Five reasons why you have no time


One of the most common challenges facing my clients is not having enough time.  I know this very well and my guess is you do to.  The fact that we all face this isn’t anything to write home about, the question is why is this occurring, and what do we do about it?  The time management experts usually propose process based solutions.  While that is helpful, from my experience, I have not seen it solve the problem.

The biggest contributor I see is our behavior and how we interact with others.  I work with clients who are advancing their careers taking them into unfamiliar territory and situations.  The way they have worked to get to this point served them very well.  Let me illustrate this with a simple example.  John is an exceptional engineer.  He quickly became the go to person in his group and when his manager was promoted, he was the obvious choice to take over.

The story of a high performer

John is keenly aware he knows more than his team members and he wants them to succeed.  He isn’t confident anyone else can fill his shoes so he decides to continue to do the most important tasks.  His new boss adds new responsibilities and it feels exciting.  John gets to attend new senior level meetings and his new peers are expecting him to contribute.  Feeling the strain, he believes it is only temporary and he’s willing to put in the extra hours to get everything done.

In his own team, he has 12 direct reports and each them look to John for advice which he is happy to provide.  That’s his job after all, to make sure everything gets done well.  He enjoys these interactions because he knows their problems well and enjoys fixing them.  He’s glad to help.

The months go by and John finds the workload isn’t reducing as expected in fact it keeps going up.  He doesn’t have any time for himself, he’s either in meetings or his team members are in his office because they have a new problem.  His weekends have become his only chance to get caught up, just in time for it all to begin again on Monday.  He wishes he was spending more time with his family and he feels their demands for his attention.

The new role isn’t sounding very attractive any more.  John wishes this would all go away and he could go back to being the expert engineer without any of his management responsibilities.  Perhaps he’s not cut out to be a manager?

How can we address this?

I am sure you can see many things John can do to improve his situation.  Here are some things that jump out to me:

  1. New responsibilities.  John has a new role and he has to give up some or all of things he was doing before.  One plus one does not equal one.  In John’s case, he is reluctant to do this because he doesn’t trust his team.
  2. Delegation.  He doesn’t trust his team members (yet), but he needs to start empowering them and teaching them how to do his prior role. Over time his  responsibility and time involvement will drop as they take ownership.
  3. Take more time.  When we are under time pressure, our tendency is to speed up and try to take less time.  This leads to providing shorter, often cryptic directions for others.  Of course this leads to a lot more work later.
  4. Solving others problems. When we are the expert, it feels great to solve someone’s problem.  They feel happy and you get an increased sense of self-worth.  Now you can see you are adding value.  The problem is you are training the other people to bring you their problems.  When we coach someone, we don’t solve their problem, we support and empower them to find their own solution and maintain accountability.
  5. Saying no.  When we are new in a role, we want to please and look go so we are reluctant to say no, even when we are busy.  Saying no is very difficult and there is a skill involved.  If done well, it will lead to very positive results.  If done poorly, it can lead to a complete breakdown of trust.  No wonder we are reluctant to do it.

I will explore these topics deeper in upcoming posts.  What advice do you have for John?  What advice do you have for yourself?

Comments (2)

Well articulated description of the classic challenge that engineers have as they move up either a management or technical ladder. There is something missing from you list which is the psychological shift that people need to make in deriving satisfaction from working through others. When I interviewed 5 technical leaders for my “Demystifying the Corporate Technical Ladder” presentation (Global Tech Women Voices 2017 conference) they all remarked about this shift when I asked what was the most difficult for them as they were promoted up.

Hi Anne, Thank you for contributing to the discussion with such an insightful perspective. I haven’t considered the psychological shifts. Did any of the people you talked to describe how that shift happened for them?

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