Ask Gib: “What specifics in a daily routine separate a good Product Manager from a great Product Manager?”
Short answer: Begin your day with intent, minimize meetings, spend time with customers, manage your own career, balance time between doing/thinking, plus some other good habits (don’t watch TV!).
Most product leaders spend their time doing the necessary evils of their job and get sucked into too many meetings. Here are the areas where I encourage product leaders to spend more (and less) time:
- Begin each day with intent. Outline 2–3 tasks you hope to accomplish and stay focused on the most important things. Don’t let the easy/fun projects bubble to the top too quickly.
- Minimize meetings. Be clear about the objectives of each session, and wherever possible, handle issues one-on-one or asynchronously (Google Docs, Slack, etc.). Excuse yourself if it’s clear you don’t need to be in a meeting.
Spend time with customers
- Engage in focus groups and usability sessions. Spending time with customers helps you put the customer at the center of everything you do to serve as the customer’s voice more effectively within your organization.
- Focus on the data. Data is an extension of getting to know your customers and includes metrics for your product, survey data, and AB test results. Data helps you spot patterns and form hypotheses for product improvement.
- Spend time with products: yours, competitors, and other products that fascinate you. This lets you approach products with fresh eyes and reminds you how confusing products are, including your own. It also helps you to develop product sense and identify new trends.
Spend time both thinking & doing
- Find a balance. “Doing” dominates most folks’ calendars. Carve out time to focus on the long-term by outlining your product strategy. Later in your career, find opportunities to get closer to the details of building products. (Seasoned leaders sometimes get too far from the day-to-day challenges of the product leader’s job.)
Manage your and other’s careers
- Make time for folks who work for you. Get to know them as people. If you’re a few rungs up the career ladder, make time for occasional skip-level meetings to see how well your reports manage their teams.
- Make time for your boss. Meet your boss regularly, even if you crave independence. These meetings ensure you have shared context to understand each others’ decisions. Occasionally ask your boss, “What am I doing well? What can I do better?” If you’re courageous, ask, “If I told you I was leaving tomorrow, would you fight to keep me?” (This last question — the “Keeper Test” — helps you understand your value within the organization.)
- Make time to build relationships with cross-functional peers. Again, get to know them as people to build a foundation of trust. This activity makes future debates more productive. Reaching out to peers in other functions also helps you build cross-functional alignment, an increasingly important part of your job as your career progresses.
- Interview candidates. Even if you are early in your career and there’s no pretense that you’ll hire or manage other product leaders, ask to be part of an interview team. This helps you build critical recruiting and interviewing skills. I spend up to one-third of my time recruiting in high-growth startups, and interviews are the one thing on my calendar that can’t be rescheduled.
- Build your personal board of directors. Find time to build your community of peers, advisors, and mentors. Learn from them, and from time to time, ask, “How do you think I’m doing?”
Other good habits
- Commit to learning. Make time to read, watch videos, and learn more about the science and art of product. Ask for feedback. Become a lifelong learner.
- Take care of yourself. Establish limits on your workday so you have time for family, exercise, healthy eating, and sleep. Career success is about hard work to deliver results, but there are diminishing returns. Think of your career as both a sprint and a marathon, and learn to switch between the two.
- Chase your hobbies and passions. Be open to new inspiration as this helps you recharge and is a source of new ideas for your job.
- Be on time. If you’re always on time, you demonstrate your discipline and reliability. At Netflix, I often found myself alone with the CEO five minutes before meetings began. It was an opportunity to compare notes in a low-pressure environment as we waited for folks to arrive.
The challenge: no one has enough time to do it all. So here is one suggestion to free up time:
- Don’t watch too much TV. The average American adult watches 28 hours of television each week. Shift your TV-watching time to reading, exercise, hobbies, or sleep.
A Typical Month
It’s hard to map all of these activities to a daily schedule, but over a month, try to do the following:
- 3–4 engagements/month with customers via focus groups or usability
- 4–8 data dives/month via proxy metrics, survey data, and AB test results
Balance of thinking and doing (to develop long-term focus)
- Participate in 1–2 high-level strategy meetings each month
Manage your career
- 1–2 meetings with mentor/advisor/coach
- 1–3 interactions with product leader peers outside your company
- 1–3 meetings with cross-functional peers within your company
- 2–4 meetings with your boss
- 2–4 meetings with each of your reports
- 1–2 meetings with skip-level reports (if appropriate)
- 2–4 interviews with potential candidates
I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you have more latitude in managing your time than you think. Manage your time wisely:
- Minimize meetings and TV watching
- Be proactive in how you spend your time
- Focus on your customers
- Find a balance between short and long-term, and
- Manage your (and others) careers
I hope you found this helpful. If you’re interested in reading more of my essays, I write a free product newsletter called “Ask Gib” on Substack: subscribe here.
PS. Here are some of my favorite essays on both Medium and “Ask Gib”:
- How to Define Your Product Strategy. (This is a 12-part essay on Medium that enables you to define your product strategy in a step-by-step way.)
- Hacking Your Product Leader Career
- Branding for Builders
- How to Run a Quarterly Product Strategy Meeting
- Ask Gib: “What do you think about project-based roadmaps v. outcome-based roadmaps?”
- Gibson Biddle’s Product Strategy Course on Teachable