The first week of a new year normally gives you a moment of calmness before the storm. Some of your colleagues and partners will still be on holiday while the ones back are typically in a jolly mood.

Unless there is a product delivery or an urgent product issue, you are usually given a quiet time of reprieve before the endless cycle of research, user interviews, design, development, and meetings.

If 2023 was a mad rush of hitting deliverables and trying to please everybody, now is the time for you to take a step back and reassess things this year.

Let’s look at how we can plan and do a little better this year. This is your concise guide towards achieving some inner peace at work.

1. Breathe

That’s right. Breathe in and breathe out. Then, think about what stressed you out the most last year. You probably know instantly the area that gave you the biggest headache. Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking:

  • People: Was there a constant breakdown in communication, or in-fighting? Are the teams structured properly to work effectively and productively?
  • Tools: Are the current tools making work easier? Is everything integrated or highly fragmented into conflicting sources?
  • Process: Is there a roadblock that keeps popping up in the workflow? Does bringing an idea to market take too long?
  • Product: Does your product roadmap still align with the users and business goals? Do you still understand the why of your product?
  • Users: Are your users happy? Are you asking them the right questions? Is user feedback funnelled the right way?
  • Budget and resources: Are you utilising them to the fullest? Or are you wearing too many hats that you can’t work efficiently?
  • Work-life balance: Do you have a fair grip on this? If not, is it a matter of setting boundaries, drawing realistic expectations, or finding ways to be more productive?

List down all the issues, and you will start to see a pattern. Spend some time ruminating on this. Once you’ve identified the biggest pain point, that’s almost half the job done.

Consult your colleagues, users, and manager if you must. It is highly likely that the thing that is stressing you out, is also a problem for people around you. It’s easier to find a middle ground or solution together.

2. Own remote or hybrid working like a boss

Due to the pandemic, many companies are permanently moving into a hybrid model, where they give the employees a choice of working in the office or from anywhere else. Chances are, yours is too.

As product managers, you are the connecting dots between users, developers, designers, marketers, and management. It’s vital that you are super comfortable with this new way of working – if you haven’t already.

There are plenty of challenges with online collaboration, meetings, testing and user interviews. One advice I’d give is to document and record as much as possible. Everything’s there in a repository, anyone can refer to them, and when someone is away, there will be no issues in an emergency.

In an office, it’s easy to tap someone on the shoulder and ask them to explain something. In a virtual world, that is not as easy. Therefore, documentation is critical. Furthermore, your company should be investing in the right online tools for remote work.

3. Reconnect with your users

If you haven’t been connecting regularly with your base of users, resolve to do better this year. Sometimes product managers get lost in timelines, deliverables, and issues, that they forget who they are building for, especially if they’re mostly ensconced at home.

To make matters worse, it is easier to misunderstand things and misread emails and chats. Picking up the phone or scheduling in a 15-minute catchup to say hello to your customers goes a long way to making you better at your job.

4. Stop trying to please everybody

There is usually a middle ground in everything, but you don’t always land exactly down the middle. Someone will have to compromise, and some things will be unachievable.

And that’s okay. Being a product manager can often feel you’re in a relentless battle of coordinating, compromising, and negotiating. If you’re finding that you’re constantly trying to please everyone from different teams or caught in office politics, you need to stop for your own sanity.

After all, if your users are mostly happy, and the reviews are positive, you’re doing a good job.

5. Deepen your knowledge in another field

You work regularly with designers, developers, and marketers. Why not learn a bit more in that discipline?

Although you’re not required to be highly technical, having extra knowledge will help immensely. And creativity is sharpened when you’re exposed to different things. Seeing things from a different perspective will help generate better ideas. It also makes you a more versatile product manager, making you more valuable to the company.

6. Learn how to negotiate better

You tend to get pulled in different directions by designers, developers, management, and users. Everybody has a point of view, and part of a successful negotiation is making everyone feel like they have been heard.

Moreover, it’s always easier to convey messages and convince people when you understand their point of view and speak in their language. Making yourself more emphatic helps reach a consensus and resolve conflict quicker. All this makes for a healthier wellbeing at work

7. Simplify

Simplify anything you can.

Cut needless steps in your workflow, reduce unproductive meetings, and automate what you can. Successful companies tend to have their processes, teams, and tools down pat. Just like Goldilocks, you’re trying to identify that balance of exactly right – not too hot, not too cold. This will require some elbow grease, but it will be worth it for your sanity.

Shameless plug alert: I’m building a course that teaches you a low-risk, highly efficient product design process. It’s a process I use with my clients, taking you from idea to prototype in 4 weeks.

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.