Guidelines for Managers
The chaotic and demanding nature of managerial work makes time management one of
the most important administrative skills for leaders. This section presents guidelines (see sum-
mary in Table 2-2 ) for managing time wisely, coping with demands, and handling role con-
flicts. The guidelines are based on research, practical experience, and recommendations by
• Understand the reasons for demands and constraints.
It is essential to learn how others perceive the manager’s role and what they expect.
Perception of demands and constraints inevitably involves subjective judgments, but many
managers fail to take the time necessary to gather sufficient information on which to base these
judgments. Do not assume that everyone agrees with your vision, priorities, or ideas about effec-
tive management. Before one can satisfy people or modify their expectations, it is necessary to
understand what they really desire. Understanding role expectations requires frequent face-to-
face interaction, asking questions, listening to others rather than constantly preaching, being
sensitive to negative reactions (including nonverbal cues), and trying to discover the values and
needs underlying a person’s opinions and preferences.
• Expand the range of choices.
Too many managers focus on the demands and constraints and fail to give adequate con-
sideration to opportunities to define the job in different ways. It is essential to step back from the
job and see it in a broader strategic perspective. It is usually possible to be proactive with supe-
riors about defining the job in a way that allows more discretion, especially when role ambiguity
is already present due to poorly-defined responsibilities. Choices may be expanded by finding
ways to avoid demands and reduce constraints. A manager’s planning and agenda development
should include a conscious analysis of the demands and constraints limiting current effective-
ness, and how they can be reduced, eliminated, or circumvented.
• Determine what you want to accomplish.
Time is a scarce resource that must be used well if the manager is to be effective. The key to
effective time management is knowing what you want to accomplish. A person with a clear set of
objectives and priorities can identify important activities and plan the best way to use time; with-
out clear objectives, no amount of planning will improve time management. The objectives and
priorities may be informal, as with Kotter’s (1982) mental agendas, but they need to be identified
by a deliberate, conscious process.
• Analyze how you use your time.
It is difficult to improve time management without knowing how time is actually spent. Most
managers are unable to estimate very accurately how much time they spend on different activi-
ties. Most time management systems recommend keeping a daily log of activities for one or two
weeks. The log should list each activity in 15-minute blocks of time. It is helpful to indicate the
source of control over each activity (e.g., self, boss, subordinates, others, organizational require-
ments) and whether the activity was planned in advance or is an immediate reaction to requests
and problems. Typical time wasters should be noted on the log (e.g., unnecessary interruptions,
meetings that run too long, searching for misplaced items). The time log should be analyzed to
identify how important and necessary each activity is. Consider whether the activity can be elimi-
nated, combined with others, or given less time. Identify whether too many activities are initiated
by others, and whether adequate time is allowed for activities that are important but not urgent.
• Plan daily and weekly activities.
The extensive practitioner-oriented literature on time management shows considerable
agreement about the importance of planning daily and weekly activities in advance (e.g., Webber,
1980). When planning daily activities, the first step is to make a to-do list for the day and assign
priorities to each activity. This type of prioritized activity list may be used with a calendar show-
ing required meetings and scheduled appointments to plan the next day’s activities. Most of the
discretionary time should be allocated to high-priority activities. If insufficient time is avail-
able to do important activities with immediate deadlines, reschedule or delegate some activities
that are less important. The task of juggling the various activities and deciding which to do is
a difficult but essential component of managerial work. Remember that it is more efficient to
do a series of similar tasks than to keep switching from one type of task to another. Sometimes
it is possible to schedule similar activities (e.g., several telephone calls, several letters) at the
same time during the day. In addition, it is wise to take into account natural energy cycles and
biorhythms. Peak alertness and efficiency occur at different times of the day for different people,
and peak periods should be used for difficult tasks that require creativity.
• Avoid unnecessary activities.
