Monday, September 01, 2008

The subtle art of time management

There is a small group of people found in every office that I admire. These are not your super achievers or diligent workers but people who have nothing to do but know how to look busy without anyone suspecting a thing. They spend their weekdays doing more or less nothing but convince everyone that they are putting as much effort and doing as many tasks as others. Even their Managers think they are doing hell of a lot and think twice before giving them “more” tasks to do. Sometimes I wonder how that happens as I for instance know what every billable minute my subordinates are doing.

My department consisting of product managers, has one marketing and communications manager (yours truly) and one training manager ( RP). Now RP sits in Delhi and has two people under her here in Bangalore. Both the girls sit next to me and I see them while away their time, talking on the phone (VOIP) and putting in barely an hour of work every day. My team consisting of three people is almost always totally working with their nose to the grindstone so that we can go home at 6pm, the mandatory requirement in our office. Weekend work is also not permitted. So we “actually” work every single second of the eight working hours in a day.

It can be argued that we have much more work doing various marketing activities for the eight product managers, while RP has to only schedule and coordinate the training activities with the training vendors. But then both the girls are champions in appearing busy. I noticed something about them that makes me admire them even more. Both have a lot of time in their hands. Hence both have scheduled the few tasks they have, to fit the working hours in a day. They then go about it leisurely, taking in a break here and there to fill in the gaps.

For example M, one of the gals was told to give the complete details of the August 2008 trainings she was in charge of. Since the training is done by training vendors like Aptech and NIIT, all she had to do was ask them for their Excels, put them in a master Excel and send them across. She took a weeks time from her Manager to do what could be done in an hour, citing various factors that require time like calling up vendors, following up with them for the latest training lists etc etc. Thus she made heavy duty of a simple task and won herself one whole week of legitimate time that she showed as productive time. Bravo!!!

Now I am beginning to notice other people in this category too. All of them know how to spread their meager work across the eight work hours and thus look like they are working every single minute like the others. What the Managers don’t notice is that the amount of work that is put in. They calculate finished tasks!!

Hats off to all you people who manage to pull this off. You save endless acrimony for no fault of yours. Everyone cannot have the same work load. But people resent those with less work getting the same amount of pay. People like M with their “time management” skills tend to remove this area of friction by their tactics. This actually makes for fewer tensions at the work place!!

But there is a flip side to this too. It was with amusement that I read the mail sent to me by RP asking if someone from my team could lend a helping hand to one of her girls. According to RP, her girls were “very busy”. The mail was cc’ed to the Boss. I replied to the mail with an Excel sheet which showed minute by minute the various tasks my team mates were doing...just to show that I couldn’t spare anyone. RP was shaken when Boss followed up that reply with a demand for the same kind of details from RP. A week later she submitted her Excel Sheet and I read with growing admiration as she put the measly tasks that her teams had to do as a war exercise. Here is an example:

M – Work Schedule for this week
Complete Training Schedule of August 2008 for IT and Developers
Work Started Aug 25th. Task completed Aug 29th.
Details: Coordinating with Vendors for lists, Follow ups, Clarifications, Correcting errors, Matching names, emails, phone number etc, Instructor bios etc etc etc…

Boss replied curtly that she would have to manage her team mates work within the resources allocated her and that’s all he could do. RP heaved a sigh of relief. She learned a lesson not to open a can of worms she cannot handle, and I thanked my stars that I wouldn’t have to contend with my people grumbling about RP’s people having less work. We all went back to our routines and peace was back in our lives. I think a lot of us have to learn that work is not all about completing tasks admirably and adding to the profits of your company. It is also about accepting certain indigestible differences at work place and swallowing it for the greater good of our sanity!

Have a nice week folks.


thomas said...

You're scaring/prompting jobless people like me to unjoin/join the corporate world. The slashes represent who i want to be, whether the efficient time manager or the "acting" manager. No, i wont tell you which one i'm intending to be! :)

P.S. No wonder Dilbert strips are so popular!

Anonymous said...

