I once had a manager who liked new ideas. So much so that whenever I got through one of his time-wasting new ideas and felt I could concentrate on my "real" work, another suggestion of his would send me off yet again on a wild goose chase.
When I voiced my concerns about some of his time-wasting schemes, it was obvious he'd never considered my time and how long each task would take.
He was only thinking about his own KPIs and how if just one of the 10 new ideas came off, he'd look great to his own manager.
It seems I'm not alone at having my time wasted by a manager, according to recent findings of a study on "organisational friction" by Stanford University professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao, who say there are three ways bosses waste their employees' time.
Assigning time-consuming tasks
Managers have a way of flippantly asking employees to do something, without realising how long it will take. It's worth considering if it's possible your manager has no idea what is involved in the task and wouldn't ask you to do it if they knew it would take up such a large amount of your time.
New initiatives make managers look good, but it's worth sitting down with them and going through the task to show them how long it might take, then asking whether they still see it as an important use of your time.
Often, if you give them options of what you'll need to remove from your workload to fit in the new task, they may reconsider, or at least not be so keen to overload you with time-consuming tasks next time. For managers, before assigning a new project, sit down and scope out how much time it will require beforehand, so you know what you're asking of your staff.
Making offhand comments
The researchers revealed times when managers made offhand comments — such as "Why are there no blueberry muffins at breakfast meetings?" and how employees' time can be wasted trying to appease the manager — in this case by following up the casual remark as a direct order to go out of the way to find blueberry muffins for all breakfast meetings.
Advice for employees is to always confirm instructions a day or so later' in this case, asking whether blueberry muffins were required may have stopped the time-wasting of tracking them down. Clarify with your manager whether the instruction was just a remark, rather than a directive.
Refusing to delegate
The researchers also make mention of "cookie licking" managers, who can't let others take over certain tasks — for example, a CEO who insisted on interviewing every job candidate, despite the company growing to more than 500 employees. In many cases, by the time the job interview could be scheduled into the busy CEO's time, interview candidates had already accepted other jobs.
Instead of gritting your teeth and putting up with time-wasting bosses, it's important to voice your concerns so it makes them think next time they're going to ask you to do something that they don't realise would waste so much time.
According to Forbes magazine, however, it's important not to voice concerns when you're mad or upset, but instead put emotions aside and focus on the work — when you ask your manager to prioritise your work, it's often revealing what they value of your time and their knowledge on how long tasks will take you to do.
Whatever concern you want to voice about time-wasting, turn it from a complaint into a suggestion and ask for help with prioritising if they are throwing out long tasks every time you meet.
When your manager does limit the time-wasting, reinforce their positive behaviour and praise their effort to show you some respect — just as you should politely call them out about sending you off on pointless assignments.
In hindsight, rather than jumping to attention at my manager's every suggestion, I should have voiced my concerns earlier and given his ideas a cooling-off period to see whether he really did want to pursue a new project.
Though a manager is paid to manage employees, it's sometimes up to the employee with the on-the-ground experience to manage the manager in order to make the relationship work — and save you both a lot of time.