Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

19 Managing the Manager’s Time

The final topics under Building a World Class Organization are Managing the Manager’s Time and Helping the Workers Manage Their Time. I’ll discuss managing your time in this lecture and how to help your workers manage their time in the next three lectures. Points discussed in this lecture include:
        Schedule time by the week
       Keeps precious  time from “melting”
        Have an open door policy and accept time wasters gracefully to maintain good personal relations
        Accept the reality of daily crises
        Be effective with people; efficient  with things
        Use lunch hours for formal and informal communications with staff
There are many systems for managing time and you must select one that works for you. I like one recommended by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In simple form it involves allocating time to your job and to your personal life. Your job should have six to eight objectives for both the long and short term at any given time. Having more limits the time available for each objective so that it takes a long time to accomplish the objectives. Therefore it is better to limit the number of objectives to six to eight so that they can be accomplished effectively before adding new objectives. There are three parts to your life; physical, mental and spiritual. This means allocating time to keep yourself physically, mentally and spiritually healthy so that you are able to be effective in your work; and with your family and friends. In the mental part you must allocate time for learning in order to keep up with technology and your career ambitions and time for hobbies or other mental recreation. It is important to take the time to write down your objectives for your job and your life and develop plans. These plans don’t have to be detailed written plans but you should think about what is necessary to achieve your objectives.

Personal Observations about Work and Work Hours

This is a good point to insert some observations about work from my decades of management experience. The number of hours spent each week on work depends on three factors. These are the culture of the enterprise, the business environment at any specific time and the choice of the worker. Some organizations have a culture of working 60 or more hour weeks and workers that don’t put in those hours are looked down upon. The culture in other organizations admires those who work just the scheduled 40 hours and of course there are cultures that expect between 40 and 60 hours. Similarly there are times in any organization when critical deadlines impose the need for long hours for a few days or even weeks and other times when work can be easily accomplished in normal work hours. Even without such cultural or business environment constraints there is a distribution of typical work hours among workers. Some want to work excessive hours and others want to work just the minimum required. For this discussion I want to ignore the first two factors and consider the factor that is the clear choice of the worker most of the time.
There is an optimum amount of work time per week for each worker. For some it may be just 40 hours and for others it may be 60 or more hours. Working more or less than your personal optimum isn’t effective in the long term because you can’t be as effective in either your work or your non-work life. Those who become “workaholics” voluntarily usually don’t accomplish any more in their long hours on the job than other workers accomplish in their optimum times, even if their optimum is only 40 hours. This is because workaholics often don’t work effectively. They get involved in unimportant tasks, they often spend too much time in social activities and they lose creativity due to lack of involvement in activities outside of work. Workaholics thinks they are helping the enterprise or their career or both when in fact they are not; except in those deviant cultures that prize excessive work hours.
Now to explain what I mean by an optimum number of work hours for a person. Each of us has different obligations in our life outside the job. Each of us has different needs for recreation and relaxation. Individuals with few outside obligations and low need for recreation and relaxation can work more hours effectively than an individual with many outside obligations and high need for recreation and relaxation. To be effective in our work we must have a balance between our work and other activities. Working more than our personal optimum for protracted times isn’t effective because our mind is on our failing to meet obligations and personal needs rather than on our work.
It is important to remember that work isn’t the most important thing in our lives. I have observed several people that made work more important than necessary. Then comes the time when they are faced with a family crisis or get a health scare, e.g. chest pains while on a business trip. When faced with their mortality they change their priorities. Suddenly their families are the most important thing in their life and work is relegated to second place or lower. Don’t let that happen to you. That is what I mean by having a balanced life. The relative unimportance of work, compared to our families, is easy to understand near the end of or after our working life. It’s much harder to understand when we are young. However, young people do see older people that have led an unbalanced life and suffered the consequences. Use these examples to remind yourself to maintain a balanced life.

