Interview Topics: Time Management

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Interview Topics: Time Management

Postby Dustin Levy » Thu Jun 09, 2016 3:17 pm

Two recent Ph.D. graduates, one spent 40-50 hours a week in the lab, the other spent 70-80 hours a week in the lab. Which one is the harder worker?

On the surface, the 70-80 hour individual may be the harder worker, but they could also be inefficient and poor at time management. Conversely, it’s possible that the 40-50 hour individual is a bit lazier, but it could also be possible that they are very efficient and excellent at time management. As companies and organizations are being asked to do more with less, hiring employees with strong time management skills is essential. The implications when hiring for a role based on hourly pay are obvious – if one person can get an allotment of work done in 40 hours while another takes 80, you definitely want the former.

Things get more interesting for salaried roles where overtime hours aren’t paid. Now the 80 hour a week individual could be a great bargain if their output would exceed what another candidate would accomplish in 40 hours. Some key considerations become, Will that 80 hour a week “work-a-holic” eventually burn out? What will happen to their output and morale should they decide to start a family? If I need that 40 hour individual to put in 60 hours now and then, will they do it, or be out the door at 5 pm no matter what’s going on around them?

These uncertainties faced by a hiring manager relate most to motivation. As a manager, I can motivate employees to an extent, but this is a two-way street, and I can’t influence an employee’s motivation level fully. What I can do is hire individuals with strong time management skills, so that as their motivation waxes and wanes, and outside influences place additional demands on their time as they mature (raising children, home ownership, declining health, etc.), they have the skills to maintain a consistent, predictable level of output that I can rely on.

In an interview, I’ll ask a candidate to describe their time management strategy. Here are some red flags I look for and some good habits I’ve seen, heard, and try to practice myself:

The red flags:

1. Can’t articulate a strategy or any elements thereof. For the 80 hour worker, this implies that they meander through their day inefficiently. For the 40 hour worker, this implies that they’re also inefficient but punch the clock and leave anyway.

2. Their strategy is to rely on their manager. This may be okay for certain roles, but we generally want employees to self-manage to some extent, particularly if there is an expectation for the role to eventually advance in scope and responsibility.

3. The strategy doesn’t also consider non-work related tasks. For the 80 hour worker, this may indicate a lack of work-life balance that could lead to burnout. For the 40 hour worker, this may indicate a 5 pm clock puncher who compartmentalizes their life and doesn’t give up any personal time when required for the betterment of the organization. This may be acceptable for an hourly role, but not a salaried one.

The good habits:

1. The master “to-do” list. With notebooks, multiple electronic devices, and calendars, it’s easy for our to-dos to become scattered all over the place. Good time managers list all of their to-dos, professional and non-professional, in a single list to aid in managing their time. To the third red flag above, this practice provides visibility to when you can and can’t put in some extra time at work (and keep your manager informed ahead of time).

2. Plans are created at the end of the current period instead of the start of the next one. Whether planning on a daily, weekly, or monthly horizon, creating the plan for the next period before the current one ends is a positive behavior. First, the fact that you have this time available means you’re likely working efficiently and finishing ahead of schedule. Second, it’s a great feeling to arrive at work on a Monday with a plan put in place already on the previous Friday afternoon, and really, what meaningful work are we getting done at 4 pm on a Friday anyway?

3. Consultation with others. Few of us work in a vacuum. The timely or untimely completion of our tasks impacts others. Seek others’ input to your plans and share the relevant parts of your plans with your stakeholders. This doesn’t mean that you rely on others to manage your time for you, rather it means that you create your own plans in alignment with the needs of those around you.

4. Eat the frog first. This saying goes back to Mark Twain and was the subject of a recent book written by Brian Tracy. Imagine coming to work every day with a frog on your desk and your job is to eat it. If you choose to procrastinate, that frog will be on your mind all day and make you miserable and ineffective. You’re better off knocking out that ugly task early in the day when you’re the freshest, then spending the rest of your day doing more enjoyable work (instead of driving home with fresh frog guts on your lips).
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Dustin Levy
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Re: Interview Topics: Time Management

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Jun 09, 2016 6:26 pm

There was a story going around several years ago about a new graduate determined to show his new employers that he was a valuable addition to their team. He strove to always be the first to arrive and the last to leave, and he made sure that this behavior was visible to his managers.

They noticed the behavior, all right. One of them finally took the young man aside to tell him as much. "We've noticed that you're putting in a lot of time, and we're starting to get concerned. From where we're sitting, it looks like you really need to work on your time-management skills."

- - -

Another story, similar situation but a different outcome. This person made a point of never leaving the office before the boss. When the boss left for the day, he would leave ten minutes later.

One evening, unknown to the young man, the boss fell asleep at his desk.
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Re: Interview Topics: Time Management

Postby D.X. » Fri Jun 10, 2016 2:47 am

Hi Dustin,

Good post.

For me, individual time Management comes down to basic project planning and prioritization of those Projects. The latter will contibute most to how well time is managed and subsequently how one will deliver. This is where I ask questions - I anchor them on this ablity to prioritize than that will link or give me insights into time Management (and resource Management too). From a practical Point of view.

For Junior Level roles, those discussions will generally happen between Boss and subordinate. But as one advances certainly those discussion and decisions become cross-functional as objectives and resources become shared and aligned, prioritization then becomes a Team effort if done well and that then can be transfered to individual time Management.

Some of the practicalities of prioritization will be linked to determing for the identified Projects and Tasks - Levels of Business Impact, feasiblity, and complexity as a basic bench mark. If you have a Task that's ranked as High Business Impact, high feasiblity, and low complexity, then this is your low hanging fruit to prioritize, on the other Hand if you have a medium Business Impact Task with low feasiblity and high complexity then, well this is your medium to lower prioirity in Terms of ranking (usually budget required will make that latter rank). Then such list and ranking not only helps with time Management but can also link to budgeting, i.e when the Boss Comes ans says cut 20% for LE1 or BU 2017. And of course taking those decision cross-functionally then adds to tranparency, in my Company this is what we do, we not only work together to define our strategy, but also our opertional tactics, and timelines, and prioirities so we are all clear. We link that to resources required, such as %FTE - which equals time (at indirectly Money). In term of forecasting/future planning, well our budgeting cycle helps us here as well and allows formal Review of defined and planned Project at least 3 time a year (our LE1, LE2 and BU phases).

But that can be a nice theoretical excercise that and can change a week later. This is the real world. In the real world, we are putting out fires, and adjusting to change of directions, loss of a FTE, or new unplanned orojects put on us. So the other question I will ask is how does one manage that.

Also in the real world, People despite agreeing on priorities and timelines and Budgets and resources will get upset at somepoint, irrespetive of any agreed Project plan, because you will have to deprioritize some individual Milestones or Task or Meeting at somepoint. This is reality having a document as Dustin suggest, whic I firmly endorse by the way, may not help you (in my case I have cross-fuctional Project plan). So you get to time Management and conflict Resolution skills. You may actually have a 50 to 60 hour week by workload. So how do you manage that right? Fair question to ask.

Happy to address questions as well from my Point of view. As for the bells and whitles of Outlook Management as part of time Management, that's all well and nice if one has time to learn and impliment that stuff but some of that is just academic for me and depends on the Company culture. For example one time Management expert told me I should use the "Task" function on my Outlook to "delegate" task to other People....yup...uh huh...sure..trying doing that in my Company and you'll get the beat down. Key message, be practical when it Comes to time-Management, dont make time Management, become a complex project managment excercise. Because the buiness Impact, fesiblity and complexity analysis might tell you its a lower priority compared to getting the damn job done :)

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