Managers are the glue that holds an organization together. When we think of great business leaders, we think of people like Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, or Richard Branson. Wharton University management professor Ethan Mollack found, though, that it is the managers, not the visionaries, who push organizations’ profitability. Mollack says that managers “are not interchangeable parts in an organization” but rather key players. They are charged with doing more with less, managing tight resources, and trying to drive innovation and creativity towards a practical deliverable. It’s a tough job – and it’s one that never ends!

Setting priorities for themselves and their teams is a critical activity for every manager. And as a manager, it is important that you pay attention to the longer-term issues that help move the company forward. You can’t afford to let the high-level, value-added work slide while you focus on putting out fires. How do you ensure you have the time?

  • “Think Tasks.”  Figure out which tasks are most important and which must get done.  Each day, carve out time for these big tasks. This is the heavy lifting; you have to be engaged, and you have to put off some of those lesser items on the to-do list. When you dedicate sufficient time to these tasks, though, you are accomplishing what you’ve been hired to do, and what only you can do. Spend as much time thinking about where you need to add value, as you do thinking about what you delegate to team members.
  • Be disciplined with your time. When you carve out that time in your schedule for the value-added work, stick to it. You’ll have to be flexible to allow for emergencies – real emergencies – but otherwise, make sure you stick to your guns. No, you can’t get sucked into trying to figure out Problem X for an hour when Sue or John can field it (especially when you know you would enjoy spending your time that way).
  • Be a manager, not an employee. It is hard to label which work is the most important and put tasks into a nice, neat order. But think about that work that only you as manager are able to do. Those other time-draining tasks can be delegated out, but you are the only one who can get input from your direct reports or others in the organization, communicate across direct reports, make decisions to produce outcomes or deliverables, and integrate work across all of your direct reports.

Will this suddenly make the your workload light and your days carefree? Nope. It’s still a lot of work, and you still find yourself in the position of having more to do in a day than there are hours. But when you prioritize high-level tasks, and make your time matter, you can get more quality work done.