Sept. 20, 2022

Staying Motivated as a Product Manager

Staying Motivated as a Product Manager

Staying Motivated as a Product Manager

As a product manager, you can feel overwhelmed by the endless deluge of information, products, and technology that drives the business world. You could flip through so many different websites, articles, podcasts and other resources that it feels like you're drowning in an ocean of data rather than swimming through a sea of knowledge. 

In this episode, Alex and Parv team up for a special episode about motivation. They talk about how it is so hard to stay motivated when you're a PM, and then how you can stay motivated with some really helpful tips and techniques.

Tune in to listen to this and more!

Key Highlights

[00:53] why it is hard to stay motivated as a product manager according to Alex.

[02:24] Interesting ways to stay motivated on less interesting projects.

[04:12] Focusing on small wins to stay motivated as a PM.

[08:12] why PMS have multiple projects.

[08:39] moving around in the space of the unknown. 

[09:56] how you could work around the space of unknown and stay motivated.

[12:04] What Parv does to stay motivated.

[14:24] Does feedback play a part in keeping us motivated?

[17:35] Acknowledgement encourages motivation 

Notable Quotes

  • “Almost every really boring project has some ultimate goal that sounds a little better than what you're actually working on day to day.” [01:53]
  • “Sometimes understanding the vision, the goal, and where you have to get to. And I think that helps you push along on some of these smaller tasks, even though they might seem inconsequential at the time.” [02:34]
  • “It is hard to find those regular and frequent wins as a PM. Gratification is very, very delayed.”
  • “So I think one tact is to have that passion project that you're able to get through.” [10:10]
  • “If you find too much meaning in your product, you get too motivated. And that can very easily lead to burnout, which we really want to be mindful of.” [13:49]
  • “When you think about product management as a role, I mean, I sometimes think of it is as one of those thankless roles where you're doing stuff day in and day out, and not always receiving the appreciation or the feedback on that.” [15:44]
  • “Acknowledgement, turns into a discussion turns into time connecting with your team turns into like a relationship. It all just snowballs into positive motivation.” [18:03]


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Call to Action

We all agree it is the hard one when you're working as a product manager due to the nature of the role to stay motivated. Please let us know what are some of your ideas on how to stay motivated as a PM on Twitter?

We would love to hear from you!



Today on trying to product we're going to talk about motivation. As a product manager, why is it so hard to stay motivated when you're a PM? And then how can you stay motivated? What are some of the techniques and tips that myself and Alex have used to help us stay motivated as a product manager? And so yeah, let's get into it. So, Alex, why do you think it's hard to stay motivated as a PM, I know you have a couple of pointers to that one,


as a PM, there's so many different projects you get to do and some of them are super exciting projects. And some of them are more table stakes, things that just have to get done that no one really wants to do, or it's not really a fun project. But it's something you need to do. And it's maybe not the most inspiring, it's not going to change the world. But it's something that will get you to that next level, move the metrics move the project forward, I had one project that took like six months, that was literally adding a field to an API. And talking about like a boring project with all these different stakeholders, you got the engineering, you got the people who are in charge of the API, you got the people who are ingesting the API. So there's a lot of different teams. But ultimately, what you're making is you're just updating a field. And like, it's not a big change. But it took six months just because of requirements gathering, and all of this. So I think projects like that, that are actually required. I think this was like to reduce fraud. That's something that's super boring, but you try to keep your head on like the ultimate goal of that project. I think almost every really boring project has some ultimate goal that sounds a little better than what you're actually working on day to day. So instead of focusing on the minutiae of it, focusing on that larger goal is one way I found to kind of stay a little bit more motivated on these projects that don't sound as exciting. And I think that's one thing, you can always make a project sound less exciting. But if you're focusing on that larger goal, I think that's one way I found to be maybe a little bit more enticing. Part of what do you think you've had any interesting ways to stay motivated on less interesting projects,


for less interesting ones, I think what you call it out is actually a really good one, which is just finding a bit more of the bigger impact of that project. I think that's really helpful. Sometimes the understanding the vision, the goal, and where you have to get to. And I think that helps you

push along on some of these smaller tasks, even though they might seem inconsequential at the time. But before moving into like, generally more ideas on how we could stay motivated, I do want to come back to why it might be hard to stay motivated, as well. And one of the things that you brought up about sometimes those projects being inconsequential and seemingly small and tough to get through. That's a big one. Those are projects you can't say no to you have to push them along. One of the other reasons that come to mind is I think connected to this idea that you brought up is sometimes those type of projects. And then you know, looking outside of that, and just generally as a PM, it is hard to find those regular and frequent wins as a PM. gratification is very, very delayed. As a product manager, sometimes it can take weeks for a feature to launch can take months, and like you mentioned, three years, it looks like years. And it's just so hard to come about some of those wins. To stay motivated, you're no longer deploying code and seeing the change come alive. As you push your code out, you're not seeing your designs get materialized. Like there are harder and harder ways and moments to create those in between work to actually find those wins. And I think that's a big one that sometimes impacts the level of motivation as a PM.