True indeed. And some people, like you say, come with this in-born talent of verbalization where doing next to nothing would seem such gigantically enormous feats. You cant help admiring these folks

Unknown said...

You hit the nail on the head! You know whats worse? These kind of people advising you not to work "this" hard!

The one who has loved and lost said...

awesome post again :-)
"It is also about accepting certain indigestible differences at work place and swallowing it for the greater good of our sanity!"

Ha ha..well said..
But if the appraisal/performance rating etc is based on billed hours, then I think it's a different story..
Most of the time freshers/new joinees get very little work (it's called BENCH in IT)... yet at the end of the hear big big words like "utilization", "bare minimums" etc..
So all these jobless folks blow up their minute jobs so that they can get some billing in the end..

Don't know if the situation I mentioned has any relevance in ur office..but yea..
some truths are better swallowed :-)

Philip said...

From what I've seen, time management may be possible over short periods of time. But over a long period, such acts are hard to keep up (like in your anecdote, they show up some time or the other). Very soon people do realize who actually works and who doesn't. Once that happens, then such people don't have much of a future.

Which is why I've started worrying about my future :p

mathew said...

Yes I agree with Philip..those are just short term tricks which wont stand long..the best manager's easily find who the lame duck is!!

Hari said...

"being busy" is something. "Making others feel you're busy" is totally different. :P These people rock!!

And yea, Dilbert rocks, right Tom? :P

skar said...

And some people have the skill of taking up a little tiny issue, and spreading it over an entire page :p

I belong to RP and M's category and I stand by the need for human inefficiency! :D

A smooth tyre on a smooth road stays still. While you people are smooth tyres ensuring motion by taking a rough road, we are rough tyres ensuring motion by taking a smooth road ;)

Anonymous said...

All offices face this problem. The situation can be worse in offices where work is not exactly quantifiable. This only comes to the aid of the work shirker.

Anonymous said...

Parkinson's Law - "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion" - seems to be at work everywhere.Its widely believed that private sector employers are capable of extracting 25 hours of work in a day from their employees. So such empoyees who stand out really deserve a salute!

silverine said...

Tom: Whatever you strive to be, just remember that everyone cannot have the same work load and you will be fine. :)

ms cris: You are right! I am not condemning these people as it is not their fault that their workload is less. However they are smart enough to spread their work thin and make it look like they are putting in the same amount of work. Thats called efficient time management! :)

Rockus: Now that is an irritating class of people. M minds her own business. At least she doesn't go around telling people with more work to work less. And thats what I admire about her.

layman: My work is marketing related and here we have huge disparities in workload. It can't be helped and people like M realize that! :)

Philip and Mathew: I am afraid I am not talking of work shirkers here. These people are as dedicated and hard working as others. But their work load is less than others due to the nature of their jobs. Instead of sitting idle or going out loafing, they work 8 hours like others by good time management.

Hari: Dilbert rocks!! :)

Karthik: Point taken, but in this instance I am not talking of inefficiency! These people are efficient too and dedicated to their work. It's just that they don't have work like others and they manage their time around their meager work.

Pradeep: Work not being quantifiable is frustrating.

Jithesh: Parksinsons Law it is!! I guess thats what is at work here! :)

Sriram said...

Ah Dilbert is so awesome.. and Calvin too :p

Btw, saw u've blogrolled me. Thanks!

esvee said...

so true.there is one guy in our office who aligns the "notepad" to "Eudora"(our mail client) so everyone will think he is busy writing mails, while in reality he is writing poems,short stories etc. And he always used to say to me "see the big picture". So once when he asked me to see the big picture i told " i cant see any picture. please tell me what you see in the big picture" he just looked at me with open mouth.Till today he hasn't mentioned about any picture let alone "big picture" oh by the way he is now a manager...and still keeps on writing poems and stories at office.

Krishna Ram Kuttuva Jeyaram said...

nicely written with right mix of sarcasm.

silverine said...

Sriram: :)

esvee: LOL!! That guy is very wise indeed! :p

Kicha: Great to see you after a long time and thank you! :)