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Boss Time Management

How to protect your time!

Boss Time Management

How to protect your time!

Boss time management – what can you do to help manage your boss’s time? And what can happen if you don’t!

In our previous articles on time management we’ve considered different approaches to managing time. These suggested that it’s our use of time, rather than time itself that we need to manage. Crucially, as managers we need to consider the most productive way to use our time.

One important way to improve our own use of time is to think about boss time management. This is not simply about buying your boss a book on better time management. If you dared! It’s a way of doing two things:

  • Helping your boss to be more effective
  • Helping you to better control “boss-imposed” time, and its impact on your ability to manage your own time.
What is Boss Time Management?

In Manage Your Boss we talked about strategies for managing up. One of these is trying to manage the way your boss uses your time. Engaging in this type of activity will ensure your boss’s expectations of how you manage your own time are realistic, understood and agreed. It’s generally accepted that managers are subject to demands on their time from four perspectives:

  • System imposed demands
  • Subordinate imposed demands
  • Self-imposed demands
  • Boss-imposed demands

Unless managers are careful and disciplined, critical self-imposed time can be almost completely eroded by demands from others in the organisation. Potentially, the most important of these is the boss. In addition to being well placed to influence demands on your time from subordinates and the system, your boss can impact on your time in two ways.

Boss time management

Direct action, such as requesting reports or attendance at a meeting, is a legitimate demand on your time. However, your boss can place extra demands on your time through indirect action. If you have a boss with poor organisational skills, the impact of unproductive meetings, last minute demands for support, or frequent fire-fighting activity may fall largely on you.

A boss with poor time management skills will almost undoubtedly affect your own efficiency. Therefore boss time management is about trying to manage the impact your boss has on the way you manage your own time.

The Key To Boss Time Management? Know Your Boss!

Your manager has the power to change how you use your time, either in a planned or random manner. The key to managing this is in understanding your boss. Vince Thompson offers some clues about how to do this in: Time Management Is Not About Checklists and Quadrants—It’s About Your Boss. Thompson suggests effectively “managing upward” requires “serious and subtle analysis of human needs.” Your boss’s needs, to be precise! Of course, you’d also be well advised to think about how others in the management hierarchy impact on your boss. Your boss’s relationship with his or her line managers will undoubtedly impact on you, in one way or another.

Your boss will have many needs, and these will probably impose on your time. These needs may be explicit or implicit. Explicit needs are easy to identify, being the obvious requirements of policies, published plans, operating procedures, etc. Your attendance at routine meetings, or contributions to reports are examples of ways in which you’ll be expected to support your boss’s explicit needs. These are generally predictable and therefore relatively easily managed.

However your boss will also have implicit needs. These may be much more difficult to identify and understand. As Thompson pointedly states:

“People usually don’t talk about them. Sometimes they’re not even aware of them. Most of the time, people would deny their implicit needs if confronted with them.”

Implicit needs may drive hidden ambitions. These may result in demands for extra effort from you, as your boss seeks support in earning promotion or recognition. They may also explain the defensive or risk-averse behaviour of a boss lacking confidence in their own position. Indecisiveness or lack of focus can also result in extra demands on you.

Even routine meetings can be wasteful of time when allowed to ramble, or to end without focused action points. The subjective nature of implicit needs means they are often expressed spontaneously or emotionally. These needs could easily result in random, unscheduled demands on your time.

In essence, it’s important that you spend time building a relationship, trying to improve your understanding of what makes your boss “tick”. This may not be easy, and in some cases almost impossible. Nonetheless, analysing how your boss operates, and trying to understand why, is a critical activity for boss time management. Achieving this will help you better manage the impact those (often time-related) needs have on your own effectiveness.

Managing Your Time With Your Boss

There are several strategies for dealing with your boss’s needs. Explicit needs can be dealt with by meeting your boss to identify and prioritise obvious tasks. Vince Thompson recommends that before making any decision about how you’ll spend your time and energy, you should use the Management Value Added approach (MVA). Ask: “what value does management add?” This will ensure your roles and planned use of time are properly discussed and agreed with your boss, either in advance or routinely.

