I have yet to meet a product manager who feels they have enough time for vision, strategy, or customer discovery. It’s pretty concerning that so many of us feel we don’t have enough time for our most impactful responsibilities. And yet, it’s so easy to get caught up in the high daily demands of execution. There is so much work to be done, and shipping just feels so good.
I have experimented with multiple methods for managing my time as a PM, and thought I’d share what’s been working decently well as of late.
There are a few principles that were important in crafting my weekly schedule:
- Accept the realities of timezones: my peak times for deep work are in the mornings and evenings. However, I work from the West Coast U.S. for a globally-distributed company, which means early mornings are prime time for meetings and catching people before they sign off. Instead of fighting this, I’ve come to embrace that my mornings will be a little randomizing as I “make my rounds” with collaborators.
- Reduce context switching: just because PMs have to manage so many spinning plates doesn’t mean we crave it or are naturally good at it. I do enjoy the variety of activities involved in product management, but deep-diving on one initiative during focus blocks helps me perform better.
- Protect focus time for high-impact thinking and future-facing investments: finding a good stretch of time unbroken by meetings is critical to reach the level of depth required for vision and strategy work.
My week at a high level
- Monday through Thursday: I am focused on current and recent initiatives. Regardless of what phase an initiative is in—discovery, solution refinement, design, execution, release, iteration—I’m doing what I can to push along our current irons in the fire.
- Future-Facing Fridays: I just love alliteration, don’t you? On Fridays I aim to protect as much time as I can for investing in the future. Fridays are great for this, because no one wants a Friday meeting—everyone else is quietly heads down on whatever they’re doing, trying to wrap something up before the weekend (and in fact, some colleagues work a Sunday–Thursday week). It’s much easier to dive deep without feeling like I’m blocking someone.
Weekly and daily planning
At the end of each week, I plan ahead for following week. In a little pocket notebook, I write out a prioritized list of initiatives, each with a high-level goal for that week: what do I need to decide, achieve, or deliver in order to keep up forward momentum? This could be “finalize the user experience with Design”, “start working on user comms”, or as lightweight as “be available if the engineers have clarifying functional questions”.
At the end of each workday, I pick an initiative to focus on the next day, as well as specific tasks I need to complete to drive that initiative’s weekly goal.
Mornings are spent connecting with people. Until lunchtime, I’m:
- In meetings and 1:1s. Luckily, I don’t feel I’m in any time-wasting meetings.
- Doing “glue work”. I’m answering clarifying questions that came up during the EMEA workday, reviewing pull requests, checking in to see if so-and-so needs anything, etc.
- Tues/Thurs: co-leading a task force. I co-lead the interoperability task force at the MACH Alliance. We meet as a group on Tuesdays and have check-ins with other parties on alternating Thursdays. I corral my MACH Alliance tasks to these mornings, so I’m checking in with my co-lead, building agendas, reviewing documents or diagrams we’re producing, etc.
- Mon/Wed: doing timely-but-not-important tasks. If something needs doing soon but doesn’t require deep focus, I fill in the smaller pockets of morning time with this type of task.
The start of the day can be fairly randomizing as a result, but funnily enough it feels less chaotic to me to push all the little bits together. Acceptance has totally changed my mindset.
Afternoons are for focus time! With the exception of Thursday afternoons (when I have a couple 1:1s), I take advantage of this time to deep dive on a specific initiative. I’m making progress on the deep-work tasks that will help me achieve my weekly goals.
A good example of this would be adding detailed user stories—including assumptions and acceptance criteria—to a product requirements doc (PRD), based on the results of a collaborative solution ideation exercise.
While I still might have some glue work to do on Fridays—e.g. a docs PR is ready for review—I aim to focus on activities that will pay future dividends. As a product manager, it is my core responsibility to identify how we should evolve the product to deliver maximum customer and business value. I can’t connect the product triad to the highest-impact initiatives if I’m not consciously considering the product’s future direction.
Some examples of Future-Facing Friday tasks include:
- Planning or conducting customer discovery on a specific topic or opportunity. (Note: the actual customer conversations are beholden to customers’ schedules, so they happen throughout the week)
- Querying our usage data to uncover patterns or insights that will inform our strategy. For example, data exploration led me to define a specific North Star metric for a customer opportunity area I own.
- Synthesizing customer, data, and market insights into a time-bound vision and strategy statement
- Defining roadmaps for the next quarter
- Conducting market research
- Honing personal skills or knowledge; for example, I’m currently getting caught up on the latest developments in AI / LLMs.
I certainly don’t have everything all figured out. I’d like to make more time for:
- Open-ended customer discovery: I’m scheming with a user researcher at work on a continuous discovery program. We often engage with customers about specific topics, but I’d like more time hearing from customers in an open-ended way what they’re trying to achieve, what they’re struggling with, etc.
- Product and tech reading: when I had an ~hour long commute by bus/shuttle, it was really easy to make the time to read articles related to my craft. At the moment, they’re kind of piling up in my Reader. I *think* that some timeboxed reading after lunch would help ease me into focus time, but more often I just want to get going on my most important tasks. I’ll have to think about how to better sprinkle this throughout the week. Or alternatively, just carve out some Friday time for it.
That’s how I balance a typical week: 80% execution, 20% forward thinking. I’m sure I’ll continue to evolve this over time. Fellow productivity nerds: how do you balance your time?