I’m a classic introvert, and I’m a Product Manager. When I first started this blog, I was tempted to call it The Introverted Product Manager. Any extroversion that you have seen from me is just manufactured for the masses, and by the end of a heavy day of pretending to be an Extrovert, it takes its toll. I’ve always thought of it more as putting on one of those dollar-store white masks that heist movies have made popular. Sometimes it can be stifling if you wear it too long.
Now that I’ve worked in a few different groups as a Product Manager, it always takes some time for me to sort through how much ‘Mask’ time folks need from me. It’s not always easy to figure out how much is enough, especially when it really can change on a day-to-day basis, in particular in Media and Sports, which is where I’ve spent the majority of my Product life. I try not to mention “introverted” when it comes to a personal descriptor with my coworkers until I know them well (and at times, not at all) because in this environment it tends to be viewed as a weakness, not just a difference. I do occasionally suffer from some shyness, but generally, my introvertedness shows up in that I just only have but so much energy to handle being around others and a fully functional member of society.
So, how do I make being an Introvert work as a Product Manager? Outside of needing more ‘me’ time after the more strenuous days at work, it’s not too much different than some of my more Extroverted peers. The most important thing that I’ve noticed is that I need to plan my days a little more than other folks in my same role, building in a little ‘Chaos’ time because very rarely do things go as I want them to be planned.
I’ve found the rhythm to my days that works for me right now, but you can look at my list and see if there may be something that works for you. Most days I’ll be able to plan things out to where I can get home and interact with the family without feeling like a zombie and collapsing before dinner. Not every day, mind you, but most days.
I start my day with a list – sometimes it’s digital, sometimes it’s hand-written. The list is comprised of all of the projects that I have to at least spare a half-hour of attention to before I leave the office for the day. Don’t… no seriously, do not put any more than 5 things on this list, at least to start. You’re going to be tempted to write down a bunch of things that need your attention during the day, but everyone has a limit, and you’ve got to learn how to set them if you’re going to be able to function at all after a few hours. This isn’t a to-do list as much as a list of project names that I need to pay attention to, along with usually being dictated by the meetings that I have on that day.
After that, I look at my status whiteboard with my projects and important dates listed, post-it notes and a pen handy. Each project that I wrote down on my list gets a post-it note with whatever it is that I need to do with it today. I’ve started using two different colors of post-its to designate between whether I have to interact with people, or whether I’m just working on something. If I see a high volume of interaction color drowning out my work color, I go back and see if there’s something that I can move to the next day. If I can, great – if I can’t, it’s time for a second Venti Latte and lots of breathing exercises.
If you aren’t up for the analog, or just don’t have the space (protip: my office is mainly windows, so my ‘whiteboard’ is just two windows that are next to my desk), you can, of course, use your program of choice to get the same result. But I will say, there is something intensely satisfying in yanking a post-it note off the wall and crumpling it up before throwing it away.
I make a point of limiting everything, though. I’m setting myself up for failure if I put more than two items on a single post-it, because it more than likely won’t be coming off the wall that day. Remember that ‘Chaos’ time? It’s going to happen – whether it’s a production site outage that takes everyone on an emergency bridge or even a presentation that needs to be done before you leave for the day because a client needs it to discuss tomorrow. Or, god forbid, having to pull together a presentation that you need to present to potential clients – all of these things will derail any planning or lists that you create, and all of them have happened to me.
There are some days still that I do all of these things perfectly to help my mental state, and I’m still wiped out before I get home. And there are some days that I don’t get a chance to touch anything on my lists for the day thanks to Chaos Time, and I can still go out, in public, to dinner with the family. There isn’t a guarantee, sadly. But this seems to at least help me survive more often than not to actually participate in family life when I get home most days.
I hope this helps at least to point you in a direction – give some things a try and see if they work for you.