Dealing with your boss’s implicit needs may not be as straightforward. Perhaps the best way to do this is to develop your professional relationship. To build this relationship you’ll need to learn more about your boss’s goals, strengths, weaknesses, and preferred working methods. See our article “managing your boss” for more on this. The key to this, and to good boss time management, is that you try to manage time spent with your boss as effectively as possible. Here are some tips for making the most of time with your boss:

  • Meetings with your boss should be regular, planned ahead, structured and free from distractions.
  • Try to be proactive, looking ahead to pre-empt any unforeseen demands on your time from your boss.
  • Offer solutions. Try not to come with problems. Offer to help.
  • Don’t waste your manager’s time with relatively trivial matters.
  • Present information in the way your boss prefers. Does your boss prefer to read things before a meeting? Is she better at listening and talking things through when you meet? Find the best way of ensuring your boss’s time with you is effective.
  • Seek you boss’s help to deal with other types of imposed time. Dealing with excessive system imposed demands, or supporting your actions over subordinate issues.
  • Use the MVA approach to ascertain best value activities and your input into these. Identifying, prioritising and committing to pre-planned objectives can help to deflect unwanted intrusions on your time.
Managing Your Boss’s Time With You

One of the most difficult aspects of boss time management arises when bosses don’t effectively manage their own time. This can put you under unnecessary pressure. Work passed to you unexpectedly, with urgent deadlines, will probably need to be done in addition to your existing workload. While this is sometimes unavoidable, constant interruptions caused by poor boss time management, means both you and your boss will be working inefficiently.

One specific, common problem is when your boss manages meetings poorly. Unnecessary meetings, or those which do not run to firm, timed, actionable agendas are wasteful for you, your boss and any other attendees. The solution is to try being positive and proactive. Request regular meetings with your boss. Asking questions provides the basis on which you can better help your boss. Discuss upcoming activities which will need resolving. Don’t assume that your boss is as well informed as you. Use other networks you have in the organisation for early warnings of activities or decisions likely to impact on your work. Raise these with your boss and offer some suggested solutions. This will allow you to plan ahead and ensure you are both as efficient as possible.

So what other things can you do, and what do you need to watch out for?

  • Communicate with your boss. Politely make it clear what impact her time management style is having on your efficiency, and thus of hers.
  • Be positive and proactive. Point out that effective boss time management is the best way to meet her own needs.
  • Make sure your own time is fully accounted for. Ensure you can quickly and objectively consider the likely impact of any new demands on your time.
  • Don’t say yes to everything your boss asks you to do, negotiate!
  • Ask your boss to prioritise when she gives you a list of tasks.
  • Remind her of any previous agreements such as an MVA meeting.
  • Make your boss aware of the consequences if she tries to overload you. “Yes I could get that done by then, but that would delay this…”
  • When asked to do something, find out details and then say that you’ll get back to her. Then:
    • Work out what the job involves;
    • Find out who else could be involved;
    • Go back with an answer “here’s what I can do”.
  • Tell your boss when you’re reaching saturation point.
  • Suggest meetings are more carefully justified and managed. Try using a whiteboard to list the agenda and action points as they arise. Enlist the help of colleagues to support efforts to keep meetings short and effective. Suggest a standing meeting.
Boss Time Management – It’s Worth The Effort

Managing Time and PriorityThese are only suggestions, and each boss and each circumstance must be taken individually. However the value of effective time management, for you and your boss, is worth the effort and maybe even some risk.

There’s a wide range of time management resources in our store, including some great tools. Our e-guide: Managing Time and Priority is is packed with practical tools, tested ideas and a dash of radical thinking. It will will help you master two critical skills: managing time and priority. The guide will help you to:

  • Assess your time priorities and manage your actions.
  • Develop coping strategies to avoid the limitations of “busyness”.
  • Manage the impact of other people’s demands on your time.
  • Develop approaches to “getting things done”.
  • Apply practical tools to managing priorities and time, to get the right things done.
  • Help others to manage their time.

Tool 1: Commitments summary
Tool 2: Time log
Tool 3:Time analysis
Tool 4: Time planning with task filters
Tool 5: Task priorities

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