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Time Management Is Not About Checklists and Quadrants—It's About Your Boss

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Email, instant messages, constant interruptions. Even with the best time-management training, most people find themselves drinking from a firehose and trying not to drown. Vince Thompson suggests that solving this problem once and for all is less about managing your Outlook and more about managing your boss.
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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 the trainer will spend lots of time showing you how to analyze your calendar, log your time spent in activities, plan your workweek, etc. And at such a seminar, you’ll likely realize that you do indeed spend too much time on email, on the phone, and on urgent activities (firefighting). So 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 place on the treadmill.

Why does this happen? Because no matter what your actual job is, you likely tend to do those 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 email messages within 15 minutes or to be available via instant messaging. Your boss expects you to pick up the phone when needed and to help senior management deal with last-minute emergencies. Very often, these expectations come before the important tasks you need to perform. And while communication and helping senior management is important, if you’re truly going to have the time to spend on tasks that move the company forward, you need to gain more power over your schedule and apply it to your day.

Manage Your Manager, Not Your Time

Rather than reel with interruption after interruption, you need to have a conversation with your boss about the various activities that you’re expected to do. The purpose of this dialogue is for both of you to reach agreement on what constitutes success. Then, you must constantly manage expectations.

In order to take back your time, your life, and your career, you need to step into the realm of managing your manager, thereby altering his or her expectations related to your time. The goal is to achieve complete alignment between what your boss wants (and perhaps needs) you to do, and what you believe you really should do. Now let’s talk about how you do it.

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