How to Get Out of the Task Management Mentality

Everybody loves to have a career path. You don’t start a company in the hopes of years later doing the exact same thing you were doing on the day you started. No…you start with a company because you want to grow, expand, push the envelope, bring value and ultimately move up the ladder. This means more responsibility, more accountability, and ultimately more money.

What steps can you take as a project manager to get to this point of moving up in the organization? More than anything it has to do with mindset. It has more to do with how you view yourself and the value you bring to your company as it does the opportunities that will present themselves to you.

The following three mentalities are what you need to break free from to move forward:

#1. The Task Management Mentality

The task management mentality focuses only on the “here and now”.  You can identify people that have succumbed to this mentality with expressions like “This is how we have done this particular way of doing things for years and it works just fine,” or “I’m comfortable with doing it a particular way, and I really don’t see a need to make a change”, or “A change means learning something new and gets in the way of how I’m currently doing things”.

You’ll need to stop saying these things out loud or even thinking them to yourself if you are interested in moving up the corporate ladder. Being at the top of an organization is all about breaking out of the existing way of doing things and trying something new. Otherwise, the competition will.

Below is a couple of suggestions for breaking free of the task management mentality:

Look beyond the here and now – You need to see the big picture, not the immediate task that is at hand. Sure, you may feel that what you are doing is repetitive and the same every week. You may schedule the same project update meetings, or make sure the latest version of the plan is checked into the document repository, or even ask the same questions week after week. But, what is this helping move forward? Are you working on a project that will greatly reduce expenses or allow the sales team to sell more of your product? That’s what you need to focus on and not just the here and now.

Who cares if that’s the way it’s always been done –  Think about where we would be if brilliant creative minds such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, or Steve Jobs were content with that’s the way it’s always been done. Just because it’s been done a certain way over a long period of time doesn’t mean that it always has to be done that way. Change the task at hand to be more efficient, productive, or effective. It’s this type of thinking that is needed as you move up the corporate ladder.

#2. The 9-5 Employee Mentality

I hate to say it, but I’ve worked with Project Managers that believe that they are on the clock only from 9:00-5:00. It’s as if they work somewhere mining coal and punch in when they arrive in the morning and punch out when they leave at the end of the day. And, you will never find them “on the clock” at 8:59 and certainly not 5:01. By the way, this was the same project manager that liked throwing chairs across the room and kicking his desk, but that’s an entirely different article.

You may carry some of the bad habits or mentalities from other departments depending on how you came up through the project management ranks. Some of these traits may be that you have to take breaks at a certain time of day, or lunch time can never be interrupted (“can’t you see that I’m at lunch”), or you may not be “on the clock” yet and not able to provide answers or information until you are.

I know. Sounds incredible, but I’ve seen these behaviors by semi-proficient project managers in real life with my own eyes. “Don’t talk to me, I haven’t had my morning oatmeal yet” followed by shutting something down later that afternoon that would take another 15 minutes to complete just because it was 5:00. True story.

You will never move up within an organization with that type of attitude. It just won’t happen. Rather, get into an attitude of flexibility rather than inflexibility. There’s give and take in any and every relationship we have. We’re not saying don’t take breaks, or lunch, or leave at a reasonable hour…just be reasonable about it.

#3. The “Can’t Do” Mentality

“We have a bit of a challenge ahead of us to get this done on time, do you think we could bend the project management rules just a bit to get this done a bit faster?” the salesperson asks the die-hard task management mentality project, manager.  “Nope,” the project manager stubbornly replies. “What if we moved this task around to here and shifted priorities for this one week, that might do it, right?” the salesperson continues. “Nope,” the project manager stubbornly replies. It doesn’t matter if it’s two questions or a dozen, the answer is always the same “nope, can’t do it”.

This “can’t do” attitude is a career-path breaker. One thing that there’s no room in business for is just looking at the problems and what can’t be done and not come up with alternatives or solutions. If you’ve had the opportunity to listen to and watch a good salesperson sell, they rarely say “no”.  You may have feelings one way or another about their particular style or approach, but you have to appreciate the fact that they focus on what “can” be done.

You can apply the same principle to the way you manage your projects and will quickly find yourself in a better position to move up in the organization. Nobody wants a ‘yes-person that can’t deliver on their promises, but what they do want are people that come up with reasonable solutions that can be relied upon and delivered.

Do You Play Well with Others?

A bit of an extension to getting rid of this “can’t do” mentality reminds me a bit of some recent shopping experiences. I was looking for a particular item in a store and was having trouble finding it. I asked the person that worked at the store where it was. “Over there,” they said and pointed to the left. They never picked their head up, they didn’t look at me, and they immediately went right back to what they were doing. I couldn’t find what I was looking for and left the store.

The other store I went to I asked the same question. This time, the employee stopped what they were doing, took me to the item, and asked if there was anything else they could help me with. What a difference. I have a much better perception of the second employee than the first and will always go back to that store.

You can be guilty of the same behavior as a project manager. Somebody comes and asks you if you know where a file is or know who to talk to about the latest on a particular issue. Stop for a moment and give them the time of day. Show them where it is and maybe even walk them over to the person if need be. Don’t get so wrapped up in what you’re doing that you miss the big picture of being a team player and working well with others around you. Because playing well with others is also a requirement for moving ahead in any organization.

If you are looking to get ahead, focus on getting out of the Task Management mentality, the 9-5 Employee Mentality, and the “Can’t Do” Mentality and you will quickly find yourself playing well with others in the executive suite.

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