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I'm working as a QA for software product development. During the course of our meetings we typically discuss what tasks we are going to do and provide an estimate for each task. My manager has a habit of loading us at 100% for the tasks. For example, if I work continuously on a task the entire day I can do it in 2 days. So I give my estimate of 3 days. But the manager reduces the time span to 2 days or less. The result is that I'm usually working continuously to finish off things.

Now I have heard that normally at work we have times of high work pressure and times when there is less of it. The problem is that the latter is never true for me. Even after a product gets released there are more and more things to do. So I end up constantly working at either 100% or more. This affects me negatively because I don't get time to learn anything new or improve myself as I'm just meeting one deadline after another.

I discussed this with my manager and he tells me "that's how it's going to be, work will always be there". Now my colleague is okay with working late quite frequently but I don't want to do this. I do not want to jump to another company as sooner or later it will happen again. I need to learn to manage this. What can I do in this situation?

  • Should this question be moved to Programmers SE? – jmort253 Feb 23 '11 at 5:16
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    but the manager reduces the time span - this is the root cause of the problem IMO. Either talk to the manager or double your estimates. – JBRWilkinson Feb 23 '11 at 12:29
  • See also How can I avoid team burnout? – Greenonline May 26 '15 at 8:48
  • Justify and show courage & proofs to justify the complexity of a task you are working. Thus, do not allow him to reduce the hours effort that you have shared for a task. In case if he still do the same. Tell him the impact of the same and tell make him understand that you do not own any missed bug or issue. Since, you did not get the time frame you needed for the complete testing. – Anurudh Singh Jul 28 '16 at 18:15

10 Answers 10

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It seems like work-life balance type of issue. In short most of us can work for pretty long time at over 100% rate. The problem is at the end of the process we're burned out. Now the manager either doesn't know that or acknowledges the fact, but doesn't care and expects to exchange those who are burned out with freshmen.

If the former is true there's a chance to convince the manager to change the attitude. You can start with Stephen Covey's sharpen the saw metaphor (and generally the whole 7 habits of highly effective people). As simple as that: if you never rest your performance will be decreasing over time so it's manager's business to give you some time to improve your skills. You can also try to show them how they lose competence in the team when they're losing people who can't work that way any longer. If nothing seems to work chances are good the manager is the latter type.

In this situation you have only two choices:

  • Set your own borders in terms of work-life balance (btw: here's great TED video on the subject from Nigel Marsh) so you keep yourself in rather healthy condition. It means you'll have to face the consequences as the one who isn't considered as "engaged" by the manager, but your personal development and better perspectives which follows can be well worth it.

  • Leave the organization or the part of it controlled by the manager. If you can't change them, leave them. If it is possible to make a transition within the organization that's a safer way but more likely it'll be about leaving the company.

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Some companies create an environment of lifetime learning. In these companies, people own their tasks. You give your managers estimates, not the other way around. If you say it takes 3 days for task X, then it takes 3 days. In these companies, managers don't micro-manage your every move. You are looked at as a trusted professional who is given plenty of autonomy.

Other companies are not like that. I won't describe them. You already know what they're like. But know that to some degree every organization must produce results. Businesses don't make money being non-profit playgrounds for people who just want to learn.

Also, keep in mind that it's your responsibility as a professional to take control of your career and move it along.

You say your colleague works late. How much more does your colleague learn from doing this? Is it fair to your colleague that he stays late to get the job done on time while you instead expect special treatment from management? I understand not everyone wants to put their spare time into their careers. That's a personal choice each person must make for different reasons, but you need to decide what's most important to you.

If work-life balance is important to you, then perhaps you need to find another job. Maybe working in a research position would be more to your liking. There are jobs where you can be paid to learn. Just look at Ericsson Labs and the Peer to Peer Conversational Video Research. These guys and gals sat around for six months working on an open source project for WebKit. I'm sure they had fun, learned a LOT, and still went home to relax on their time off.

  • Nice advice! This pressure is the result of a lot of micro-management. – Johnny Feb 23 '11 at 10:43
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First of all, you should share your concerns with the manager. Explain him the situation as you did just now. Tell him that you want spend your 8 working hours not only on routine tasks, but also on:

  • self education
  • professional networking
  • reading
  • writing (incl. at this Q&A site)
  • thinking

Instead of "I don't to work 100% of time" your message should sound like "I want to spend 6 hours for routine tasks and 2 hours for strategic things".

