Cutting Tool Engineering
April 2010 / Volume 62 / Issue 4

Time management for the boss

By Keith Jennings

After taking the reins of the shop about 6 months ago, most decisions are now mine and require frequent communication with managers and employees. This goes with the territory and has become part of my daily routine. Because we’re not a large company, it seemed easier to handle most of this with face-to-face chats. However, during these conversations I discovered a few “projects” were still sitting on my desk awaiting attention after a few weeks and even a few months. This discovery made me rethink my daily routine to stay on top of that ever-increasing to-do list.

Visiting the shop to discuss work with supervisors and employees is common and makes sense. After all, I’ve always been told that being an “approachable” boss and listening is important, which I’m sure it is—sometimes. Even though our company has modern technology and computer systems, getting out of the office and walking through the shop is something I enjoy and assumed was beneficial.

But an awakening has occurred. I now know that leaving the comfortable confines of my office and ignoring the communication technology we’ve invested in has a downside: it takes a long time to return to the office to make decisions and do the work of a shop owner. Why? Because once away from the desk, it usually takes at least 30 minutes before I’m back, which isn’t good.

How should managers or owners balance their time between departments and decide what’s necessary when it comes to having face-to-face discussions throughout the work day? That answer is still unveiling itself, but I’m finding a new appreciation for e-mail. This isn’t the world’s biggest discovery, but old routines need to adapt. Communicating with my staff through brief and descriptive e-mails keeps me at my desk and still gets them the needed information. What would probably turn into a 10- to 30-minute discussion, most of which wasn’t on the schedule, is now read and understood in about 3 to 5 minutes. The recipient doesn’t have an opportunity to use that brief e-mail as a springboard into other issues. If there are any concerns or questions, they call and ask. But they usually proceed without further conversation.

E-mail isn’t the only tool to help keep you attached to that office chair. Picking up the phone and paging instead of going to the shop is another one. Key employees have phones on their desks or carry cell phones integrated into our phone system, so they can be contacted instantly wherever they’re at.

This doesn’t mean face-to-face meetings aren’t sometimes necessary—or better. For example, safety meetings, job reviews and employee counseling sessions are better handled in person.

The tendency to sidetrack the boss isn’t limited to shop staff either. The office staff can be as equally disruptive when they walk past your office, see you appear calm and approachable and assume it’s an acceptable time to ask about a day off, a meeting with a supplier or a new computer mouse. These encounters can get you off task for up to 45 minutes. Multiply a disruption by 10 times and, guess what, the day’s over.

This month’s message is simple: don’t be too approachable. Let your staff handle their duties, close the office door and get productive. You may feel detached, confined and out of the loop, but don’t. Most matters need your undivided attention and that’s your role. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, laser cutting, metal fabrication and metal stamping. He can be e-mailed at

CUTTING TOOL ENGINEERING Magazine is protected under U.S. and international copyright laws.Before reproducing anything from this Web site, call the Copyright Clearance Center Inc.
at (978) 750-8400.