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Prioritizing Time as a Manager

Xun Tang

Engineering Manager at Reddit

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Problem

As I scaled myself as a professional, I found it challenging to keep up with the mounting demands of a team that was growing quickly. Suddenly, I was caught up in meetings constantly. I had zero downtime.

It was really difficult for me to prioritize which meetings were non-negotiable and which ones I could safely duck out of. At the time, every single one felt vital. I wanted to still have one-on-ones with everybody individually, but that led to burnout quickly. I had no time to reply to folks on Slack pings. What's worse - I didn’t have enough time to think. This led to less productivity when attending meetings. Things turns into a vicious cycle.

Actions taken

I started to look into ways of becoming more focused. One of the methods that I adopted is MIT, short for “Most Important Thing”.

The framework goes: daily, weekly, semi-weekly, or however often you want, you sit down at the end of the day and you write down the most important thing that you’ve done since the last time that you opened the journal. I started out trying to come up with three things, but, after a while, that can become difficult, so now I just do one. You then pair this thing with the most important thing that you expect to do tomorrow.

Doing this the evening before is key; you need to wake up with your MIT for the day before diving into your email and other tasks for the morning. This allows you to focus intently on this new MIT. At the end of the day, you can do a reflection on what was accomplished.

Another similar cadence ritual is a separate reflection at the end of every week; I actually book time for myself in my calendar. During this time, I go through all of my wins, losses, and surprises for the week. I also lay out three things that I want to conquer in the week ahead.

Through these introspections, I decided that attending every single project status meeting was not the best use of my time. My team was able to bring up concerns outside of these meetings. Some of them stepped up and found that they were able to run things without me.

I have a problem with letting go of control. By forcing myself to gradually let go of some of these smaller meetings, I was able to extend my impact as a manager. I was left with more time to do other, higher-level things for the company.

Lessons learned

  • When letting go of some control, I deliberately check in less often. Becoming less prescriptive in my approach has made my team much more autonomous and effective.
  • With all of this newly reclaimed time, I am now able to collaborate with other leaders within my organization in order to extend my reach to our team of hundreds across the board. I never would have had time to scale in this way without these prioritization exercises.
  • You have to consciously, viciously say no to things that you no longer have time for.

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Xun Tang

Engineering Manager at Reddit


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