Scheduling Time by the Week

After completing the definition of your objectives and thinking through plans to achieve them you are ready to schedule your time. It is very important to schedule a whole week at a time. The reason is that you cannot work on six to eight objectives in one or even two days, but you can over a whole week. There are too many uncertainties in life and jobs to schedule longer than a week without rescheduling every week so just do one week. Pick a time each week when you can be alone for 20-30 minutes and make this your scheduling time. Early Sunday evening after dinner is a good time for me. If I try to develop a schedule on Friday evening after work my mind is filled with minutia resulting from the weeks crises that seem important at that time. Scheduling such minutia pushes off work on more important but seeming less time critical objectives. By Sunday evening most of this minutia has receded in apparent importance and I can better focus on things that contribute to achieving my objectives.
Select a format for your schedule that suits your taste. I prefer a single sheet of paper for each week’s schedule. The format isn’t important but I find it easier when I can see all the hours of a week at one time along with my lists of objectives and tasks for the week. I make up a form using a spreadsheet and prepare copies of the blank form. You may prefer a printed calendar or a software schedule on a personal computer or personal digital assistant. The key is to allocate some time to each important task you have for the week. Allocate the tasks for the week by one or two hour chunks and leave several unscheduled hours each day during work time. This unscheduled time is necessary to fight daily fires and to go back and complete tasks that were interrupted by firefighting or other unanticipated events.
A planned and recorded schedule works if you discipline yourself to stick to your schedule and work the task assigned for each period. You will find that this discipline results in getting significant amounts of work done on major objectives in the one or two hour chunks of scheduled time. The biggest benefit is that it helps prevent you from filling in your time with displacement activities. Without the discipline of following your weekly schedule you tend to fill your time with what Stephen Covey calls urgent but not important tasks. With the weekly schedule you are more likely to work the important but not necessarily urgent tasks. As a result, at the end of the week you have accomplished a number of important tasks that contribute to your objectives whereas without the schedule the week is filled with the urgent but not important tasks and very little that is important is accomplished. Think of your weekly schedule as a refrigerator that keeps your precious time from “melting away”, i.e. being wasted in doing urgent but not important tasks.

Open Door Policy

Having an open door policy is important at all levels of management. For first and second level mangers it means being open to interruptions by any of the people working under you as well as your peer managers and superiors. If you are more senior then you need a gatekeeper that will filter those allowed to interrupt you but you should allow interruptions by all of your direct reports, your peer level managers and of course by your superiors. The reason it’s necessary is that if you don’t maintain an open door you are not likely to hear all of the information you need. You are at the mercy of the “chosen ones” who are allowed to interrupt, thereby filtering what you hear. (I’ll address how to use vertical staff meetings to obtain unfiltered information from levels below your direct reports in the lecture on meetings.) Having an open door means that you will be interrupted with trivial matters from time to time. Accept these time wasters gracefully as the price for maintaining good communications and good relations with others in the enterprise. If someone abuses your open door, i.e. takes your time to discuss non work related items; then say you have a deadline and suggest continuing the discussion over lunch or after work.