Managers who become overloaded with unnecessary tasks are likely to neglect activities
that are important for attaining key objectives. Managers may accept unnecessary tasks because
they are afraid of offending subordinates, peers, or the boss, and they lack the self-confidence
and assertiveness to turn down requests. One way to avoid unnecessary tasks is to prepare and
use tactful ways to say no (e.g., say that you could only do the task if the person does some of
your work for you; suggest other people who could do the task faster or better; point out that an
important task will be delayed or jeopardized if you do what the person requests). Some unnec-
essary but required tasks can be eliminated by showing how resources will be saved or other ben-
efits attained. Unessential tasks that cannot be eliminated or delegated can be put off until slack
times. Sometimes when a task is put off long enough, the person who requested it will discover
that it is not needed after all.
• Conquer procrastination.
Even when it is obvious that an activity is important, some people delay doing it in
favor of a less important activity. One reason for procrastination is the fear of failure. People
find excuses for delaying a task because they lack self-confidence. One remedy for a long,
complex task is to divide it into smaller parts, each of which is easier and less intimidat-
ing. Deadlines are also helpful for overcoming procrastination. When setting deadlines for
completion of difficult tasks, it is better to allow some slack and set a deadline that is ear-
lier than the date when the task absolutely must be completed. However, having some slack
should not become an excuse for not starting the task. Schedule a definite time early in the
day to begin working on unpleasant tasks that tend to be procrastinated. Such tasks are more
likely to get done if tackled first before the daily stream of demands provides excuses to avoid
• Take advantage of reactive activities.
Although some degree of control over the use of one’s time is desirable, it is not feasible for
a manager to plan in advance exactly how each minute of the day will be spent. The unpredict-
able nature of the environment makes it essential to view chance encounters, interruptions, and
unscheduled meetings initiated by others not just as intrusions on scheduled activities, but rather
as opportunities to gain important information, discover problems, influence others, and move
forward on implementation of plans and informal agendas. Obligations that might otherwise be
time wasters, such as required attendance at some meetings and ceremonial occasions, can be
turned to one’s advantage (Kotter, 1982; Mintzberg, 1973).
• Make time for reflective planning.
Managers face relentless pressures for dealing with immediate problems and responding
to requests for assistance, direction, or authorization. Some of these problems require immedi-
ate attention, but if managers become too preoccupied with reacting to day-to-day problems,
they have no time left for the reflective planning that would help them to avoid many of the
problems, or for the contingency planning that would help them cope better with unavoidable
problems. Therefore, it is desirable to set aside some time on a regular basis for reflective analysis
and planning. Listen to Antonia Bryson, a deputy commissioner in New York City’s Department
of Environmental Protection (Haas, 1994, p. 60):
What happens in government is that you always tend to get caught up in crises. . . But it’s help-
ful to sit back at the end of every week and ask, is this part of my long-term plan of what I want
to accomplish while I am in this job?. . . The higher up you go, the more you have to constantly
examine how you are setting your own priorities. Are you going to the right meetings? Are
you going to too many meetings? Are you using your staff members effectively to make sure
you yourself are spending time on the right things and accomplishing what you want to get
Making time for reflective planning requires careful time management. One approach is
to set aside a block of private time (at least one to two hours) each week for individual plan-
ning. Another approach is to schedule periodic strategy sessions with subordinates to encourage
discussion of strategic issues. Still another approach is to initiate a major improvement project,
delegate primary responsibility to a subordinate or task force, and schedule regular meetings with
the individual or group to review plans and progress.
• Identify important problems that can be solved.
A manager always faces more problems than can be resolved. Therefore, it is desirable for
the manager to evaluate (1) whether a problem can be solved within a reasonable time period
with available resources and (2) whether it is worthwhile to invest the time, effort, and resources
on this problem rather than on others (Isenberg, 1984; McCall & Kaplan, 1985). Descriptive
research on effective managers suggests that they give priority to important problems that can be
solved, rather than ignoring these problems or trying to avoid responsibility for them by passing
the problem to someone else or involving more people than necessary to diffuse responsibility for
decisions (Peters & Austin, 1985; Peters & Waterman, 1982). Managers should attempt to avoid
or postpone action on problems that are either trivial or intractable. Of course, some problems
are so important that they should not be postponed even when the initial probability of a success-
ful solution is low.
