How managers can make more time to… manage

Ask three questions to determine how to best use office time

According to Butch Ward, a senior faculty member and former managing director at the Poynter Institute, many of his fellow managers have recently told him they're frustrated by how busy they are. They worry that "being stretched so thin is killing their effectiveness." He encourages managers in this situation to assess their workload to prioritize responsibilities that "have the most impact."

Ward offers three questions managers should ask themselves to determine if they are using their time effectively:

1. What tasks can only I do?

Identify the work that "simply put, does not get done if you don't do it." Once you figure out what those tasks are, then you will better understand where your attention should be directed.

Finding these tasks helps clarify your priorities, Ward says. "The choice is not about whether you need to do it, but how you will get it done."

2. Does my work have any long-term impact?

Citing Stephen Covey, Ward says that managers tend to spend most of their time doing "urgent and important" tasks that deal with short-term goals. However, Covey argued that the best managers also find time for "important but not urgent" tasks, such as planning, coaching, brainstorming, and offering feedback. Activities like these will pay off in the long run by helping employees perform better in the future. 

3. Can I delegate this work to someone else?

Asking for help with a task may seem simple enough, but, as Ward notes, people are often "reluctant" to delegate because they "feel guilty" that they are asking their employees to do more work.

However, he says that "[d]elegation is not a dirty word—as long as you replace what you're delegating with work that moves the organization forward."

Employees often tell Ward that they wish they could help their overburdened bosses more. Furthermore, people often appreciate the opportunity to take on more complex responsibilities and prove they can handle challenges (Ward, Poynter, 1/25).


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