famous book, “Getting Things Done” says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them”. Do not consume vital mental cycles trying to keep of track of what you need to do; write it down – somewhere, anywhere!

Choosing How To Do It

Once you have a system for determining what you need to do, it is critical to be as efficient as possible in executing the tasks. Consider this too through the lens of product management: if you were your own customer, watching yourself go through the journey of your daily routine (whether work or personal), what would you notice? What is your customer or user journey? What activities take a lot of time and effort, but do not produce much benefit value? Which activities produce value, for you personally and for the organization you support?

If you think through your own routine from this perspective, you may be surprised; perhaps you notice that you arrive at the office energetic and ready for the day ahead, but then spend the first two hours slogging through emails, after which you need a break. Or maybe you find that you spend the hour after lunch doom-scrolling because your energy levels are so low. Or perhaps you notice that you spend your day primarily reacting to incoming requests, and by the end feel like you’ve just helped everybody else complete their to-do lists. Whatever the case; the point is not to pass judgment, but to observe and note.

From this observation, you need to decide how to maximize your efficiency. This means considering all facets of your journey. Consider parameters such as:

  • The time of day when you undertake certain types of activities. When do you do your best thinking? When are you sluggish and sleepy? Consider scheduling thought-intensive meetings and activities (even if nobody else is involved) when you are at your best and schedule less intensive tasks for times when you’re not.
  • How long can you work before your mind starts to wander and your pace slows? Schedule short breaks for yourself at these intervals.
  • How often are you interrupted by distractions? Consider turning off email, phone and chat notifications for periods of time. Many phones include a “Do Not Disturb” function that can be scheduled to turn on and off automatically.
  • Are you using the right tools to get the work done? There are so many inexpensive (and often) free options for nearly any common task, find the tool that fits for you – don’t default to Microsoft Office (as an example) just because it is common in your organization.

Adopt an Experimentation Mindset

In all of the above, adopt an experimental mindset.  You will not find the optimal tools, or schedule, or routines, overnight. Be prepared to iterate, fail, and keep trying different ways of organizing yourself – just as you would with a product. But consider that as a product manager, the most important product to manage is actually yourself. If you are not operating efficiently and serving your organization as effectively as possible, how can you expect that the products you produce will?

For further reading, check out these resources:

  • David Allen, “Getting Things Done”
  • Stephen Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”
    NOTE: The two above recommendations are seminal works on personal productivity. It is likely that any other productivity book you’ll find was influenced by these!
  • Cal Newport, “Deep Work”
  • Greg McKeown, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”
  • Tim Ferris, “The Four-Hour Work Week” — It was this book that first turned me onto the idea of personal experimentation with different productivity systems and tools. NOTE: You should probably work for more than four hours every week!

Adam Shulman is a Product Manager with extensive experience in software/hardware systems and a passion for music and audio technology. He currently leads the Installed Systems business at Bose Professional and has been a member of the BPMA since 2016.