• Look for connections among problems.
In the process of trying to make sense out of the streams of problems, issues, and opportu-
nities encountered by a manager, it is important to look for relationships among them rather than
assuming that they are distinct and independent (Isenberg, 1984). A broader view of problems
provides better insights for understanding them. By relating problems to each other and to infor-
mal strategic objectives, a manager is more likely to recognize opportunities to take actions that
contribute to the solution of several related problems at the same time. Finding these connec-
tions is more likely if the manager is able to remain flexible and open-minded about the defini-
tion of a problem and actively considers multiple definitions for each problem.
• Experiment with innovative solutions.
Effective managers are more willing to experiment actively with innovative approaches for
solving problems, rather than spending an excessive amount of time studying them. Whenever
possible, experiments are conducted initially on a small scale to minimize the risk, and ways are
found to obtain the information necessary to evaluate results. In some cases, an action is taken
not because the manager believes it is the best way to solve a problem, but rather because taking
limited action is the only way to develop an adequate understanding of the problem (Isenberg,
1984; Quinn, 1980). Peters and Waterman (1982, p. 13) found that managers in effective
companies had a bias for action characterized as “do it, fix it, try it.” One manager described the
following approach for quickly introducing innovative products: “Instead of allowing 250 engi-
neers and marketers to work on a new product in isolation for 15 months, they form bands of 5 to
25 and test ideas out on a customer, often with inexpensive prototypes, within a matter of weeks”
(Peters & Waterman, 1982, p. 14).
The descriptive research found that managerial work is inherently hectic, var-
ied, fragmented, reactive, disorderly, and political. Brief oral interactions predominate,
and many of these involve people outside the manager’s immediate work unit and chain
of command. Decision processes are highly political, and most planning is informal and
adaptive. This activity pattern occurs, in part, because managers face several dilemmas. To
carry out their responsibilities, managers need to obtain recent, relevant information that
exists only in the heads of people who are widely scattered within and outside the organi-
zation; they need to make decisions based on information that is both overwhelming and
incomplete; and they need to get cooperation from people over whom they have no formal
Identifying meaningful and widely applicable categories to describe the content of manage-
rial work has been a problem for a long time. One approach is the taxonomy of managerial roles
proposed by Mintzberg. Another approach is represented by job description research that asks
managers to rate the importance of different activities and responsibilities for their jobs.
Some of the descriptive research has examined differences in behavior related to aspects
of the managerial situation. Stewart identified several situational influences on leader behav-
ior. The pattern of interactions with subordinates, peers, superiors, and outsiders is affected by a
manager’s dependency on these people, by the demands they make on a manager, and by the type
of work for which the manager is responsible.
Comparative research on managers in different situations reveals several other aspects
of the situation that affect managerial behavior, including level of management, size of the
organizational unit, lateral interdependence, crisis conditions, and stage in the organizational
life cycle. Managerial work is being altered by sweeping societal trends such as globalization,
workforce diversity, the pace of technological change, and the emergence of new forms of
Despite all the demands and constraints a manager faces, some choice of behavior
remains. Even managers in similar positions define their roles differently. There are choices
in what aspects of the job to emphasize, how to allocate one’s time, and with whom to spend
it. Managers will be more effective if they understand the demands and constraints in their job
situation, and work to expand their choices.
Finally, effective managers are more proactive in their behavior. Even when reacting to
unforeseen events, their behavior more closely reflects their objectives and priorities. Effective
leaders devote time to identifying current problems for which a solution can be found, and they
prepare how to respond to unavoidable but predictable problems and disruptions. When a
problem occurs, they quickly identify the cause and take decisive action to direct the work unit’s
response. Effective leaders also keep people informed about progress in efforts to deal with a
serious crisis. The next chapter examines leadership behavior embedded in these activities or
occurring in conjunction with them.
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