I had a product management coaching session with a PM at a fintech firm in Berlin last week. From our multiple conversations, I could sense she was putting in a lot of hours, many of them spent fielding ad hoc requests from a multitude of stakeholders. I was worried about how sustainable this workload was. Upon a bit of probing, it became clear that work was consuming more energy than was healthy.
The truth is that almost all product managers could work 80 hours a week and still feel like important tasks are left incomplete. Over time, this “commitment” can lead to exhaustion marked by the sinking feeling that your workload is unmanageable and that your job is simply undoable.
I shared a practice I use to avoid burnout and it resonated surprisingly well with her. As the owner of a consulting and coaching business, I feel overwhelmed sometimes, especially given that I have a family I love to spend time with including 2 young girls. To help create boundaries between my “jobs” (product management and family), my daily goal is to be extremely focused and as productive as possible for 6 hours a day. If on some days, I’m able to get a few more things done, that’s great but it is truly “extra credit”.
If you want to make more efficient use of any resource, make it scarce! Time, of course, is a critical resource.
Limiting my “go time” forces me to plan carefully and get the most out of the limited time I have. I have a backlog of things that need to be done that I manage in OneNote. Every day, I select an ambitious set of tasks to complete. If I get them done faster than anticipated, I “reward” myself by either ending my work day or working on something that is creative or task- (rather than knowledge-) oriented, which helps me stay motivated and preserves some precious cognitive energy for the next day.
A key element of this approach is knowing what you need to do to be successful at a strategic level. Focusing on success helps you triage your work and (this is critical!) say “no” to some tasks that are a distraction from important work. In the coaching programs I develop with product people at all levels of experience, I apply product management skills and approaches to my “coachee’s” careers. We define objectives for success, a strategy for achieving them, and even a “career roadmap” to track delivery against the strategy.
If you’d like the guidance of an experienced coach to help you move your career ahead strategically, I’m happy to chat to see if I can add value.