12 Habits of Successful Product Managers

I’m a huge fan of Dolly Parton for so many reasons. She once said “If you don’t like the road you’re on, start paving another one.”

Are YOU happy with the road that you’re on? Do you wish you could be on a different road? Or maybe you would just like to get from point A to B as quickly as possible?

The start of the new year is a time when great product managers reflect on which habits to strengthen and build to ensure they are on the road to success.

In addition to my own experience of being in the PM trenches for over 20 years, as well as observing and talking with other product managers, I’ve compiled a list of the best habits for product managers to help you kick start 2020 and set yourself up for success.

Identify the day’s non-negotiables

Whether you do this the night before or the morning of, spend a few minutes each day prioritizing and selecting a small number of ‘must dos’ and organize your day to ensure you get those items checked off your to-do list. This is key to making time for things that often get shoved to the back burner, such as talking to customers or reaching out to that one stakeholder you’ve been meaning to have a better relationship with. Speaking of which…

Schedule regular check-ins

As a product manager, you are the glue that connects the people inside your company. Make it a priority to check in on a regular basis to build and strengthen relationships with your stakeholders, team mates, and peers. And don’t forget your remote colleagues. With so many of us working remotely these days, it’s often even more critical to make a concerted effort to stay connected with the people you don’t see in the office. One product manager suggested doing virtual coffee or happy hours as a way to socialize informally.

Timebox critical activities and commit to them

Here are some of the ways product managers use this technique:

  • Add buffer time before and after workshops or other heavy meetings to prep and debrief with ease
  • Block out a day every other week for research
  • Write reflections weekly. This helps track what you’re doing well, where you need help, the accomplishments you’ve achieved (big and small) and definitely comes in handy during performance reviews and job interviews.
  • Reading relevant articles online. Staying on top of industry trends is a must for product managers so block out a little time to do this every day, if possible.
  • Goal Setting. Something I realized about myself last year is if I set my goals, in writing and especially attached to a challenge attached to it, I am more determined to get it done. I am taking that lesson with me to this year, in hopes of being more productive.

Tame the email and Slack two-headed beast

Product managers are flooded with communications 24/7. With the rise in Slack usage, email communication seems to be less of a problem for some of us, however, it’s still a problem that can distract even the most focused product manager from doing more focused product work.

To tame the two-headed beast, try these pro tips:

  • Keep your email and Slack apps closed and only check them during pre-scheduled, batch sessions. During these batch sessions, respond to messages that require immediate action first. Then use whatever remaining time you have to get organized.
  • Turn on automatic responses when you’re doing focused work. You can do this for both email and Slack. Here’s the message I use for my email account: “Hi, there. Thanks for contacting me. I check my email twice each day so that I can focus on my clients and give them my full attention. As a result, you may experience a delayed response of a few hours. Thanks for understanding and have a wonderful day!”

    In Slack, you can do this by setting a custom status. Many people use this feature when they’re out of office or on vacation, but you, my masterful product manager wizard, can leverage this for those times when you need to concentrate and focus on deep product work.

  • Get to inbox zero every day. If you can’t get to inbox zero, at least organize your inbox, moving messages into folders so that your inbox contains no more than 25 messages that require your attention.
  • Reduce the noise of Slack by switching to the compact theme and use notification settings to mute all but the most important channels and DMs.

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