Defining Decision #2: Learn my boss’ job [how to spend my time at work]

tim chan —  December 18, 2011 — 2 Comments

[Defining Decisions is a series of blog posts on the 20 life-shaping decisions I made in my 20s.]

When I was 22 years old, I approached a man named Alan to be my mentor. He had experience in both business (a VP at Telus and an MBA) and ministry (a seminary degree, chairman of my church board, and several years of missions work in China) and I wanted to learn from him. Over the next 2 years we met every month and I always enjoyed our times together.

photo credit: Rennett Stowe via photopin cc

The best piece of advice Alan gave me shifted my perspective on life dramatically. “When I was working at Telus,” he said, “I spent 1/3 of my time doing my job (the day to day tasks I was responsible for), 1/3 of my time I spent trying to figure out how to do my job better and more efficiently, and 1/3 of my time I spent learning my boss’ job.”

As a fresh university graduate and in my first job, I was spending about 95% of my time doing my daily tasks and the remainder trying to figure out how to work better. Alan’s 1/3 rule of work revolutionized how I have done work since then. As I got better at my job, instead of asking for more work to do when I was done, I spent time creating and experimenting with ways to work more efficiently. Doing this opened up more time in my work schedule, which I then started using to learn about my boss’ job.

The more I thought about this concept, the more I thought it was genius. Of course it makes sense! The key was looking and preparing for the future. If I spent 90-95% of my time doing my daily tasks, I would get stuck perpetually doing them over and over again. What I want to do is get better at it, so that I can prepare to move forward in my career.  Spending 1/3 of my time working on being more efficient will create more time for me to do other things. Spending 1/3 of my time learning my boss’ job prepares me for that role in the future.

Since then, I’ve always observed the roles of my leaders and directors. What responsibilities do they have? What decisions do they have to make? How do they spend their time? What type of skills do they need to succeed? What type of mistakes are they making? What can they do better to improve their job? This not only helped me to learn and prepare for future leadership roles, but I now was able to make suggestions to help my boss be a better leader (I didn’t always give these suggestions to my directors – not all of them were mature enough to gain anything from my perspective, but many of them did benefit from my suggestions).

This principle applies not only to work, but all aspects of life. The key is to learn from people that are ahead of you in life, to learn from people that are where you want to be. Being a new father to a daughter, I want to meet with experienced fathers who have raised daughters well. Wanting to be a good husband, I want to observe and learn from men who have been married a long time and love their wives deeply. Thinking about starting my own business one day, I want to spend time with entrepreneurs that have been successful. Not only do I want to learn from those that have succeeded in life, but I want to learn from those that have failed. Many times the lessons learned from failures are much richer than those learned from successes.

What is something you have learned from your boss?


  • Vitaly

    Tim, you sure trust certification (defining experience in business by having MBA and experience in ministry by having seminary degree). Bill Gates, Steve Jobbs, Malcom X didn’t have degrees.

    And how would you define “experienced fathers who have raised daughters well”? “Well raised” Canadian daughters send their parents to nursing home when time comes. Not sure about your point on that but in traditional cultures that would be unacceptable.

    • Hi Vitaly, that’s a very astute comment. I have been comparing the benefits of investing my time/money in education vs experience, especially as I look to the future. For myself, I’m wondering if I should get an MBA or not.

      What would you say are the benefits of each?

      Your question about well-raised daughters is a good one, and is something I have been thinking about (maybe I’ll write a post about this). I have not come to a conclusion yet and I think it comes down to the question, what is the goal of parenting? To quote Dr Tim Kimmel, “A family is the most effective vehicle to produce adults who have a redemptive impact on their culture.” What are your thoughts?