4 Big Productivity Traps for Managers

Dec 22, 2015
6 Min Read

If you’re a manager, you probably struggle mightily with time management; it’s pretty common for managers to feel like there are more demands on their time than time to meet them. But what if you’re inadvertently making choices that are undoing your best time management efforts?

Some common managerial practices can look like the right choices on the surface, but in actuality will become time sucks without much impact. See if you recognize yourself in any of these four big productivity traps for managers.

1. Using one-on-ones primarily for status updates. If your check-in meetings with staff consist mainly of the person running down a list of projects and their status (which probably often is just “everything’s going well”), it’s time to give these meetings a makeover. You’ll make far better use of this time if you use it to give feedback, debrief recent work, balance priorities, and provide a “one level up” perspective.

2. Sitting in meetings that you don’t really need to be in. Ever feel like you spend half your working life sitting in meetings? Lots of people, especially managers, feel this way, but hardly ever do they proactively take steps to excuse themselves. If you find yourself in meetings where your input isn’t often particularly valuable, why not consider whether you need to attend at all? Is there someone else from your team who could go in your place (and who might actually see it as professional growth to get to represent you, their manager, there)? Can you attend less frequently, like every other time or every third time? Can you back out entirely? Ask someone to send you notes afterwards? In many contexts, it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “I’m swamped right now and trying to carve out more room in my schedule. Let’s try these without me for a while and see how they go.”

3. Allowing constant interruptions to have their way with your schedule. If your work and focus are regularly thrown off by people dropping by with questions and updates, you probably find that it’s tough to tend to your own priorities. You of course don’t want to become inaccessible to your staff, but that doesn’t mean that you should field any interruption at any time. For your most important work, consider scheduling work blocks where people know not to interrupt you, and don’t be afraid to say, “I’m in a work block right now, so can we talk later?” or  “I’m on a deadline so I’d love to save that for our check-in tomorrow unless it’s urgent.” You also might need to give your team clearer guidance on when to interrupt you, what to save for a regular check-in, and what they’re authorized to handle themselves.

4. Not delegating real ownership. Sometimes managers use their team members as “helpers” who assist them in carrying out tasks, rather than giving them real ownership over big chunks of work. This leaves the manager having to do all the work of deciding what needs to be done, coming up with a plan, assigning the work, fielding unexpected developments and assigning someone to handle those, and generally carrying all the emotional weight of ensuring work is successful. It also tends to leave team members feeling under-utilized and unfulfilled. But if you instead assign more meaningful roles, ones that are responsible for broad responsibilities and – most importantly – outcomes rather than just activities, you can transfer much of that to your team and stop needing to identify and delegate every piece of work that comes up.

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