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Managing Your Boss’s Expectations By Managing Your Own Time

Supervisors know that it’s often difficult to manage the expectations of their employees, but it is twice as hard to manage expectations that come from their bosses.

Supervisors will tell you that they could be much more effective in their job if they just had more of a chance to DO the job.  Instead, work hours are hijacked by meetings and administrative trivia, which leaves little time to make progress on actual work.  Supervisors must learn to manage what I call time sucking people and activities—even when those time suckers come from their boss.

Let’s face it: managers want supervisors to succeed, if for no other reason than that the success also makes the manager look good.  But managers are also getting squeezed by the expectations of THEIR bosses. As the demands for reports, projects, updates and meetings pile up, a manager may lose track of the workload being juggled by the people who report to him.

Supervisors, then, must be the ones who firmly command control of their time and know when to (respectfully) tell their manager “no” when asked to take on a new project.  Here are three essential tips for getting the job done.

1. Focus on your priorities.  We often operate in a constant state of crisis, but jumping to put out every little fire can ultimately steer you off track of the main goal.  If you find yourself overloaded with work, the first step is to revisit your priorities.  This may require a conversation with your boss for more clarification about what tasks are the most critical for your job or at that time.   We also tend to think that every aspect of a job is essential, but really, what is the downside of a particular task not getting done?  Will employees not get paychecks?  If so, then handling payroll is indeed an essential task.  On the other hand, if not attending a meeting only means that your department is not represented, that might not be the end of the world.

2. Create time to fulfill those priorities.  Instead of reacting to every email or phone call that comes through, set aside time to work uninterrupted on projects that require creativity, concentration or problem solving.   Take your work outside, take your laptop to Starbucks or reserve an empty conference room so you can get away from the usual office distractions.

3. Guard that time carefully.  After you make time to work on your higher-level assignments, protect that time carefully.  Question whether you really need to be at a weekly meeting or if your time is better spent working.    When your boss brings you a new assignment, work with her to prioritize.  You’re currently working on Project A.  Does this new project take priority, or should it wait?  Which project most closely supports your critical purpose or the company’s mission?  Defining this helps both you and your boss recognize what’s most critical.  Remember: work may be unlimited, but your time and energy are finite.  It is important to get your best work done on the work that matters most.

While the idea of taking firm control of your time—even to the extent of telling your boss “no”—is challenging, supervisors who do it correctly and for the right reasons will ultimately gain the respect of upper management and have a much better chance of succeeding in their careers.


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