August 28, 2011 — Back to Class


August always brings those conflicted priorities of the CIO in the Higher Education space. On the one hand, we are wrapping up the summer projects and getting things squared away for the arriving students. On the other, one is faced with the struggle to prepare to teach a group of sophomores about business and technology. The priorities are about equal, and I guess both are equally rewarding.

Managing a single class each semester has taught me to be thankful I am not a full-time professor. Teachers are at the sharp end of the stick in educational institutions and I am content to fulfill a supporting role in IT. Of course, I have had many of the faculty tell me they are glad not to have my job, so I suppose it has a lot to do with individual skills and preference.

This all leads to the question of the day, which is how does the CIO manage his time effectively? Without a doubt, we are all skilled at wasting time – few of us need any practice there. But, how do you function in an environment where there are plenty of tasks to complete, and not enough time?

We Americans tend to look down our noses at the continental Europeans, who make do with a thirty-eight hour work week, and spend four weeks each summer on the beach. The CIOs who consistently pull sixty to eighty hour work weeks can be a smug lot. We sometimes look suspiciously at advocates of a work / life balance. After all, we're following the Biblical sweat of thy brow principle; and we know that a little hard work never killed anybody. Right?

Sometimes you just have to pull those eighty hour weeks. This is IT, after all. But I would suggest to you that the CIO who consistently pulls weeks like that is a poor manager of his time and resources. It is sort of the if the job is going to be done right, I'm going to have to do it myself mentality. This individual is not using the skills he was hired for. Not only that, but without regular sabbaticals of some type, whether it be a long weekend or short vacation, the executive is heading towards trouble. This may be the reason so many CIOs change jobs regularly — they suffer burn-out and absolutely require the change of pace.

This forces us back to the lessons on delegation. CIOs are tasked, among other things, with building a stable, effective, productive team. While the CIO is responsible for smooth technology operations, he should not be making operational decisions. While the CIO is responsible for software development and implementation, she should not be actively designing the data entities and systems.

The strategic CIO is called such for a reason. But many CIOs are unable to avoid participating in the day to day management of their domains, in spite of having thoroughly competent managers. I wonder whether this is the result of an irresistible urge to feel indispensable, or maybe because it is just so much fun to get under the hood and tinker. And it is fun.

Okay, we have spent some time meandering around and defining the problem. The solution is not necessarily easy — mainly because it is counter-intuitive. It requires active life-style management.

First of all, determine how many hours per week should be spent at the office to be effective. If you have risen to the level of a CIO, you should know instinctively what this number should be. Is it fifty-five, or sixty? Or some other number? This gives the baseline for a weekly schedule. Place planned arrival times and departure times into the weekly calendar. Next start scheduling meetings and work time around these boundaries.

If you cannot find room in the schedule for some of the activities, pick the least critical and delegate them. When that end-of-day placeholder comes up, go home. There will be times, of course, when the press of events will drive extra time on the job. This should be the exception rather than the rule.

One of the more interesting results of this kind of planning is an improvement in productivity. Being well rested makes it easier to focus. The haze of fatigue no longer drifts across your mind like an early morning fog. I have never seen a correlation between hours worked and success. Wisdom has a much bigger impact. Use your life wisely.

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