The idea of spending time “on” and “in” your IT department is best described using the example of a small one-person consulting firm specializing in management consulting. Like most small companies, the owner, has two primary responsibilities; first, generating revenue by doing hands-on consulting and second, trying, to find future consulting assignments. The problem is that if you try to maximize your revenue by spending all your time working on your current client, when your consulting engagement ends, you don’t have your next client lined up. Alternatively, if you spend too much time marketing, you run the danger of not properly servicing your current client and/or reducing your billability.
Department managers have a similar dilemma. That is to say, if you spend too much time ”In” your department working on tasks performed within the department, you don’t have time to properly manage your staff and/or perform manager-level tasks such as salary planning and budgeting. Alternatively, if you spend too much time “on” your department, performing general management functions, then you run the risk of not properly managing your staff.
One of the hardest things for self-employed consultants and first-line managers is to properly divide their time between these two types of activities. This phenomenon is doubly true if the manager is in a player/coach type role where he/she officially has both managerial and individual contributor type responsibilities.
Some of the reasons that this balance is hard to achieve are:
- The pressure to complete department tasks on time and under budget prevents you from performing required administrative processes.
- It’s more fun and personally gratifying to perform the tasks you like best (management or task oriented) and ignore other important tasks.
- It takes great discipline to go outside your comfort zone and work on items that you know should be done, but are afraid you can’t do properly and/or are intimidated with the task in general.
- If you are a procrastinator by nature, it can be easy to delay work on managerial processes, such as writing performance reviews, particularly, if you have more interesting tasks to keep you busy. Then, you wake up one morning and realize that it’s virtually impossible to get them all written in time to meet the required deadline.
Even under the best of circumstances, properly dividing your time between responsibilities can be extremely difficult, as anyone knows who has ever been in a professional role where you were 50% allocated to one task and 50% allocated to another. Unless you are very good and/or very lucky one of the tasks takes a back seat to the other or you find that you end up having two jobs, seemingly 100% allocated to each.
All that said, as a first-line IT Manager or to anyone who has both supervisory and individual contributor type responsibilities, the following time management tips can help you manage your day.
- General manager-related activities, such as writing performance reviews and budgeting, are generally scheduled months in advance. Put them on your calendar as soon as possible, even if they are months away.
- Place meetings on your schedule for just you. These “me-only” meetings have two advantages. First, they build time into your day to get your important but not immediately required tasks done in a reasonable timeframe. Second, if an important issue arises, you will have a little flexibility in your schedule by converting your “me-only” meetings to other activities.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. One great thing about being a manager is that part of your job is to tell other people to do things. If you are overwhelmed with the quantity of work put on your shoulders, hand off some of it to the people in your team.
- Prioritize your work and the work done by your department. As the expression goes, you can only fit one gallon of milk in a one gallon bottle. No matter how hard you work or how hard you push your team, there is only so much time and effort that can be expended. Proper prioritization will allow you to get the most important items completed and still hopefully provide a reasonable work/life balance for you and your team.
- Work smart, not just hard. Look for tasks performed by you and your department that could be done more efficiently, or potentially not at all. Removing tasks from your plate provides you with more time to do other things. Removing and/or streamlining tasks performed by your team lightens their work load, thus providing you with additional opportunities to delegate your work to your team.
In closing, properly managing your time is not a panacea that will miraculously give you all the time you need to properly perform all your “on-department” and “in-department” tasks, but it can surely help.
Until next time, lead well, always communicate, and think business first and technology second.