Last time, I talked about productivity and pointed out that your employees could actually become more productive if they spent fewer hours working. Judging from the resulting discussion, this is an issue IT managers like yourselves struggle with every day.
I hope you’ll be able to use last week’s suggestions as a road map for reducing the risk of burnout among your staff—but what about you? Employees aren’t the only ones suffering from overwork. According to surveys we’ve conducted here at TechRepublic, IT managers often work more hours than either their subordinates or their supervisors. The result is that too many technical managers fall victim to burnout themselves.
In this column, I’m going to offer specific suggestions for reducing your risk of burnout, both by reducing the number of hours you have to work and, just as importantly, by changing your approach to the hours that you do work.
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Before we get into specifics, let’s start with first principles: Who owns your career? You do, of course. I can guarantee that there is no one in your organization who gets up every morning wondering how he or she can help you prosper.
That seems like an obvious point. However, judging from many of the comments I read in our Discussion Center each month, too many of you view your job like an outtake from the Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times. You know what I mean: a heartless assembly line moving ever faster, a pace that dehumanizes and demoralizes. According to this view of the workplace, you have only two choices: Submit or quit. You either let the job beat you into dust, or you walk away.
I’m telling you, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are strategies you can employ to make your workload and stress level tolerable. For any of them to work, however, you have to start by actively managing your job with the same level of commitment that you bring to all the projects you oversee.
Some other time, we’ll ponder why so many talented men and women stay on top of a multitude of technical projects yet are totally passive when it comes to managing their own jobs and careers.
For right now, let’s focus on some practical ideas. These are a mix of strategic and tactical suggestions for managing against burnout:
- Account for your time: Nobody likes to keep records of time spent on different projects. What I’m suggesting here is that you spend a week tracking how you spend your time—not which projects, but what types of activities: meetings, one-on-ones, answering e-mail, tracking project deadlines, budgeting, etc. After you compile that information, look for the biggest time sinks.
- Ask for assistance in setting priorities: If you’re overwhelmed, ask your supervisor for assistance in setting priorities. Go to him and her and say candidly, “Look, I have to tell you that I’m having trouble getting all the work done. I need you to help prioritize my workload.” The upside of this approach is that it tells your boss you’re overwhelmed without whining about it. The downside is that your boss could reasonably expect you to already know what your priorities should be. That is why I prefer the following approach.
- Present your boss a divestiture plan: By a divestiture plan, I mean going to your boss with a plan for giving part of your workload to someone else, either a subordinate or a peer. Conversely, you could just determine that certain tasks aren’t worth the time you spend on them and decide to stop supporting them. At first glance, this might seem rather bold, but what do you really have to lose? By coming up with this, you’re telling your boss not only that you’re overworked but also that you have the initiative to analyze the problem and come up with a solution. Almost everyone appreciates such an effort, even though there is no guarantee your solution will be accepted without modification.
- Delegate, delegate, and then delegate some more: We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Most technical managers are not very good at delegating to their subordinates.
- Make sure everyone’s pulling their fair share: Are you working 65 hours a week because some of your peers or subordinates aren’t putting in a full week? Why put up with that?
- Decline some meetings: If you’re like me, you could easily avoid 20 percent of the meetings you attend without missing a beat. Start to be more skeptical of meetings—analyze the subject and decline meetings that are tangential to your core responsibility. If you like, send a delegate—it’s a great way to foster a subordinate for management.
- Leave nonproductive meetings: If a meeting turns out to be nonproductive, get up and leave. Not only will you save time, but you’ll also probably win the thanks of others who are similarly trapped.
Let’s not be naive here. It’s not easy to restructure your own job. IT organizations are getting busier every day. However, the fact remains that if you want to see changes in your workload or your set of responsibilities, the first step is taking control. No one’s going to do it for you.
Have you tried these tips? If so, did it help reduce your stress level? Give us your feedback on Bob Artner’s suggestions or share your own tips for stopping burnout.