How to think about your time when you’re a support manager

One of the biggest challenges new support managers face is understanding how to spend their time each day, week and month. Before you were a manager, the answer to this question was probably pretty easy: You should spend your time working on tickets, or answering customer calls or chats. But when you start managing people, your priorities need to shift, and so should the way you’re using your time.

The basics

There’s no “perfect” formula for how you should slice up your day when you’re a support manager – every company is different, which means that the scope of the support manager’s role can vary wildly, and this influences how you’ll be expected to spend your time.

But when you become a support manager, you should basically be thinking about spending time on the following five areas:

Basic people management tasks, like running effective team meetings, having 1:1s with your direct reports, writing performance reviews, monitoring team health, building and maintaining team culture, etc.

Strategy, direction, goal-setting, and other high-level planning. Almost all managers need to write quarterly goals for their teams, and make plans for how to achieve them. You’ll probably also need to figure out plans/strategies for other things that come up over time, like scaling your team or supporting a new product experience.

Evaluating performance and efficiency data. At least once a week, you’ll want to take a deep(ish) look at how your direct reports are doing as they work with your customers. Are they offering high-quality responses? Are customers satisfied? Are they working through their queues efficiently? All this takes time to evaluate, especially if you’re managing a large team.

Working cross-functionally. Expectations here will vary quite a bit depending on your company and its culture, but at least some of your time will need to be spent collaborating with other teams. This might involve running an All Hands support program to keep your colleagues outside of support close to the customer. It might involve attending sprint planning meetings to advocate for fixing bugs that customers are complaining about. It might involve writing reports for product managers to help them better understand what customers want. Lots of possibilities here!

Doing support. Very few support managers are able to stay completely out of the queue, so some of your time will probably still be spent doing support. This is practical, and it also helps build trust with your team. The key is to keep this in check, because if you’re spending too much time on taking tickets, you won’t be spending enough time on the other stuff listed above, which are are all critical to empowering your team to do its best wok.

Pro tip: Don’t allocate 100% of your time

Once you have a basic sense of how you should think about spending your time as a support manager, you’re probably excited to start scheduling all this out on your calendar. That’s a good idea – setting priorities and taking control of your time is something all effective leaders do. Just be careful not to overdo it, by which I mean scheduling 100% of your time. My advice is to leave at least 10% of your time completely unallocated. 

Why? Because support is a function where stuff comes up, and as the manager of the team, you’re expected to jump in and figure out how to handle that stuff. If you’re not careful, you could end up working 40+ hours on the regular, a clear path to burnout.

Let’s say one of your products goes down and your team gets slammed with 200%+ more tickets than usual that they do’t know how to handle. If you’re scheduled to the hilt, one of two things is going to happen: Either your team ends up having to grope through the situation without your leadership, or you end up completely fried because you had to handle the crisis and all your previously scheduled commitments.

Neither of those outcomes is desirable, but they are avoidable if you’re disciplined about keeping a chunk of your time unscheduled.

A few examples

So what does this look like in practice? Again, it very much depends on the company you’re working for and the expectations it has of the support manager. But let’s look at a couple of examples of how support manager time could be allocated, based on two common support manager personas.

“Small team Sam”

Sam is the manager of a small support team at a small B2B software company. Since the company is just getting off the ground and only has about 50 employees right now, everyone is expected to be scrappy. Right now, Sam has 4 people on his team and doesn’t have an immediate need to hire more. Also, the company doesn’t yet have strong executive functions in place, so there’s not an expectation that Sam is doing a lot of reporting about his team to the C-suite.

Sam’s time might look like this:

  • 30% basic people management
  • 25% doing support
  • 15% strategy, direction, goal-setting and high-level planning
  • 10% evaluating performance and efficiency data
  • 10% working cross functionally

= 90% (10% of time unallocated)

“Rapid growth Rachel”

Rachel is the head of a support team at a rapidly growing B2C startup. Her company has 300 employees right now and is expecting to hire another 100 in the next six months. Rachel’s team is sitting at 20 right now, and she needs to add 10 more over the next six months. Rachel has a couple of middle-managers that work under her and handle the day-to-day management of the rest of the team. Rachel is expected to work cross-functionally with a number of teams in the company.

Rachel’s time might look like this:

  • 20% basic people management (managing her managers)
  • 30% strategy, direction, goal-setting and high-level planning (including hiring)
  • 25% working cross-functionally
  • 10% evaluating performance and efficiency data
  • 5% doing support

= 90% (10% of time unallocated)

There are some big differences between how Sam and Rachel are spending their time, because there are different expectations of each of them. For example, Sam still spends a lot of time doing support, because he works on a small team at a small company, where managers are expected to act as both leaders and individual contributors. On the other hand, Rachel is expected to grow her team and do a lot of cross-functional work to keep pace with a rapidly-growing business, so she is able to devote relatively little of her time to doing support.

Sam and Rachel have certain things in common, though, too. For example, both are only spending 10% of their time evaluating performance and efficiency data; in Sam’s case, this is because he has a small team and there’s less data to evaluate. In Rachel’s case, she doesn’t need to devote a ton of time to this because she has managers working under her that can take on the bulk of this responsibility.

The bottom line

No two support managers will allocate their time the same way. As long as you’re being intentional about how you’re dividing your time between the five main responsibilities support managers have and leaving a chunk of your time unallocated, you’re probably doing fine. Experiment, reflect and get feedback from your team and manager to figure out what’s best for you.

Need more help? Let’s talk about it!

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