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The Five Ways I Spend My Time as a Product Manager
One of the most important skills for a product manager is time management. Is an hour better spent in an additional customer interview or a cross-functional meeting? Should I lean towards research or execution today? Over time, these choices massively impact how products and companies grow. Knowing this, I started logging my activities throughout the day to see where my time goes and figure out where I can make tweaks to my schedule. Here’s what I found after tracking more than 600 hours over three months last year.
Research: (32%), ~16 hours a week
I spent about a third of my time doing some form of research; this includes everything from customer interviews to reading books and academic literature. Research is of course a major focus for PMs since it ultimately informs our product vision and strategy. Here are some other interesting sources of information that I found myself using in addition to the expected ones:
- New Hires: A good portion of my market intel actually came from the stream of new talent coming into Percolate every week, many of whom come from complementary or competitive spaces. Conversations with new salespeople allow me tap into the pain points that people would actually pay to alleviate.
- Industry Conferences and Meetups: Well-run conferences are efficient ways to see the difference between what market vendors are selling and what marketers actually want. Customer panels, case studies, and even casual lunch conversations with attendees offer quick ways to look across industries, customer segments, and use cases. One of the great things about building marketing software in NYC is that industry conferences happen in our backyard regularly. If you don’t have time to sit through conferences, many post-session recordings are available on YouTube (pro-tip: set your playback speed to 2x).
- Percolate’s Marketing Team: We “dog food” our own product heavily so internal users are another source of persistent feedback (feedback that bypasses traditional ticketing systems and surfaces face-to-face in elevator rides and lunch breaks).
At Percolate, PMs do research with an eye not just towards how the outside world is changing, but also how any opportunities we find fit with our own capabilities, mission, and values as a company.
Meetings: (28%), ~15 hours/week
When you are working in a fast moving, bi-coastal product team, knowledge is constantly being created and shared across the organization through daily standups, weekly stakeholder syncs, and one on ones. And while meetings are one way of sharing knowledge, we try to keep them to a minimum and use asynchronous collaboration tools like Slack — and Percolate — to get stuff done.
Meetings help create a shared understanding and offer a way for PMs to get real time feedback on their ideas (via verbal or body language cues), but they can also be a symptom of not having knowledge in a place where it’s discoverable. When our teams find themselves having similar conversations, they’ll usually invest time in training and documentation to fix the bigger knowledge management issue. Of course there is one meeting that we keep every week: the Wins Meeting, which celebrates success throughout the company.
Execution/Project Management: (24%), 12 hours/week
This is my catch-all category for all of the little stuff product managers need to do to make sure things get done (shipping is one of Percolate’s core values). This includes the design reviews, bug triaging, engineering negotiations, and more. In a fast growing company, product managers often have to roll up their sleeves and help out wherever needed since there’s always more work to be done than people to do it — the buck stops with the PM so we need to do whatever it takes to guarantee the success of our product areas.
When I first started at Percolate, I spent most of this execution time doing technical project management to usher software out the door, product marketing to iron out the value proposition and positioning of our products, sales engineering to help speak to technical integrations, and even some corporate development to help executives think through buy versus build options. While I performed many of these functions in my first year at Percolate, my goal is always to help other roles in the company build these capabilities so I can get out of the way and let more scalable processes take over.
Presentations/Demos: (14%), 7 hours/week
At the time I did this study, I was giving a lot of presentations at Percolate. In High Output Management, Former Intel CEO Andy Grove talks about finding ways to get the most from your activities — done right, presentations are “high leverage” opportunities. They offer a platform for doing things like ramping up excitement about a product, building credibility, and sharing new ideas. The presentations I gave ranged from on-site demos with major clients, roadmap overviews, all-hands quarterly kickoffs, and other big events like Session and our Client Summit. Fortunately, the amount of time I spend preparing and giving presentations has gone down quite a bit now that we’ve built out more areas of the company like Sales Engineering and Product Marketing.
A quick note on methodology: The time spent in this section includes the entire time of a meeting I presented in — so if I gave a 30 minute presentation, but had to block out 2 hours to attend that meeting, I counted that as 2 hours of presentation time.
Hiring: (2%), 1 hour/week
The last notable category is hiring. Because PMs work with so many people, we are on a lot of interviews: executive candidates, marketing managers, designers. While I don’t spend a lot of time interviewing, it’s great to hear new perspectives and how people from different industries and backgrounds think about the problems we face. Put simply, my job is to use innovation to grow our business; every time I’m able to help bring great talent into Percolate it makes me that much more likely to succeed in my role.
What I’d do differently
There’s no perfect time split that works for everyone. Like an investment portfolio, how someone picks their allocation depends on their goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. Similarly, from a product point-of-view, the time investments that work best for a product manager vary by things like the stage and size of their company, customer variety, and even the industry segments to which they are selling. Since I started tracking my time, I’ve been focused on the following tweaks:
- Fewer presentations: I love talking about what the product team builds, but I need to pick my spots and let our sales and marketing teams handle most of the rapidly growing demand for client presentations and product demos. I’m using the time I get back here to focus on better research and execution.
- More research: As our customers grow in size and variety I need to spend more time understanding the new personas and pain points that spring up. Time spent on research activities directly results in products that better map to customer needs, build competitive advantages for Percolate, and ultimately grow our business over the long run.
- More hiring and recruiting: I’m also looking for any opportunity to carve out a bit more time to assist with our hiring and recruiting efforts. Any time I can find to connect with great people and telling our story is time well spent.
Time allocation is one of the most important variables a product manager can control. How we spend each day will have a huge impact on the success of our products in the long run. Knowing this, PMs should consider auditing where they focus their energy with the same critical eye they direct towards other product strategy decisions like their feature roadmap.