Make Sure You Are Effective With People

Don’t become a slave to a rigid schedule. You must accept the reality that there are daily crises that require your attention. That is why you leave unscheduled blocks of time in your schedule. Attend to the crises when they arise and then go back to your schedule and use the unscheduled periods to catch up. When you are dealing with a person make sure the time you spend is effective and spend the time necessary to be effective. Don’t rush through a conversation so that you can get back to what you have on your schedule; otherwise you won’t achieve effective communication and will waste the time spent.
Learn to Be Efficient With Other Tasks
Learning how to work with a good secretary or administrative assistant is essential to being an efficient and effective manager. When I started working there were no personal computers; secretaries were numerous, available to all and used by all knowledge workers because the secretaries had the typewriters. By the time workers became managers they had usually learned how to work effectively with secretaries. This is no longer true due to the introduction of personal computers, which has led to fewer and fewer secretaries and less opportunity for workers to learn how to work with them effectively. I now see vice presidents that haven’t a clue to how to work effectively with their secretaries and are either too arrogant or ashamed to ask the secretary or other managers for advice.
I have had the pleasure of working with some outstanding secretaries and I know that they at least doubled my effectiveness. Not all secretaries are good at everything and manager’s needs vary. For example, in my case I could cope with secretaries that were not expert at filing, although it was great when they had that skill. The skills I sought most, and needed most, were the ability to take care of administrative work independently and to keep in tune with the organization’s grapevine.  As a technical person I focused on business issues and would have missed important personnel issues without having a secretary that alerted me to people issues that needed my attention. Let me relate two examples of how a good secretary can improve a manager’s effectiveness.
For several years I was general manager of a company in a small town and it was necessary for me to spend at least 5% of my time involved in civic activities on top of the demands of running a difficult business. I was fortunate to have a secretary that was outstanding at administrative work as well as having good secretarial skills and being in tune with everything that went on in the company. This was before email was widespread so there was a lot of paperwork traffic. My secretary prescreened all paperwork; eliminated junk stuff, handled the easy stuff herself and came to me for 15 minutes each morning with the small amount that she couldn’t handle. She came in with everything sorted; some for my signature, some for questions and some she wasn’t sure what to do with. She summarized each item, often giving her recommendation or telling me what questions she had about the item. I only needed to give her quick verbal instructions on most remaining items. Typically there were only one or two items daily that I had to handle in detail myself. She saved me more than enough time every day to cover the civic activities I was involved with.
At another company managers were required to send a weekly report up the management chain that was distilled by senior managers and eventually went to the corporate offices. Every manager at the division level and below knew these reports were useless but our pleas to drop the requirement for them were rejected. My solution was to select a secretary that could write them without my help. In eight years I didn’t write a single one. I read, edited and signed the reports my secretary wrote and there was never a problem. This skilled secretary saved me roughly an hour a week; precious time for a manager.
I had learned in my first management job that, although widely used, written weekly reports are a useless communication tool and therefore I quit spending precious time on them. If I needed to communicate something to my superiors I did it face to face or during meetings so that I was sure my concerns were heard and understood. Don’t require weekly reports from your workers if you have a choice. Walk around and talk to them to find out what is going on. This takes no more of your time, a lot less of their time and is more effective for understanding what is really happening compared to reading sugar coated reports.
If you are fortunate enough to have a secretary or access to a secretary please learn how to dictate to them, if they know shorthand, and to electronic dictation equipment. I have timed my work and found that it is three times faster to outline and dictate something than it is for me to write it out or type it. Just as important I can dictate things while driving to and from work or at home if I think of something I forgot that is critical for the next day. Today I see many managers doing their own typing and spending hours at a keyboard. This isn’t fun and it isn’t effective. Learn how to offload such work to a secretary and it will make you much more effective. There is a more in depth discussion of the benefits and trade-offs of dictation in the next lecture. Here I want to make the point that managers must learn how to effectively use secretaries to become more effective and if they expect their staff to follow their lead.
Many of us need the time allocated for lunch not only to eat but to wind down from the morning and regenerate our energy for the afternoon. However, we don’t have to spend every lunch period unwinding or socializing. Spending a couple of lunch periods a week on some formal or informal communications tasks is well worth while. Examples include “all hands” meetings for your organization. Lunch hour is about the only time you can expect to have your entire organization available to listen to you or to each other on topics of interest to all. The cost of providing lunch for the group of workers is a good investment for having their attention for important communications.
You can also use lunches to catch up with what individuals are doing in their jobs. It’s much more effective to discuss job performance during an informal lunch than it is across your desk. In informal lunch sessions with subordinates it is easy to focus the discussion on their tasks, processes associated with their tasks and the system encompassing the work. Such discussions are more effective in evaluating the subordinates’ work than a formal review in your office and they certainly are more pleasant for you and the subordinates. In a formal review both individuals are tense and guarded so truly open and honest communication rarely takes place. An exception is formal discipline of an individual, which should always be discussed in your office or other private setting.


1.     Write down your objectives for your job and your life outside of the job remembering to include both long and short term job objectives, the physical, mental and spiritual parts of your life and your relationship with family and friends. You may want to spend a day or two doing this and if possible do it while on a long weekend or even on vacation. You can think more objectively about your life when away from your normal surroundings and work environment.
2.     Think through plans to achieve the objectives listed under number 1.
3.     Identify tasks that you should work on over the next week that will begin to implement your plans and contribute to achieving your objectives
4.     Decide on a format for a weekly schedule and prepare a schedule for the next seven days
5.     Begin to follow your weekly schedule starting the next morning when you report to work.
Maintain the discipline of scheduling your time by the week for at least a month and then evaluate whether it is helping you achieve your objectives. You may find that your planning works well or you may need to adjust the planning depending on how well your schedules have worked for you.

If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
or hard copy or E-book at:


  1. Hmm it seems like your website ate my first comment
    (it was super long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I had written and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I'm still new to everything. Do you have any tips and hints for newbie blog writers? I'd certainly
    appreciate it.

    Also visit my webpage :: dehumidifiers