A trick for managing up without wasting time

Understand your boss's calendar

To be effective in your job (unless you’re the CEO, and often even then), you need to manage up. Sometimes, your manager will tell you what they need to keep them informed. Often, though, your job is to figure out what works for them. But, how can you find out what matters to them? And, how can you avoid wasting their time — and yours — on things that don’t matter?

Although there are many strategies to managing up, one trick has proven particularly useful for me over the years: understand your boss’s calendar.

Your boss’s priorities and revealed preferences exist in where they spend their time. If effectively managing up requires understanding their hopes, fears, and expectations, it’s important to understand how they approach their schedule.

Your boss’s calendar probably has a bunch of meetings on it. Like, lots of them. Some of those meetings are super important for your boss. Maybe your boss has a recurring 1:1 with her boss that your boss preps a lot for. Maybe your boss sets aside 4 hours for strategic thinking every Tuesday afternoon. Maybe your boss takes a lot of sales calls every day. Or maybe there’s a quarterly presentation to the Board of Directors.

Now, I’m not suggesting you calendar stalk. The problem with calendar stalking is that (a) most bosses don’t actually control their calendar as much as you think they do; and (b) not all scheduled events matter equally to them.

Instead of calendar stalking, consider asking your boss: “what’s the biggest meeting you have on the books in the next month” and see if her answer surprised you. If the answer surprised you, consider how you might deepen your understanding of your boss’s calendar. And if the answer didn’t surprise you, consider asking how you might organize your efforts and work to support her in that meeting? Either way, making sure you know your boss’s priorities is important to managing up, and her calendar is a clue into her real priorities.

If you’ve used this trick before (or have other suggestions about managing up), let me know how it worked in the comments below! And if you are interested in suggestions like these about management, products, and product management, please subscribe to my email list to get updates and information.