Last Sunday wasn’t my own. I’m part of a pursuit team, and we had to rehearse face-to-face to prepare for Monday morning’s presentation.
For me, giving up a Sunday for my employer is an unusual event. For many present-day CIOs and IT managers it’s a way of life.
Does it have to be this way?
The answer is predictable: It depends.
But even though it depends, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t depend all that much.
What’s out of your control is your company’s management culture. If weekend hours are a cultural compulsion you had better leave a trail of obvious I-was-paying-attention-to-business bread crumbs behind, complemented by regular in-person appearances. The alternative is to be told you just don’t have the work ethic (don’t get me started) to be part of the team.
That leaves the other side of the it-depends dividing line: When there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get all the work done that needs doing … not occasionally when a crunch hits, but because that’s the nature of the job.
In my experience, there are just a few reasons days don’t have enough hours, most of which are under a manager’s control. Some of the biggies:
Failing to delegate
When a manager has too much work, he/she probably hasn’t given enough of it away.
Don’t you wish you were paid to have brilliant insights like that?
The delegate-more advice does come with a few caveats (you’ll find them, and more, in Leading IT: <Still> the Toughest Job in the World , yours truly, 2011):
> Delegation is collaboration: You get to define the desired outcome. If you’re smart you’ll allow for the possibility that there’s a better one than what you thought of.
> Delegation isn’t a paint-by-numbers exercise: The person you’re delegating to should be the one to come up with the plan. You do get to critique the plan and make suggestions (see previous bullet). You also meet regularly during the course of the work to monitor progress and, if appropriate, make suggestions (see previous bullet).
> Success isn’t what you would have done if you’d done the work: In most cases there’s more than one right answer. Be open to the possibility your sense of aesthetics is a matter of opinion.
> Who did you hire? If there’s nobody in your organization you can delegate something to, consider the possibility that you’re hiring the wrong people.
All of us … and I’m no exception … like and are more comfortable with some kinds of work than others. It isn’t unknown for even the best managers and staff to unconsciously increase the priority of comfortable tasks and decrease the priority of uncomfortable ones.
And so, you end your day with the glow of satisfied accomplishment that comes from converting a few PowerPoint presentations to the company’s new standard template, attenuated by the nagging concern that maybe you should have worked fewer hours on this and more on getting performance appraisals done.
Yes, yes, yes, I know: Hard work and perseverance pay off in the long run, but procrastination pays off right now. This works just fine until you can’t procrastinate any longer. Then you work after work hours instead of during them.
During is better.
Master your tools
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, Project, and so on are the tools of your trade. Within each one of them there are features that can help you get work done faster. The missing piece: Most people aren’t willing to learn them. The result: Everything they do that makes use of these tools takes longer than it should. Much longer.
It’s like someone who hauls a big rug out back to hang over a clothesline so they can beat the dust out of it, because they refuse to learn how to run a vacuum cleaner. Sorta.
The infinite pile of work
The pile of work you have to do is finite. The pile of work you might do if you collect everything you might do and add each and every item to the stack is infinite, or, if not infinite, like Einstein’s explanation of the universe: finite but unbounded.
One way or another, there are people who see every pile of work as boundless. These folks always manage to find yet another task to fill out their 70-hour work week, because for them every un-undertaken task is an unscratched itch.
If you’re one of these unfortunate souls, I have no metaphors to offer by way of a solution. But don’t complain about your unreasonable workload.
It’s a self-inflicted wound.