Taking time off

If you want to be a bad product manager, you need to always be actively managing your product and available to answer any questions. You’re in charge of the product, and you really can’t afford to relax. Emails from customers need responses, salespeople need answers to questions, developers need clarifications on requirements, and management needs regular reports. If those things come up at night, on the weekend, on holidays, or while you’re on vacation, what choice do you have? Some may see it as a downside of being a product manager — never getting a break — but that’s just what comes with the territory and you need to do it to keep your product running successfully.

If you want to be a good product manager, work to get your product and the supporting organization stabilized so you are able to take time off. Yes, product managers have a lot of responsibilities, and of course there are times when you’ll have to work outside of the standard work week. Your product should be able to survive for a few hours or a few days without your intervention; if it can’t, you need to ask yourself, “why not”? Are there not other people to answer emails from customers? Do salespeople not have resources available to answer their questions? Can senior management not find the major metrics on your intranet site?

Part of being a good product manager is to set up the organization supporting the product to be self-sustaining, whether or not you’re in the office. The more the product can run itself, the more time you can spend on strategic product management (rather than “fire-fighting”). If the product can’t survive without you for a few days, how will you ever spend time out of the office visiting customers, going to trade shows, attending conferences, or taking vacation?

Next time you find yourself doing work when you should be in non-work mode, determine what you could have done to prevent it. Upon your return to the office, take steps to delegate tasks, inform others, create reference material, or do whatever you can so the same issue won’t come up again. That will not only help your product run successfully, but allow you to take the time off you deserve.