A big project deadline is looming. You’ve put specific checks and balances into a plan—reminders and tasks for hitting each milestone in a clear, linear process that leads to the end point—and your manager seems to ignore it all.
Every call and discussion seems to go over. Every meeting runs late. The calendar is a mess.
So while you’ve parceled out plenty of time for the work to be completed well in advance of the deadline, nothing gets done until the last minute. You’re left scrambling, putting out fires, feeling like all that prep work has been wasted.
Not only that, this same scenario plays out over and over and over again. No matter how detailed the plan, how well organized the timelines and priorities, it’s always a last-minute mad dash to the finish line.
Your manager isn’t trying to deliberately sabotage your efforts. More than likely, the problem is that you’re setting up a productivity system that is perfectly designed for the way you prefer to think and get your work done—and one that’s completely misaligned with your manager’s thinking preferences.
Thinking preferences play a big part in how we work best. Some—those with stronger A- and B-quadrant preferences—tend to be most productive when they have a clearly organized routine and a plan with every step in place to keep them on track towards the end goal. Those with C- and D-quadrant preferences often work better by taking a step back, looking at the big picture and connecting with the pulse of the office before putting it down on paper. They know the deadlines they have to meet, but how they will get there isn’t set in stone.
Neither approach is right or wrong; it’s about what works best for the individual.
Carson Tate of Working Simply, who has conducted extensive research on cognitive style and knowledge-worker productivity, points out that managers and their direct reports often have different thinking preferences, and this can lead to miscommunication, frustration and ineffective work flow processes.
The good news is, once you recognize there are differences, you can start to use thinking in a way that works to both of your advantages.
Here’s an example Carson shared with us from her own work:
Jane, has a high preference for C-quadrant thinking, and her assistant, Sue, has a high preference for the B quadrant. Sue used to block time on Jane’s calendar for her to complete work, but Jane would instead walk around the office connecting with folks or call a client. Jane was always late to meetings and was consistently missing deadlines—all things that drove Sue crazy.
As we coached Jane and Sue, they began to see how their cognitive styles were impacting their daily work and how each of their preferences, when leveraged, could enhance their overall productivity.
Today, Sue acts as a liaison for Jane and coordinates all of her meetings with colleagues, leaving ample buffer time for the meetings to run long. She color-codes all of Jane’s incoming email messages so it’s easy for Jane to focus on the top priority items. Jane sits down with Sue once a week to review and plan the upcoming week and diligently carries her receipt folder on every business trip.
Whether you’re managing up, down or across the organization, everyone is ultimately trying to get to the same place. If you meet each other where you think, you can get there with a lot less frustration and confusion.
Have you noticed how thinking preferences affect your work processes or those of your manager? What are some of the ways you’ve adapted your processes to increase your collective productivity?