Yeah, I think that's a fantastic point. I think like you write the specs, and then you finally get everyone to approve the specs. And then it could be months or years until something is actually released. And then by the time you release it, you don't even care about it. Because mentally you're already on to the next project. So I think that's a great point, like trying to stay focused on the small wins, like getting the requirements approved, seeing the initial designs, like there's a bunch of little steps that lead up to it to that final release. And I think yeah, I agree. Like that's a great way to kind of stay motivated and stay with the project. And the idea stage is very exciting. But then that excitement kind of dwindles and drops off. But being able to kind of stay focused on the next task. And the next part of your idea coming to life, I think is a really good way to stay motivated.


Yeah, I think the point that you brought up celebrating the small wins, that's a big one, to help stay motivated as a pm right? Like for moments like this, when winds are far in between finding those smaller pieces of meeting that went well, your roadmap that got acknowledged and approved by stakeholders, your successful meeting, even that you were afraid of like those kinds of things, sometimes are the things that you need to celebrate, like presentations you've made to other stakeholders to consumers, some successful user research study that you did, like, small things like that, as you work with your team. I think they really help. And that's something that you should sort of look to and I do that a lot is like I'll try and find those small wins. It's hard. I agree. And I didn't used to do that a lot. But now I'm trying my best to try and find those small wins to celebrate it. It might be a small and sweet respite, but it is a win. Man, we shouldn't discount it.


Yeah. Although saying in this context, it does feel a little bit sad, like a meeting that went well, or, like, these are the things that we have to look forward to.


I mean, I think that's a great segue into the next point, right? Like, if I think about staying motivated, one of the biggest time sucks as a PM, and we were talking about this right is like, lots of meetings, they could just move, you're moving from one to the other, and sort of representing a different role within a meeting each time context switching and just going through that motion of meetings after meetings. And that can be draining dude. Like, you know, that like, it just sometimes pulls the energy out of you.


Oh, yeah. I actually I just started, I think it was like six, eight meetings, or six, eight hours of meetings a day and like this past two weeks, and just so draining, and you kind of lose sight of everything, because it's just like, it's so hard to pay attention after that long. Yeah,


six to eight hours. That's a good day. Yeah, life. But yeah, I


mean, that's such a big thing, right. And sometimes, some meetings can be a train wreck. Some of them are just math, but a few of those ended up being really good ones. And I think it's really important to enjoy and celebrate those nice meetings. I mean, personally, if I come out of a meeting that went well, I do feel nice about it, it does give me a smile, say, you know, why not celebrate those good meetings? Yeah.


But I don't know, if I'm quite on board with celebrating the meetings, I guess it depends on what makes you happy. If a good meeting makes you happy, then hang on to that, whatever floats your boat, whatever gets you through the day into, and the week and then the month until the project is completed. I think also like managing multiple projects, at one time is a good way to have multiple wins in succession. Because even if one project is dragging you down, you hopefully have another one that is more interesting, that's helping you stay engaged. So then it's also part of it is, if you have just one or all boring projects, it's gonna be really tough, you have these small winds that are going to kind of carry you through, but ultimately, that's gonna kind of grind you down. Having A Boring project with a fun project helps you kind of have a little bit more joy in your normal day.


Yeah. And I think that also sort of plays into the other aspect of this is, you might have multiple projects at the same time that lets you maybe you're enjoying one or the other. But then

there's also how do you take a project that you're working on and kind of split it into smaller sub deliverables, like internally breaking that big project, or like one project you have into like, multiple different tracks that you can drive and then find wins or successes in some of those tracks, while the others are being a bit hard to push through?


Yep, yep, exactly. I think that's why often PMS have multiple projects, because there's always one that's gonna be a little more exciting or more of a passion project. And I think management always knows that you need something that's fun. That's a urine own initiative that you can kind of drive through. And that also helps you helps with retention helps with being happier and more fulfilled in their role. Yeah,


the other thing, you know, I was thinking about why it's hard to stay motivated. I think we've talked about this before, as a PM, you're really moving around in the space of the unknown. The problem is, sometimes you also define finding those white spaces, like figuring out what's happening, like, a lot of the time is spent in that ambiguity, sort of space, right? And I think not knowing what needs to happen sometimes. And just like always trying to define the problem, the solution, the questions to ask, like, that can also be pretty hard, and draining. And I think that can also really impact some of our motivation.


