Five Ways For Managers To Take Back Their Time At Work

Management is a privilege…and a pain. Sandwiched between the demands of your boss, requests from peers to “pitch in” and continual demands from your team to make spontaneous (and high quality) decisions, it’s no wonder that so many managers end the day completely wiped out. Here are five strategies for taking control of your time to have a more productive and sustainable week:

  • Know What Work Matters
    With the constant barrage of emails, IMs and other alerts, it’s easy for all of us to fall into a pattern of continual reaction and fire-fighting. Unfortunately, few managers are rewarded merely for saving the day. Instead, your job is to think strategically, design work, and to build the capacity of your team. Doing these essential, but less time sensitive activities, during the workday requires planning and discipline. Otherwise, there goes Sunday afternoon… We recommend adopting a Monday morning ritual of identifying your most critical priorities and keeping them front and center all week. Literally. Try putting a post-it on your laptop, iPad case, or monitor with the single most important to-do of the day or the top 3 things you’re committed to getting done that week. At the end of each day, notice how much of your time was spent on the work that matters most.
  • Make A Date – With Yourself
    All of us occasionally fall prey to magical thinking when it comes to time. Despite only have 3 unscheduled time blocks in a given week, I can convince myself that I will somehow find the time to figure out a complex problem or write a comprehensive situation assessment. Thinking work takes time – big blocks of it. And the only way to protect that time is to schedule it. Book working time blocks throughout your week – preferably at the time of day when you are at your peak – and set a norm with your team that scheduling over them is an exception, not the rule.
  • Just Say No
    One of the terrible truths in organizational life today is that being a great collaborator typically results in collaboration overload. The most generous, additive members of a team are rewarded by being inundated with requests to do more, more, more. If you’re one of those people, you’ll need to strengthen your “No” muscle or risk the burnout that great collaborators frequently face. We recommend a three part response that 1) affirms the relationship, 2) acknowledges the opportunity and 3) firmly and politely declines. If saying no is out of your comfort zone, practice in low-stakes situations such as a networking lunch and work your way up to the harder stuff like saying no to a new project.
  • Dodge The Monkeys
    Over 40 years ago, William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass wrote their seminal article on management entitled Management Time, Who’s Got the Monkey? In it, they vividly describe a common pattern of upwards delegation that occurs in organizations. Throughout the day, employees offload their problems (the monkeys) to the manager who then has to dig her way out from under all these issues just to have a chance of tackling her own priorities. The secret to dodging monkeys? Ask employees to come back with a proposed solution rather than trying to solve it for them in the moment. Or coach the employee for 20 minutes so they can solve the problem without your involvement.
  • Reimagine One-On-Ones
    While spending time with your direct reports is an important managerial responsibility, the standing 1:1 meeting is not always the most effective way to do it. Often, these meetings are used to share information, but don’t necessarily advance the work or the relationship. We’ve found two alternatives that make better use of the time: 1) Instead of a sitting meeting, take a walking meeting. This allows the meeting to serve two purposes – connecting with your colleague and getting some time away from your desk. 2) Consider office hours as an alternative. Establish two weekly windows in which you are available for drop-in conversations. These allow you to do your own work when no one takes advantage of them and gives your team more flexibility for getting in front of you with time sensitive questions and issues.

At work, it’s easy to forget that your time is a valuable asset to be protected and managed. When Managers begin to value their time differently, their teams typically follow suit, resulting in a better experience for everyone.

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