In a recent post, I explained the importance of proper delegation for leaders and managers. It is an essential component of career growth.
I had a number of managers write in, and say that the biggest reason they delegate less than they should, is because they're sensitive to the amount of work their team members have.
These managers repeatedly said that they were pretty sure that their team members were already busy, so the manager stepped in to take up the slack. They asked for advice. I think this topic is an important one to cover, so I decided to write about it in today's article. This article will be mostly aimed at people managers, although I'm sure everyone would benefit from some thought around time management.
Before I continue, I wanted to point out a new subscription plan I recently launched. I'd love your feedback on it. The new plan is a $100 per month email coaching plan.
As I assume you're aware, I offer personal coaching on a variety of topics. As you might expect, paying $500 for an hour of my time might be fine for a senior tech employee, but it's a serious amount of money for most people. I also can't afford the time to answer people's questions for free, as I get a large volume of emails. A couple of people recently suggested that I create some type of cheaper email coaching plan. The idea was that instead of spending 1 hour for $500 at once, they could occasionally email me over multiple months. I enjoy writing, so this idea appealed to me.
Back on the topic of delegation, I'd argue that you have two main choices for load balancing your teams. You can load balance yourself, or you can let your team load balance for you.
If you load balance yourself, here are the things you will need to personally balance:
- Is every one of my team members already busy with critical work?
- Is this new work more critical than any of the work my team members are working on?
- Do my team members have any spare time to at least look at this work to scope it out?
Alternatively, you can delegate the load balancing. Instead of doing personal heroics to load balance your team, you should delegate the load balancing itself.
Overwork and load balancing
No one can be productive for more than 6 or so hours a day. I think most people buy into the idea that an 8-hour day is a mixture of productive time, and socialization or web surfing. If you add more time to your work day too often, you are likely making each hour less productive, or you end up doing lower quality work.
I would set a general policy that no one, including yourself, should consistently work more than a standard 8-hour day. While there are exceptions to this (the preparation for a huge launch next weekend comes to mind), in general we should set this as a basic expectation for everyone.
Allowing employees to overwork themselves, either through negligence or mistaken assumptions, causes attrition and poor performance. This downside includes the manager as well as the employees. The manager needs to make hard priority choices, just as much as their employees.
So how do you ensure that you don't end up overworking your employees?
Employees manage their own time
I can't overstate the importance of this, for all levels of employee (assuming white-collar knowledge workers). If an employee every says that they have to work too many hours, it should be their own fault.
This is a part of delegation. Just like you would ask them to write their own code, or send their own emails, it should be the responsibility of every employee to manage their own time.
Task loading. No one knows better than the employee how long a task will take, how complex it is at this moment, how many other tasks they're multitasking with, and how soon a date is coming up.
Autonomy. Employees who manage their own time have more agency in their own schedule. This autonomy is highly valuable, and makes people happier with their existing workload.
Skill building. Every senior employee knows that a large part of their job is schedule management, estimation, and load balancing of work. Managing your own personal workload is a good place to start learning important career skills. Employees will regularly take more or less time than expected on tasks. It is critical that all employees learn to balance their own work.
Team capacity measurement through overloading
Once team members are comfortable managing their own time, the next question is to understand the total capacity of a team. How much work can the team accomplish at any given time?