Oh, yeah. I'm like totally in that space right now. Like trying to come up with like, some awesome new mousetrap. And I've just been like taking long walks and trying to figure it out for like, multiple weeks, and I just have no idea how to revolutionize this widget. So I think that's totally something that is tough. I think it could be exciting, especially when you make these small breakthroughs. But it's also something that like, day after day of like, no progress is super rough.


Yeah, man. Like, it's just so hard when you don't have a lot of information. And just like pushing away at stuff, sometimes you go down the wrong path for like, hours, days, weeks, and then realize that you have to turn around like, that can be a lot. And again, like that sometimes could lead to burnout eventually as well. It's hard to stay motivated on something like that. Do you have any thoughts on like how you could work around this space of unknowns when it comes to like staying motivated?


Yeah, I think everybody has like a different tact. i Every like the end that I know has a different tact as well. I think it just depends on what makes you happy. So I think one tact is to have that passion project that you're able to get through. That's something I see fairly commonly is that

passion project that you're able to get through. That's something I see fairly commonly is that typically I think we have like three to five projects in a given time. And one of those projects is going to be like a pet project that a pm just like they've been trying to do for years and they finally got to do it because they're taking on like a ship project. So


the one where you know, the problem, the one where you know, the question, the one where you know, like the way you


die, yeah, you got the solution, like you've had the solution in your head for years. And now you're like, you've been wanting to execute on it, but you're just the star has never aligned. And now finally, the resourcing is there, everything is there, and they can work on it. And that helps you kind of get through the crappier project that you have to work on just because the business needs it. I think that's one thing I see fairly commonly. The other thing is just off of work, like, can you have something outside of work that's also fulfilling you. That one, I think, is different for everybody as well, it depends on your hobbies, and fulfills you. For some people, it's family. For some people, it's other projects, like hardware projects I've seen fairly commonly, like making like furniture, and that kind of thing, photography, but all sorts of different hobbies that people are doing outside of work to keep them fulfilled. And then maybe the last one is just the team. I think, one thing we've lost during COVID. And I think we mentioned this in a previous podcast is that we're pretty lonely as a PM, like you're really isolated. But back when you were in the office, like having the team around you being able to just talk through these problems with your fellow pa with your fellow team members was a huge motivator. Because you're able to focus on like the fun problems or just have interesting conversations, and it's less about the work, it's more about the people that you're working with. And that helps kind of keep you motivated through these more projects. I think a lot of this D motivation is also a factor of just being so isolated and being at home all the time. So being able to get in front of people just maybe have more casual meetings with your teammates, as opposed to more work centric and meeting centric, like we're all at the moment. But what do you think, what do you do to stay motivated? Yeah, I


think the idea of like finding inspiration outside of work, and being able to find some of those things on the side that keep you motivated. That's, I think, a good tactic. And I think it applies here to stay motivated as a PM itself, when I drilled down to like, being a product manager and pushing myself and trying to, you know, keep moving forward in the role and coming back day and day. Again, I think for me, one of the big things has been trying to find similar to you what you mentioned are like a passion project, like trying to find a space that excites me, sometimes when I'm able to find meaning in the product or in the space that I'm working at, that can be really, really powerful. And I think that sometimes really does push me and drives me to come back again and work. And that's something that's not always possible, I can imagine that it is hard to come by that and find meaning in the work, or especially in the space of the product you're working in as a PM, it is tough. And I think that's where finding inspiration outside of work becomes much more tactful, and actually really useful. But you know, for myself, I'll try

my best, even if I'm at work, and maybe the space not the most exciting for me jumping in and trying to find out like, Okay, what is within that space, what's an opportunity that I would want to try and work on? What's a domain that I really want to like, dive deep into maybe it's connected to an outside interest that I have, trying to find out where I can sort of jump in and maybe learn the most at a certain point of time, or push myself more. And I think that kind of helps me come back again and again, and stay motivated. And if I'm able to find meaning and like I really believe in the product and I'm working on then that really, really helps us well, yeah, I agree, like learning is a great one. And there is a dark side to this, as we talked about. Sometimes if you find too much meaning in your product, you get too motivated. And that can very easily lead to burnout, which we really want to be mindful of. But when we're trying to tackle the problem of motivation and staying motivated, then I think meaning in a product can be actually really helpful.


Yeah, that's probably the single easiest way to stay motivated on a project is just trying to find the meaning wherever it is. And almost every project has some type of meaning. They just might have to dig a little bit to find it.


Yeah, bring the shovel with you and find that meaning. But you're right. Sometimes it's harder to find that.


Yep, totally agree.


What do you think about feedback? When we think about motivation, and we think about feedback, do you think feedback has a role in helping us stay motivated? And I especially say that because as a product manager, it's so hard to get feedback because your deliverables aren't really defined. So I wonder like, what are your thoughts on or about feedback as a tactic to stay motivated?


