Knowledge workers lie at the heart of many businesses. They have high degrees of experience, expertise, as well as education. Their jobs mostly involve the application, distribution, and creation of knowledge.
But, when someone’s line of work requires them to “think for a living,” they cannot simply apply the same techniques used for managing more stable, tangible, and predictable projects to new, unfamiliar, and intangible environments they often find themselves in.
When we don’t have physical reference points, difficulties arise. Then, following the “plan the work, work the plan” motto becomes difficult, but it is still essential. Luckily many knowledge workers have found ways to optimize their workflow, track progress, and increase overall productivity, becoming part-time project managers in their own right.
New Territory, New Tools
Knowledge workers use a variety of tools and approaches to address the ambiguity and the complexity of their tasks and projects.
Teachers, doctors, web designers, software developers, and other knowledge workers often have to do something that is completely different from the things they did before. In those cases, the estimates and plans they used on their previous projects won’t be very useful to predict or ensure progress.
They still need to make sure things will get done, which is project management at its most fundamental. Good project management involves a wide range of skills, such as strategizing and prioritizing.
And, the average knowledge worker does indeed manage most of their work as a project. So, one could say that project management is the main task of the knowledge worker.
Identifying Low-Value Tasks
Many knowledge workers use self-assessments (such as this one) to decide which daily activities are the least important to their companies as well as to them. They often need to decide which tasks they should drop, outsource, or delegate so that they can focus on more urgent matters.
For instance, a knowledge worker may be forced to dispense some routine administrative tasks or meetings in order to make sure other things get done. Identifying expendable tasks is a skill in its own right.
Processes like these also help knowledge workers identify what is really valuable for them and their employers. They can also use them to reflect on their real contributions to their companies.
Of course, not every knowledge worker is good at identifying expendable tasks right from the get-go. Over time, knowledge workers get better at identifying low-value tasks upfront and knowing when to say no to them.
Delegation skills are difficult to obtain, but they are very rewarding. To successfully delegate work, a knowledge worker needs to master the art of “pushing, prodding, and chasing.”
There are many stumbling blocks in delegating. In order to ensure there will be no decline in productivity, knowledge workers have to learn how to overcome them.
For instance, knowledge workers that possess good project management skills know how important timing can be in delegating something. They are also very careful not to overestimate their subordinate’s capabilities.
Knowledge workers know they must be effective as well as efficient if they want to ensure maximum productivity. So, a good knowledge worker doesn’t just try to save time, but they also make an effort to put the saved time to good use.
To ensure they are using their time efficiently, knowledge workers employ a variety of techniques and approaches. For instance, the solution can be as simple as starting a log.
But, ensuring that their time is well spent is often easier said than done. So, a knowledge worker may look for a coach to help them identify and overcome such skill gaps.
Knowledge workers are well aware that they will be happier and more productive if they manage their time more efficiently. For most knowledge workers, this is a good enough motivator to work on developing this key project management skill.
Knowledge workers share their plans with their mentors, colleagues, and bosses. These processes are entirely-self directed. They often discuss and analyze what they have achieved in a certain period of time with their coworkers as well as their superiors.
They do so to ensure they have the support of their managers. But, this also helps them stay on track. To ensure they will follow through, a knowledge worker may voice their plans, intentions, and commitments to another person.
These processes help knowledge workers boost productivity, and yet, they don’t involve any management directive. Still, some knowledge workers voluntarily invite someone to “stand over them.” To become more engaged, effective, and efficient members of the collective, many knowledge workers exercise such “forcing mechanisms”.
To be a productive member of the team, every knowledge worker has to be a good project manager as well. Project management skills benefit all types of knowledge workers. They are becoming central to roles such as communicator, innovator, and advisor.
Every knowledge worker is also a project manager to some degree, but the best knowledge workers are the ones who have found a way to effectively manage and track their productivity and progress.