Boss me around, please!
April 18, 2014 1:38 PM   Subscribe

My manager is very hands-off and this is not going to change. How can I get better at managing myself, when I would prefer an environment with more direction and feedback?

I work at a small nonprofit organization with several overseas projects, and my direct supervisor is also the executive director of the entire organization. She is overseas perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of the time, and otherwise is often in meetings, and otherwise is just generally busy as hell. To top it off, I do not think she has a ton of supervisory experience. (She is very good at all other aspects of her job.)

My role involves lots and lots of different responsibilities, and I find it difficult to manage them all effectively. For example, I might be double-checking a mailing list for the accuracy of the spelling of names, researching and writing a grant proposal, figuring out how to fix the website, editing someone else's research, posting on our Facebook, basic graphic design and layout projects... basically anything and everything that the project people and the finance people aren't doing. Some tasks are sort-term and urgent, some are long-term and crucial but not immediately urgent, some are things that really OUGHT to get done but are less urgent...

My boss is actually pretty great, she thanks me for doing my job and she hasn't ever piled on more than I can handle. But I find myself struggling to efficiently manage all of the things I have to do. I will probably be working late for the next week, because I didn't adequately plan for the fact that four grant reports or proposals are all coming due around the same time. I sat down to work on those this morning, and had two emails asking me to help lay out/format documents which had to be dealt with immediately, so I had to put off the grant work... and, of course, then I do something like come to Ask and write a question about it. Procrastination is a problem.

As if that wasn't enough, I also struggle with motivation, because this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life.

My coworkers seem generally satisfied with my work, but I know for a fact that I could do better and get things in sooner if I could manage myself like a pro. But where do I even start?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I also have a jack-of-all-trades type job at a non-profit, and have found some things that help:

-Assessing tasks in terms of importance and urgency is key. Some assignments are both, some are neither, and some are only one or the other.

-Budget enough time into your day to handle several small but urgent requests, such as document formatting/mailing list checking. For me I generally set aside 2 hours/day for those tasks. So if I anticipate a major project (such as these grant proposals) taking me 40 manhours in total, I know that I can't do that all in a single week, but perhaps in 1.5 weeks. YMMV depending on how many major projects you have going on at once.

-Set deadlines for yourself and communicate them to your colleagues.

-Set limits for yourself and communicate them to your colleagues. That means that if you are down to the wire on Major Project X and Joe comes to you with Little Task A, you need to politely explain, "Hey Joe - happy to help with this! I'm in the middle of Major Project X right now but can get to this at 2pm/first thing tomorrow morning/whenever is reasonable. Does that work with your schedule?" If yes, great. If no, offer to identify workarounds.

I am not especially prone to procrastination at work, mostly because I love to be busy, but when I start to find myself less than enthused about work I go for a walk and try to get some air. This works at the micro level (if you're just dragging at 3pm every day, grab a cup of coffee and stretch your legs) and at the macro level (if you are feeling unmotivated and burnt out, take a vacation).

Good luck.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:54 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

The motivation thing might not be a place where it helps, but the first part about keeping track of what needs doing and how important/urgent it all is and whatever seems to kind of cry out for a read through Getting Things Done, even if you don't adopt everything by the book.
posted by Sequence at 2:52 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My boss is very hands-off when it comes to supervision. At first it bugged me because I wanted to know I was doing okay (or good or superb!). But now I realize that no feedback IS a compliment. She knows I get my work done and do it well, so she doesn't have to watch over my shoulder constantly.

In other words, I had to make a sort of paradigm shift and change the definition of "feedback" in a work context.
posted by tacodave at 2:58 PM on April 18, 2014

In an ideal world, how would having a more hands-on manager improve your situation?

Because it doesn't seem like you actually need more supervision. You sound totally capable of doing all the tasks; it's just that you're juggling a lot of them. If your manager were more hands-on you would still have all those tasks plus you would have to spend extra time dealing with the manager, keeping her informed, writing up progress reports, meeting, etc.

Be careful what you wish for, basically.

If anything it sounds like you ought to be delegating more tasks than you are. When you have four grant proposals due, the rest of the staff can darn well format and lay out their own documents tyvm.
posted by ook at 3:32 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

How big is the non-profit? You sound like you are a fundraising-marketing-editing director. You need to raise money for an administrative fellowship program pronto. Any help in the form of a person, even a secondment from a university could make your life a lot less difficult. Ferret out the major stress points and fashion job descriptions based on fulfilling those tasks.
posted by parmanparman at 4:37 PM on April 18, 2014

I have been a fairly hands-off manager who travels 1/4 of the time. Although I'd try to schedule meetings with my staff and remember to give them some feedback, I really appreciated if it they managed their needs for this by scheduling meetings with me if they really needed some time with me. Of course, if they had overdone that, it would have driven me crazy, but meetings every few weeks would have been ok.

However, it doesn't sound like you necessarily need more time with your boss. I found it helpful to have peer relationships with people in a different area of the organisation to get some feedback or suggestions on an approach to a particular issue.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:44 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need a tiered list where urgent stuff and important stuff takes precedence over anything else. It's really just a matter of prioritizing. Your boss really shouldn't do that for you, unless she is micromanaging and giving you tasks, rather than delegating responsibilities. If deadlines are not given or aren't clear, ask so you can property prioritize and plan your day/week.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:12 PM on April 18, 2014

It's too much to keep up with on an everyday basis, but keeping a time diary for a day can help you pinpoint what you really need.

Write down every task you do, whether a work task or a break time relaxation thing, including the starting time and the ending time.

If you're staying an hour late, but you spent 4 15-minute breaks on the internet, there's your answer.

If you are doing low-priority work because there's nothing else to do for a while, and then you get slammed with a bunch of high-priority urgent tasks, maybe you can request more lead time on those types of tasks.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:55 AM on April 19, 2014

It sounds like you should focus on time management, not look for assistance from a supervisor. It might help to use the rocks in a jar analogy for time management: structure your day around "big rocks" of time, things that will take a significant amount of time and are important, then fill in the day with more small things, leaving +/- 20% of your day for things that pop up.

Also, be sure to schedule in breaks for yourself, as a way to help stay focused. Mental breaks are good, but physical breaks (getting out for a short walk) are usually better. It may feel silly to add 15 minute "take a walk" breaks to your calendar, but it can help.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:03 AM on April 19, 2014

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