Monday and I have a longstanding disagreement going back some twenty-five years now. Monday wants me to focus, get things done, and pay attention. Personally, I want to continue on with my Sunday routine of pondering my navel, doing chores, and maybe playing around. As a kid this match mostly consisted of me goofing off in class. As an individual contributor, it resulted in many a Monday of not being quite as productive as I possibly could be. Now that I’m a manager, though, the disagreement can lead to others being just as unfocused as I can be.
These days I spend Monday morning reconnecting with my team and attending to scheduling. The reconnecting part, if not easy for an introvert like me, mostly involves following up on conversation threads I started earlier. Scheduling, though, takes a lot out of me. It’s not that I don’t like to manage time. In fact, it probably says something not entirely good about me that I find it fun. However, scheduling time for a team involves more than just time management. It’s a weird intersection between politics, time management, incident assessment, and mentoring that I find a constant effort to juggle. Worse, I have to redo it every week just to keep up.
What, exactly, do I mean by that? Well…it goes something like this.
When I do time management for myself, I focus in on my priorities, the urgency applied to specific tasks by the environment, and whatever communications or political needs seem pressing at the moment. This allows me to build and sustain momentum within a limited context. It also gives me the tools to see projects though to rapid completion.
Scheduling for a team takes a great deal more work though. The basic of time management (priority, urgency, and control over the schedule) become a great deal more problematic. For example, I often have to sacrifice control over the schedule as part of a horse-trade for more resources or to get a particularly noxious function taken out of a project scope. Each time I trade something, though, I lose more and more control over the schedule; yet if I don’t perform the trades then the team as a whole gets stuck without the resources they need or trying to pull together projects with impossible scopes.
So, politics and the associated horse-trading take up a huge portion of my scheduling time. Once I get that arranged, I might be able to apply some basic time-boxing to my team’s tasks. Or not; just as often we have to deal with a random array of incidents related to our various applications. Whether it makes sense to strap your highly paid, highly skilled technical teams to answering file and print questions isn’t really an issue; we have to do it so we try to do it as professionally as possible. Sometimes those incidents also include the elements of patterns we need to pay attention to; teasing those out falls to us leader-types, assuming we get the time between meetings.
Incidents bump project work aside; current problems seem to have higher priority than even the most important future plan. When it looks like we will not hit a date I have to go back into horse-trading, but this time in the opposite direction. I take on new functions or shed resources in an attempt to get more time to account for the failure to build wiggle room into the project plans.
None of that, though, accounts for the biggest variable of them all team mentoring. Now, I’m blessed with a team that is more technically astute than I am. They work hard to keep ahead, sharpen their skills, and really enjoy the mixture of creative and effort driven work associated with technical jobs. That’s all to the good. However, like most technical teams they do not like to communicate with others. They do not always pay attention to the negotiations and horse-trading, nor do they really care about the constant ebb and flow of office politics. Combine that with an environment which deliberately foreshortens their time horizons (they work in about a 3 month window) and you’ve got a recipe for constant disaster.
At the end of a good week we’ve done enough to pull ahead a bit though trading, creativity, and effort. Bad weeks, though, see us fall further and further behind as we surrender control over our time to others in exchange for things we need to, ironically, get work done for them. I’m still debating whether to be amused or confused about that last point.
So, today I wrestled with time. I’ll let you know which of us won on Friday.