The Last Minute Manager
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
The title is obviously a pun on The One Minute Manager book title (a must-read for all aspiring or seasoned managers, even parents, for that matter!).
The One Minute Manager teaches us the 3 pillars of successful people management – goal setting, praise, and constructive reprimand. The concept is to keep each of the three short, brief and to the point – in less than one minute. It is both a time management and a people management technique (The book was foundational for my growth and making me a better manager – I strongly recommend it!).
Being a project manager by day and a single mother of three by night and weekend, I developed my own method for managing the whirlwind of activities, tasks, and projects – at work and at home. People often ask me: “How do you do it?”. My answer – “I am a great last-minute manager.” I have mastered the skill of packing the schedule so that everything gets done at the last possible moment, just before missing the deadline.
It sounds counter-intuitive, right? As a project manager, I should know better to manage my risks and leave contingencies for unexpected delays. One may even call this method “procrastination” – a big no-no for us type-A PMs.
However, consider that the majority of your tasks are fairly routine and the deadlines are somewhat soft. Let’s take for example, “a status report due by Tue COB” – sending it at 5 pm is usually just as acceptable as sending it by 8 pm. Or as another example, “weekend grocery shopping to stock up the fridge for the rest of the week” – doing it on Saturday afternoon is as just as good as doing on Sunday morning. (And just because I have some reserves in the pantry and I can do some meal substitutions – I can even possibly push it to Monday after hours.)
For most daily and routine tasks, it is more important that the flow is optimized to fit more into the schedule and get more things done, over getting things done as soon as possible. Getting more things “well enough” and “just in time”, is a lot more valuable than getting a few things done to perfection or as early as possible. Delaying tasks and using up your slack (pardon my PM!) does create some additional opportunities. To extend the previous example – if I send that report at 4 pm, I may miss a critical update sent to me at 6 pm and then I will have to resend the report. Or – if I go to the store on Saturday and on Sunday the kids drink all the juice boxes after soccer – I will have to go to the store again on Sunday evening to restock the juice boxes for the Monday lunch bags. Additionally, pushing out the routine a little, non-time-sensitive tasks opens up some time or other maybe less important but more time-sensitive activities – I may choose to go to an occasional happy hour with my coworkers at 5 pm on Tue, rather than pulling numbers on a dashboard. I can do the dashboard later, but I can’t catch my coworkers for a happy hour at 8 pm. With this little switch, I had taken care of the hard-and-fast requirement of the job, but I have also taken care of my soul and relationships. You get the idea.
Introducing the Last-Minute Manager approach is not meant to build a case for procrastination. This technique actually requires rather proactive mental planning, assessment, and reassessment. One needs to thoroughly understand their tasks, durations, dependencies, constraints, float, risks and contingencies (that’s a lot more PM jargon – don’t hate!) in order to pull it off. Sadly, not a joke, but I have done critical-path analysis of my weekends hundreds of times so that I can fit: crew practice drop off/pick-up, math tutoring class drop off/pick up, haircut for the boys, grocery shopping for next week, weekend UAT testing status call, weeding the garden, get my nails done, and catch drinks with friends on Saturday evening. (True story! I was 10 min late for the math tutoring class, but on the grand scheme of things – it doesn’t matter.)
I’d like to wrap up with a word or two of caution. Do not apply this approach to non-routine, high-risk, time-sensitive tasks! (The first time I did my taxes by myself, I was so worried about any unexpected complexity, I started them 2 months ahead of the 4/15 deadline.) This approach may also cause a very adverse reaction from a strong Type-A in your circle. It takes a great deal of communication and lots of trust from your boss or partner to build that confidence that as you are pushing it very close, you won’t miss the deadline or drop the ball. (I used to drive my mother <a.k.a. the original PM in the family> crazy. It took a while for her to admit that I knew what I was doing. And that moment was better than any one-minute praise I have ever received.)
PS: After I wrote this, I came across and watched Pushing Tin (1999) – somewhat different context, but illustrates the same point. (The movie itself is not very highly rated, but still worth the time even if it is for the 90s nostalgia and watching young John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie.)