  • Thanks a load for your suggestion. Although my manager didn't agree to this ("you need to do all these yourself outside of work"), he did agree to allotting time to read emails on a weekly basis. Well, something's better than nothing I guess. – Mugen Jul 22 '11 at 8:25
  • Set up SMART Goal, and work Smartly. SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, realistic, and Time bound. The Focus should be doing your work smartly and thus taking less time if you redo a task again. This would help you buy sometime for your skill improvement. – Anurudh Singh Jul 28 '16 at 18:48
  • @AnurudhSingh Did you even read the original question? You invalidated everything that I said there. – Mugen Mar 20 '18 at 13:15
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You might also need to improve your time management skills. Look at your work style and see where you're sloppy with your time management. Usually people waste time by not focusing well, or giving in to unnecessary interruptions, or checking email too frequently. There are probably four or five bad habits you have relating to time management that you can get rid off and learn to work smarter-not harder.

  • Does anyone have any starting places for learning about the common bad habits? – Mugen Aug 4 '13 at 16:05
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My father used to say that the best holidays are changing work. I do not mean resigning, but to do a completely different activity that takes your mind out of work, an activity that you really like and fits in with your personal and family life.

  • +1 - I agree wholeheartedly. As they say: "A change is as good as a rest" – Greenonline May 26 '15 at 8:45
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  • Have your eye focused on your longer term career path and where this position fits in.
  • Perform at your best.
  • Find the stress relief methods that work for you (sports, hobbies, yoga, friends, etc.).
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DON'T PANIC

I have already seen managers that overload the employee in order to make he figure out a way to do more work he thinks he can't do. It is a way to get the impossible goal done.

If you let the stress behind and start thinking a way to improve your effectiveness at work, soon you 'll be able to do more and more tasks and also feel great with the workload as a challenge. Think it is like your manager daring you to do the job faster and still with the expected quality.

Also, he/she (your manager) can be testing if you really can work under pressure.

If this workload and pressure is totally nonsense, try to agree with your manager tasks priorities (like must do, good to have done). If the manager don't collaborate with this new approach set yourself the priorities, do what you can do.

Own the tasks you have to do. If you are the person with most information, you should have the power of decision about the time each task will take.

You have the activity and you have the deadline, so it is your responsibility to find a way to deliver results on time. You should not anticipate the tasks only because your manager says so.

Anyway, all this pressure makes me think that this project is not well planned and the time for tasks completion were not well dimensioned.

It came to my mind that your manager may be using Critical Chain Project Management concepts. Also see this question.

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Learn to release the pressure from manager, and try to learn from the work, even you work 100% load the whole day, there should be always some time you can learn from your manager/colleagues and process, try to think positive and fined ways to do you job more effectively and efficiency. that should do some help. And do remember, even you do not have time to systemic learning some thing you interest, you should convince yourself to learn off work!

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Put systems in place to automate as much as possible. SYSTEM stands for Saving You Stress Time Energy and Money... This answer is hard at the start (because you have no time to do it!), but its the only real long term solution I think. Without systems, everything relies you being a superstar which can be exhausting.

Keep analysing what is taking up most of your time and asking yourself "How can I systemise and/or automate this task and then delegate/outsource it out (to either another person or a machine)".

The simplest way to systemise is just document the ideal process/procedure for each task - a step by step document - thats the most basic type of system and in some ways the easiest. Then of course, there are also technology systems.

Constantly building out your own personal Systems & procedures is critical - this issue is part of why companies have procedures. It will address this problem, but hard at the start.

Look at books like "The Four Hour work week" by Timothy Ferriss and "Instant Systems" by Brad Sugars also deal with how to develop systems.

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Your manager changing your hour estimates is a problem. Doubling your estimates is not the right solution. Why is the manager reducing your estimates? Why are you giving a higher estimate? Does the manager understand the reasoning behind your estimate?

If you can make a valid argument for why you estimate 3 days instead of 2 and the manager chooses to ignore your argument you may consider escalating to his manager.

Your manager should understand that scheduling a team or individual at 100% capacity based on an estimate is very risky for both the project schedule and how the resource perceives their work life balance. At 100% you will almost always end up having a good chunk of your cycles fall outside of your normal work hours. Don't estimate as a checklist activity, estimate for the sake of understanding the work, increasing your domain knowledge, and in the future getting better at estimating so that the risk of surprises are smaller.

I don't know the personality of your manager but you could try some of the following as a way to bridge the gap:

-Have him/her understand that you are un-happy with your work-life balance and that you are consistently putting in more than hours initially negotiated when you took the job. You are feeling de-moralized.

-Have him/her understand that running a team over-capacity long-term increases the risk of losing resources

-Have him/her understand that scheduling over 100% capacity creates a risk to project schedule if there is any slippage

-Discuss moving to a different project not run by the PM

-Identify if this practice affects just you or everyone on the team. Bring it up during a team retrospective if you are in a Scrum framework.

-Don't feel pressured. If you estimate 3 days and that is the honest amount of time it ends up taking to do the work WHILE working regular hours and having a good work-life balance, then take the 3 days. Let the manager see that artificially adjusting task estimates to meet a schedule does not motivate you or the team and only puts the project at risk.

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