Manager struggling to prioritise key tasks at work and feeling overwhelmed

Series: The Top Ten Management Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be covering the ‘Top Ten Mistakes Managers Make,’ a series of observations from the team at Stride Group. With many collective decades of corporate management and executive coaching experience, we’ve collected our thoughts on the universal mistakes managers make repeatedly. 

I was as guilty as anyone of pretty much all of these things as a younger manager, to be fair!

These Top Ten Management Mistakes are all related in some way, and both cause and/or correlate with one another. So the more you are guilty of one mistake, for instance, not prioritising your time, the less time you may then spend engaging, motivating and developing your staff.

To kick off this week, the biggest mistake we agree on is…

Managers Don’t Spend Enough Time on Their Key Priorities

Most managers do not spend a lot of time in their average day or week on their true priorities and projects. They have a psychic list of stuff floating in their head that they’ll ‘get to one day’ or ‘when things quieten down.’ That day seldom comes, so they end up reactive, putting out the fires and delving into crises that often arise because they’re not spending time on their highest priorities in the first place. 

They look back at their day, week, month, year or even career and ask, ‘What did I actually get done?’ What a shame and what a waste; there’s probably nothing sadder than wasted talent and potential.

Managers all too often ignore the classic ‘Quadrant 2’ stuff of the Eisenhower/Covery matrix- the ‘important but not urgent’ stuff. The stuff that we never really adequately get to that may turn into ‘Quadrant 1’ – that is, an emergency or crisis. A bit like not getting your car serviced; it may cause an emergency down the track.

This inability to focus on true priorities happens for a variety of reasons and varies from person to person. A chief cause, though, is that their own managers are similarly reactive and scattered or just have too many ‘priorities’ on the go at once. Another cause is that most people simply don’t have any clear idea of what their top priorities are, failing to embed priorities into the fabric of their daily working life. They can rattle off one or two big-ticket items from their KPIs or JD, but they’re not truly invested in these things. 

Worse still, many managers are slaves to their email and phone and let these dominate their workdays and weeks. We know many executives who base their entire working lives around emails, phones and (often unnecessary) meetings.

Managers getting career coaching to develop skills that will make them more productive

The fix:

1. In my experience, the ‘Rule of Three’ can be adapted from literature to strategy –i.e. don’t have more than three high priorities at once in your working life. Identify the top three priorities and projects for the next 12 months. Schedule time in your calendar for these items each day and/or week in advance, preferably same time, same day/s. Don’t do more than three otherwise, you’ll be too scattered.

Check out this old chestnut from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People author, the late Steven Covey on establishing and spending more time on your priorities before anything else, i.e. ‘rocks’):

2. Do a time log for a week or, ideally, two in perhaps half-hour increments. See where your time is really being spent. This may be done via a spreadsheet, or several Productivity apps can do this too. Analyse your time log with your manager, coach or mentor and get objective feedback from them. Look at the amount of total time spent on activities ‘Important’ to your role versus those that are not.

Ask questions like:

  • What could I delegate?
  • What could I drop altogether?
  • What similar activities could I batch?
  • How can I check emails and the phone at set times of the day?
  • How can I better schedule higher priority activities every day or week, so that they are not negotiable tasks I do and sit in my calendar?
  • What meetings are wasting my time?
  • How can I get better at saying ‘No’? The ‘3 Steps to Saying ‘No’ may help, i.e. give the reason first, then the refusal, then offer an alternative.
  • How can I manage interruptions better?

3. Prevent upward delegation from your staff (i.e. ‘passing the monkey’). Have a policy that every time staff come to you with a problem, they must have a recommended solution.

4. Ask yourself, ‘What would my perfect work week or day actually look like? Perhaps even design one! 

It’s usually quite hard to change the way we work, as our habits may be decades old. Doing things like a weekly or fortnightly log of your time might seem frivolous or take you out of your comfort zone. 

It’s even harder, however, not to spend time on your top priorities adequately. The long-term damage caused to your own performance, energy, staff development, customer satisfaction and career by not attending to your priorities is a far greater pain than trying the suggested fixes above.

Having read about the common pitfalls that managers often fall into, particularly not spending enough time on key priorities, you might be considering ways to become more effective in your role. Engaging career coach services is an effective strategy for anyone seeking to improve their management skills, evade common errors, and ultimately thrive in their professional journey.

A career coach can help you understand the nuances of the management role, unravel the complexities of balancing different tasks, and guide you in practising effective leadership. They provide strategies for time management, setting priorities, improving communication, and making crucial decisions.

Remember, effective management is a journey, not a destination. Each step taken towards improving your skills brings you closer to your ultimate goal – becoming an outstanding manager.

Stay tuned for the next part of our series, where we will explore another common management mistake and provide practical strategies to overcome it. Together, let’s continue this journey towards effective management.