Your boss is probably a busy person; I know mine—past and present—is. In between meetings, projects, phone calls, and managing other direct reports, there’s probably not a lot of time left for you, no matter how much of a rockstar employee you are. Without carefully “managing up,” your own projects that require supervisory input can become stalled. I’ve found that the best way to maximize this situation is to adopt “the sacred hour.”
The sacred hour is the regular meeting (usually weekly or every other week) between you and your boss. I’ve always had one, and early in my career I learned how to maximize it. During this time, my supervisor is completely focused on me, my concerns, and what I need from him/her to keep progressing with my work. A successful sacred hour is the result of preparation, conditioning, and follow-through.
I never enter our weekly meeting without a prioritized list of discussion topics. This list is developed throughout the week—whenever I think of a question, encounter a problem, or come to a point in a project that requires review or approval, I make a note of it. I utilize a private appointment on my Outlook calendar for this purpose, ensuring that I won’t forget my list (the list reminder pops up at the same time as the meeting reminder) and that I can refer back to prior lists as a refresher or to carry over items. I also attach documents that might need to be reviewed, or drag in copies of emails that need follow up. When meeting time comes, I either print the materials or take my iPad to the meeting to review the items. Often I rattle through them at lightning speed, but the focused time allows for a surprising level of productivity.
My list is usually prioritized in this manner:
- Quick status updates – basically FYI items
- Easy questions – at least, I anticipate they’ll be easy to answer
- Problems – be sure to brainstorm solutions beforehand
- Big-picture questions and pie-in-the-sky ideas – these are easy to carry over from week to week
Gathering and prioritizing information to discuss with your supervisor helps you both stay on track. You’re less likely to spend this time gossipping or complaining (if you keep looking at an item on your list and realize it’s really just gossip or a whiney complaint, it’s likely to fall off the list before the meeting). With this list in hand, you’ll never forget to discuss something, and if you run out of time you’ll know right where to pick up when you’re with each other again.
My boss knows to expect a list when I arrive for our meeting, but he also knows that he won’t receive an email or impromptu visit from me every time I have a concern—instead, it will be noted on the list. This significantly reduces the volume of email that flows between us, so when I do send an email it’s assumed that it’s something that can’t wait until our meeting and is reviewed promptly.
Early in my new position, I was in a meeting with my boss and he had to look for an email of mine. I saw him searching through Outlook and realized that my email volume was WAY too high. In a new position (new to me and new to the company), it can be tempting, and often necessary, to over-communicate. That visual, however, was all I needed to know that it was time to start respecting our sacred hour and halt the onslaught of emails about little things that could definitely wait.
Depending on the supervisor, this conditioning may be even be reciprocal. A long-time supervisor of mine had similar habits (I actually probably learned this from her), and I could expect that she would have her own list for each meeting in response to mine. We almost always finished those meetings with a sense of accomplishment and the peace of mind that we were fulfilling each others’ needs. Often, the lists were similar, leading us to believe we had developed some sort of special sensory communication skills.
During our meeting, my list is front and center, and I check off items as they are covered. If something requires follow-up, I make a note and include a deadline. These notes become the record of what we talked about, and follow-up notes are transferred to my to-do list.
As our next meeting nears, I review the notes from the prior meeting and make sure I’ve completed my tasks or am able to provide an update. Any item that is still in progress is carried over to the list for our next meeting. It’s a constant reminder for myself of all that I’ve committed to doing. Without that list, I’m sure some undesireable tasks would fall to the wayside, which is not a work habit I want to form.
What strategies do you use to maximize time with your boss and increase productivity? Please share in the comments! Special thanks to Cindy Kane, Jennie Brand, and Kelley McCarthy for sharing their thoughts and feedback prior to publication of this post.