How Can I Help My Busy, Over-Scheduled Manager?

Mar 26, 2015
6 Min Read

A reader asks:

How do you put order and structure to a boss’s calendar that is out of control with constant meetings and no time to get any work done? Due to downsizing, my manager oversees three departments now instead of just one. My boss has meetings on top of meetings on top of meetings, many of which he requests. I manage his schedule and I block off “Office Time” on his calendar, but those times only get bumped for more meetings. I simply must help him take control of his work days, but can’t figure out where to start. Help!

First and foremost, you and your boss need to get on the same page about how he wants to use his time. You both need clarity about what trade-offs to make in his schedule. For example, it’s possible that those meetings that are bumping his work blocks truly are more important than the work that he’d previously scheduled for those periods. Or the work that’s getting bumped might matter more than those meetings; if he’s like many people in this situation, he might be letting meeting invites trump more pressing work without really thinking through what he’s doing. Regardless of which it is, the key for you both is to get clear on the facts that (a) there isn’t enough time in his day to do everything, so (b) that means that he needs to make strategic decisions about what he’s not going to spend time on, and (c) those decisions then need to be protected in his calendar.

Keep in mind that at its core, good time management is about clarity about what the person is there to accomplish and what matters must. And people with lots of demands on their time need to pick and choose what they will and won’t do. When people refuse to make those decisions, often because they aren’t being honest with themselves about the fact they can’t do it all, they still end up not doing it all — but since they're not making deliberate decisions about what not to do, they instead end up letting those undone items get picked by default. Point out to your boss that if some things aren’t going to get done, it’s far better to choose those things strategically, not just wait to see what’s undone at the end of the week.

From there, be rigorous about discussing trade-offs with your boss when meetings and other items threaten to bump other important work off his calendar. Be ready to say to him, “If you attend this meeting, you won’t have time left this week to work on X, and you wanted that completed by Friday.” However, it’s key that you not say this in a judgmental or scolding tone. Your boss should make whatever decisions about his calendar he chooses; look at your role as simply keeping him informed of the trade-offs and consequences on the rest of his schedule.

Also, if you see that your boss is having real trouble carving out time for work that must happen, bring that up proactively. For example: “I know you’re having trouble finding time for the X project and the deadline is looming. Would you like me to cancel the Y meeting and push back the Z project to clear some time tomorrow for you?”

But ultimately, your boss may need to do some soul-searching about where his time will have the most impact. You can nudge him in that direction, but that final step may need to come from him.

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