Yeah, I guess positive, she could definitely be motivated. Yeah. I feel like most of the time, maybe this isn't always the case. But it is my experience has been I'll handle her deliverable. And then people will be like, okay, and I'll look at it, but they won't really depending on like, if it's a pm that will maybe have a debate about it. But if it's like a teammate, like UX or engineering, they'll typically just be like, okay, and then just take it and then maybe have some comments. And then it just starts getting executed, but it's not like really a debate or, Oh, this could be better or that can be better or like, Oh, I wonder how we could maybe do this. It's a

little bit less collaborative, especially with like metrics. I feel like a lot of people just as soon as they hear metrics, they just shut down. So I think getting feedback Totally agree. It's like having A little bit more feedback of Did I do a good job? Do you understand what I even wrote? Is this something that we can work on and collaborate on? Or? Because right now it feels like you're almost just feeding it into a machine, and then it disappears. And you're like, Okay, I guess I did my job.


And that kind of makes sense, right? Because we need to think about product management as a role. I mean, I sometimes think of it as as one of those thankless roles, where you're doing stuff day in and day out, and not always receiving the appreciation or the feedback on that. Sometimes you do get the blame. Or most times you get the blame, but not necessarily that feedback are sort of that appreciation. Because, again, the deliverables are so undefined, that it's hard to appreciate something that a BM is doing. Like you're getting a meeting, you're getting everyone aligned, sometimes there's no paper trail or an artifact that supports that. So I think when you think about PMS, that and think about the role from that perspective, feedback becomes really strong. And I think you're right, getting that positive feedback. And sometimes from your peers or your managers and how you're doing is super helpful. Like, I remember, one of my first jobs, I think, I wasn't sure I was doing well. I had like managers out for a while. And so I didn't have really anyone to sort of connect with and get that feedback or that one on ones. And it was early on in my career. So I wasn't sure what I was doing is right or not, and I wasn't sure if I was doing a good job at it even if it was right. And I think once kind of magic impact, we had a one on one hand, he will say, Yeah, I mean, this is better than what we were doing previous quarter. And I think we've actually done a pretty good job at actually automating some of the stuff and like, my deliverables were well, like he liked it. And I think that feedback was so nice to hear. And it really did help motivate myself to push myself to do better and actually keep moving forward. So I think feedback in general is helpful, and especially as a PM, it can be really, really powerful as a motivational technique.


Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. And I think feedback is always good, especially positive feedback. But I think also just having a discussion. Yeah, acknowledging that. Yeah, yeah. acknowledgement.


That's the word. Yeah. Like, I


just submitted this whole a plan of like, tests for the next like, three quarters. And everyone's like, okay. And I'm like, No. Whereas I talked to like, my PM, my counterpart, and then he's like, Oh, this is interesting. Like, why are you doing this? Then it becomes a discussion of like, why

did you do this? Oh, that's an interesting idea. Oh, here's like my take on that. And then it becomes a little bit more collaborative and a little bit more fun, I think.


Yeah, I mean, that acknowledgement, turns into a discussion turns into time connecting with your team turns into like a relationship. It all just snowballs into positive motivation. And you're so bank on with that term. It's like, not necessarily feedback, not necessarily appreciation. It's like, even acknowledgement, the deck that you made the PRD that you wrote. And sometimes I feel like as a PM, it's a given that we're doing all of these things. So if anyone's a manager here, acknowledging folks in your team, as they sort of make these deliverables, I think can be a really good way to keep them motivated.


Yeah. All agree. Can you think of any other motivation techniques that you've seen?


And I'm trying to think like, Well, we talked about, we talked about finding inspiration at work or outside of work, trying to find a space that you're motivated by or finding meaning in the product. We talked about getting feedback from peers, managers, getting acknowledgment from folks at your company. The third thing we talked about was multiple projects at the same time, or even actually taking a big project that you're working on and sort of dividing that into smaller sub deliverables that can help the thing that after that, I think you mentioned was a good team and good people to work with. I think that's really a really a big one, to help drive motivation. And then the last one, which you made fun of and I mentioned meetings is celebrating the small wins. As you go about your day as you have to small chances are those moments of positive impact and get some good sort of win out of it, enjoy them. But yeah, I think these cover a lot of the strong ways that we can stay motivated as a PM. Yeah.


Yeah, I totally agree. I think it's a pretty good list.


And if anyone has any more, we would love to find out and learn more about like, good motivational techniques as a PM. I think it is the hard one when you're working as a product manager due to the nature of the role. So the more we can learn about being motivated as a PM, the more we can spread that knowledge. I think, the better every pm will be.


Yep. Cool. Awesome. Thanks so much. Have a good one. Yeah, you do, man.

Yep. Cool. Awesome. Thanks so much. Have a good one. Yeah, you do, man.