Getting Organized: What's Different About Managers

I've written before about getting organized, especially when it comes to cleaning up my office. My breakthrough came the last time, when I realized I'm the kind of person who needs to see everything out that I'm working on. Same with my to-do list. (See
Cleaning Up the Office, Round 3

I use paper for my to-do list. I need to see the whole thing, so I can make those small priority changes throughout the day or the week. I don't use software (although, when OmniFocus is available, I might try that). Paper works for me.

I'm coaching a manager who was organized as a technical person–he knew what he had to do, he knew when he had to do it, and he got everything done. He became a manager, and started floundering after about a year. He was still getting things done, but the personal cost was too high–too many hours at work, too much stress. As a manager, the number of tasks he had to track was higher and broader than as a technical contributor.

A manager's work is different than a technical person. A manager's span of influence is much broader, so managers tend to have more (smaller) tasks, especially tasks that move across the organization. For me, and for my colleague, that requires a different set of organizing skills.

Once you're managing several people, you need a low-level project portfolio. See Courage Required. That way you can see what everyone is working on, and resolve any context-switching (so technical people get their work done more quickly). You'll need one-on-ones to check in with folks on a regular basis, so you know if their work is at risk. These two organizing “tools” allow you to see all the work people are doing, so you know if you need to change what you're doing.

Don't think you can manage the management tasks with a project scheduling tool–that's the wrong tool for disparate tasks of varying sizes with no interdependencies except for you. As with any system, first decide how you need to organize and manage the tasks manually, and then you can see if an electronic tool will help.

If you're a manager, acknowledge that your list of things to do is different and allow yourself to see how you need to manage it differently than you managed your list when you were not a manager.

5 Replies to “Getting Organized: What's Different About Managers”

  1. We’d love to have you give OmniFocus a try. The current alpha is getting close to a more public release, but if you’re interested please give the alpha look. I’d be interested to discuss your experiences with it if you do try using it.

  2. Pingback: JEDI » Blog Archive » links for 2007-11-07
  3. When I was a Mac user, I loved the Omni products. Now, I’m forced to be exclusively on Windows. Upon reading this blogged I gave OmniFocus a close look and noticed that they say the program makes possible some of the “Getting Things Done” flows. Johanna, I wonder if you would have any general thoughts on GTD. It happens that I just got the book a few days ago and am starting to read it.

  4. I agree with Johanna’s post. When I supervised a dozen people I organized myself differently.

    I used a calendar – a big paper calender – to see where everyone was and what they were doing on any given day. That sounds archaic, old-fashioned, old-something or other.

    It worked quite well for me.

  5. Aside from the whole command responsibility thing, managers also have to do a lot of small tasks. A lot of people may think that being a manager is great because you have all those people working under you. What they don’t realize is that since you’re responsible for the whole project, this include having to do many small tasks to ensure everything flows smoothly. It’s stressful being a manager.

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