Making the Most of Your Manager’s Limited Availability

May 07, 2019 |Posted by Jared Simmons | Coaching

Your boss has a packed schedule, and you hate to disturb the 5-minute breather they have between meetings. I get it. But your boss also needs you to be as effective as possible at your job. Sometimes that means bugging them as they grab a coffee between meetings or walking along as they’re headed to pick up something from the copier. Remember that you’re helping them by asking for what you need to do your work, but be as efficient with their time as possible. During my career, I found that a well-executed drop-in was the best way to make the most of your manager’s limited availability. Here’s the format that I unconsciously developed over the years: 

1. “Hey, I just need 90 seconds of your time. Do you remember…?”

(insert that thing they were worried about/looking for/expecting here)
I think it works because it’s specific enough to be believable–“a minute” or “a second” could be any length of time. If you ever want their attention during another drop-in, do not break the 90-second promise. And if their follow-up questions keep you there longer, acknowledge it and make sure they have additional time to continue to talk.

2. “Here’s what I/we did to address it.”

Give a very concrete and simple description of the work. For example: “We fielded a study and the results confirmed our hypothesis,” “We ran a test at the plant last week,” or “I followed up with the program manager to understand the impact to the timeline.”

3. Confirm resolution or path forward

3a. If the situation has been resolved: “Now it’s resolved and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Enjoy the rest of your day.” Acknowledge any response you get and leave.

3b. If it has not been resolved: “Here’s what I/we are going to do next…”  

4. “All I need from you is…”

Make sure this is a very simple action (e.g., forward the email I’ll send you to your peer in Marketing, reply to the email I send you with your approval, ask your administrative assistant to help me set this meeting up with your peers, etc). It has to be something only they can do, and it must be something that clearly moves a project they care about forward.

5. “Thanks for your help!”

Only say this if you are genuinely grateful; if you aren’t, it could easily sound like sarcasm.

Other general tips

  • Bring a physical leave-behind with the details, or point out an email that you just sent or are about to send.  
  • Focus on outcomes and implications  
  • Speak in terms of their objectives, not yours 
  • Provide just enough context to let them know why what you need is important; be succinct  
  • Ask for specific actions, not “help” or “support’. This leaves mental work for your boss to figure out what you need them to do 
  • Make sure you take as much work out of the action needed from them as possible 
  • If you miss them, leave a note with their assistant, jot it down on a sticky note, or scribble it on their whiteboard (here are some other uses for sticky notes and whiteboards)

Most importantly: 

  • Choose your topics wisely. Make sure it is worth the interruption. If it saves significant time, money, or meaningfully reduces risk to the project, confidently interrupt. If not, let it go for now.

You’ve given them one less thing to worry about. And you did it without adding another meeting to their calendar or another email to their stuffed inbox. And you’ve made it easy to help by minimizing the effort required and being clear about how it moves the project forward.  After a few visits like this you’ll be eagerly welcomed into the office anytime!


Picture of Jared Simmons

Jared Simmons

Jared is the founder of Outlast Consulting LLC, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations with strategy, process improvement, and professional development. He is an engineer by training with experience in market research, product development, innovation, management consulting, and strategic planning at P&G, McKinsey, and Coca-Cola.


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