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.

Of course.

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.

Comfort zones

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.

Once upon a time there was a queen bee.

She enjoyed talking to her beekeeper, who, fortunately enough, enjoyed listening to her. She was fortunate, that is, because the beekeeper considered himself a poor conversationalist, and so was happy not to have to share the burden of finding interesting topics to talk about.

Queen Bee

And besides, there are lots of talking beekeepers around, but not so many talking bees, so he figured he’d take advantage of the opportunity while it lasted.

The beekeeper was in this way wise, but he wasn’t very bright. The evidence: The queen’s favorite topic was the land of milk and honey, and how she was going to lead the beekeeper there.

Finally the day came when the beekeeper couldn’t stand it anymore. “Let’s go!” he said to the queen, flushed with the enthusiasm that comes from a vision of a better tomorrow. “I don’t want to wait another day!”

So off they went to find the land of milk and honey.

Leaving behind a hive full of honey. And full of the worker bees who made the honey. Also all of the ingredients needed to make a new queen for the hive.

The moral of the story is, don’t be a queen bee CIO.

I ran across one of these characters not all that long ago. I had four one-hour conversations with him over the span of a couple of months. He was a visionary, talking in glowing terms about how the brilliant information technology he’d recently brought in and the new and even more brilliant information technology he was going to bring in soon that would transform the company.

Remarkably, in all of the time we spent together he never once mentioned anything about the department he “led,” what his plans for it were, where it needed to improve, or where it already excelled.

Unremarkably, nobody in the entire IT department could make a decision of any kind, with the possible exception of where to have lunch.

What causes an IT manager to become a queen bee? That’s for psychologists to diagnose, not workaday IT commentators. Or perhaps for budding ethologists. We could, I suppose, get them together to resurrect the pointless nature vs nurture debate, even though it was long ago resolved.

Bee it nature, nurture, or a combination of the two really doesn’t matter. A queen bee sits at the top of your IT hive, and you have to cope with her. Or him; unlike honey bee queens, both male and female CIOs can wear an apian crown.

So what you do if you report up to a queen bee CIO?

You could feed her/him royal jelly (pushing the metaphor to its limits, this of course means mastering the fine art of sucking up). This can work in the short term … queen bees do love hearing how brilliant they are … but it’s a bad habit to develop. Once this becomes your normal you’ll lose the habit of initiative and decisiveness that help you succeed in healthier environments.

And so you’ll find yourself seeking out queen bees to work for.

No thanks.

Then there’s the obvious solution: Leave. It’s the best general-purpose advice there is no matter which sort of bad manager you report to, because bad managers aren’t going to change — the attitudes and behavior that make them a bad manager are what, in their eyes, got them to where they are today.

So by all means, explore the world of opportunities that surrounds you.

But as you do, consider a different sort of departure.

As has been pointed out in this space from time to time, wise CIOs are starting to encourage what’s commonly called shadow IT — information technology that happens outside IT’s organizational boundaries.

Unwise CIOs still try to stomp it out, but fail.

Therein lies an opening you can exploit.

If there’s one thing you can be certain of, it’s that your corporate beekeepers will soon tire of the queen bee CIO’s tales of milk and honey. They want their milk and honey right now.

And if IT can’t deliver it, well, maybe shadow IT can.

With your help.

You will, of course, need to tread cautiously. But there’s a good chance your company has a director or three who have the budget and don’t care about obeying the IT governance process that’s been stymying them as they try to turn their own visions into business reality.

You know IT. You know the business (you do, don’t you?).

With finesse, you can be the person who actually does make IT happen.

Not a bad place to be when the CEO kicks the queen bee CIO out of the hive.