Managing Your Boss to Manage Your Work

While we are editorial independent and recommend the best products through an independent review process, we may receive compensation if you click on links to partners we recommend.

Sections of this topic

    In an ideal world, you would have an ideal manager: One who makes time for you, mentors you, defines her expectations, gives you feedback and supports you in getting your job done.

    But in the real world, you might find that your relationship with your manager is less than ideal. In fact you might have several managers, all of whom have major projects for you to do and none of whom seem to have enough time to communicate a project’s priorities, answer your questions or provide feedback. Even if you like and respect your manager, you might find yourself feeling that you’re torn in a million different directions—and that your junior-level status precludes you from questioning her requests.

    However, if your manager can’t or won’t manage your workload, then you have to. It will make your job a lot easier—and you might even get positive feedback for exhibiting a take-charge, pragmatic attitude. Here’s what you need to do.

    1. Ask for deadlines.
    When you receive an assignment from a superior, you might feel the urge to rush around like a crazy person as you try to complete the project in record time. But you don’t always have to do that. In fact, the eager assumption that something is due long before it actually is can lead to unnecessary stress and the possibility of hastily made mistakes.

    Don’t be afraid to ask “when do you want to have it on your desk or turned into accounting or whatever?” If the answer comes back ASAP, then ask again. You can say something like: “I just want to make sure I get this to you on time. Would you like it by the end of today or by tomorrow noon?” This kind of request demonstrates that you’re organized and trying to plan your time.

    2. Ask clarifying questions.
    When someone is outlining a project for you, make sure you pay attention and ask any clarifying questions as soon as you can—even if she’s trying to rush through the instructions. If you say “no problem” to an assignment when you’re not entirely sure what it entails, odds are you might look foolish when you come back hours later without having made any progress.

    3. Ask for priorities.
    If you’re feeling overloaded and you know you can’t reasonably take on another project, there’s no harm in asking your boss how she wants you to prioritize things, or even asking for an extension on a deadline. There’s no point in being a “yes (wo)man” if you just don’t have the time to deliver your best quality work. Explain your situation by saying something like: “I have these five projects on my plate, and I’m concerned that I won’t be able to finish them all by next week. Are there one or two that are less of a priority that I could tackle two weeks from now?”

    Career Success Tip:

    Of course, make sure that you follow through on your promises. Your boss should respect your time, and you should respect hers. If you ask for a deadline or request to modify an assignment, make sure you stick to your side of the agreement. It’s not just about managing your workload; it’s about making sure you’re being effective, efficient and valuable to your boss and the organization.

    Do you want to develop Career Smarts?