Why is it that managers are typically running out of time while their subordinates are typically running out of work?

Here we shall explore the meaning of management time as it relates to the interaction between managers and their bosses, their peers, and their subordinates.

Specifically, we shall deal with three kinds of management time:

Boss-imposed time—used to accomplish those activities that the boss requires and that the manager cannot disregard without direct and swift penalty.

System-imposed time—used to accommodate requests from peers for active support. Neglecting these requests will also result in penalties, though not always as direct or swift.

Self-imposed time—used to do those things that the manager originates or agrees to do. A certain portion of this kind of time, however, will be taken by subordinates and is called subordinate-imposed time. The remaining portion will be the manager’s own and is called discretionary time. Self-imposed time is not subject to penalty since neither the boss nor the system can discipline the manager for not doing what they didn’t know he had intended to do in the first place…

This article was originally published in the November–December 1974 issue of HBR and has been one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever. For its reissue as a Classic, the Harvard Business Review asked Stephen R. Covey to provide a commentary.

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