Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Time Management

Today's feature article is from Vince Thompson, and brought to you by I cannot reiterate enough how great a resource TheLadders is, so please take a few minutes and click on the link on the right side of the blog and take a look at their site. You'll be impressed with all the resources and tools they provide - but now on to the article.

Time Management: It's About Your Boss!By Vince Thompson

For years, we’ve heard that time management is about quadrants, action items, and prioritizing tasks. In fact, go to just about any time management seminar, and I can pretty much guarantee that the trainer will spend a lot of time showing you how to analyze your calendar, log your time spent in activities, plan your workweek, etc. You'll likely realize that you do indeed spend too much time on e–mail, on the phone, and on seemingly urgent activities.

Initially, you’ll plan your calendar better, define your activities in quadrants, and prioritize your workload. But then the trainer leaves, and within a week you fall right back into your old habits.
Why does this happen? Because no matter what your actual job is, you likely end up doing the things that you think your boss expects you to do. So, even though an important part of your job may be to write business plans, you know that your boss also expects you to answer her emails within 15 minutes or to be available on Instant Messenger. Very often, these expectations come before the important tasks you need to do. While communication is important, if you’re truly going to have the time to spend on tasks that move the company forward, then you need to gain more power over your schedule and apply it to your day.

Have a conversation with your boss about the various activities you are expected to do, and reach an agreement about what defines success. From here, it’s your responsibility to constantly manage expectations.

Manage Your Manager, Not Your Time

To take back your time, your life, and your career, you need to step into the realm of managing your manager to alter their expectations related to your time. The goal is to achieve complete alignment between what your boss wants and needs you to do, and what you believe you really should do.

Here's how you do it:

1. Analyze your bosses’ needs

You need to know what your boss expects of himself and what your boss's boss expects of him. What goals do your bosses have? What can you do to help them be more successful?
Unfortunately, a lot of people in business assume that "meeting the boss’s needs" means doing exactly what the boss wants them to do – – accepting the boss’s vision and direction wholesale. Wrong! This assumption sets the stage for meeting the status quo rather than meeting the needs that’ll actually make a difference.

2. Adopt a Management Value Added mindset

One way to start using the concept of Management Value Added (MVA) to figure out the ways you can provide the most value to your company is by sitting down with your boss to discuss his or her needs. Then ask your boss, "How do you feel I can add the most value?" If your boss responds, "Huh?" you can flesh out the question with additional questions like these:
"What are the activities I’m engaged in where I contribute the most?"
"What are the activities that you and the company most need me to do?"
"What do you consider to be the best and most productive use of my time?"
"What do you think is the special contribution that I am best positioned to offer to you and the company?"
"Of all the things that I’m engaged in on behalf of this company, what are the three areas where you believe that I can contribute the most?"

Listen carefully to your boss’s answers. Using them as a guide, you can begin to understand exactly how your boss views your contributions. It’s likely that the way he or she measures your value is different from the way you might measure it.

3. Implement what you learn

You can use the information your boss shares with you to help you determine how to spend your time, which projects to support, and which meetings to attend.

For example, if your boss replies that your most important areas of contribution are your ability to guide talent, build capacity; and stay close to the customers, then before committing to any new activity, you can ask yourself, "Will this activity help me achieve my priorities? Will it help me put the right people in the right jobs? Will it help me build capability? Will it help me know and connect with our customers?" If the answer is no, avoid the activity – – even if it sounds otherwise interesting, appealing, or fun.

Abiding by the MVA concept helps you maintain a focus on the things that matter while earning the support of those you serve. Then, when your boss or someone else in the organization asks you to commit time or energy to an area that falls outside of the MVA priorities you’ve established, you can talk to your boss about how the new commitment may affect your main goals and reach a joint decision as to whether a shift in priorities is warranted. Each time you and your boss are out of alignment, you have an opportunity to further understand your boss’s needs and goals.

Manage Your Future for Success

When you follow this process and gain agreement, you’ll have a clearer understanding of where your focus should be each day. With clear focus comes a renewed sense of purpose, because you're now spending your time on what truly matters – – both to you and to your boss. And when everyone’s needs are being met in a way that supports the company’s vision, the result is a more productive and happier work environment.

Vince Thompson is a Manager. Over the course of his career he has spent 15 years leading teams in a variety of hotbeds for learning: First in restaurants, then in television stations then for seven years as Regional Vice President of Sales for America Online. He is the author of Ignited: Managers, Light up Your Career for More Power, More Purpose, and More Success.

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