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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

The Best Question to Ask Your Boss Whenever You’re Assigned a New Project

Mint Images/Tim Robbins/Getty Images
Mint Images/Tim Robbins/Getty Images

When I started at my current role, my manager told me, “The first time you do this task, it’ll take an hour. But once you do it several more times, it should only take you about 15 minutes.”

And she was right! Eventually, after doing it every day, it became so second nature I could do it on autopilot—which left me more time to spend on other, more challenging projects.

Since this lesson was so valuable to me, I decided to approach every new project I was handed by asking this one simple question: How long should this take me while I’m learning it and how long once I’m doing it routinely?

This opens up so many doors for you—both in terms of your productivity and how you work with your manager. For one thing, it helps you put the task into perspective. If you know it’ll take two hours, you can set aside that amount of time when you first tackle it. On the other hand, if your boss says it should only take 20 minutes, you know you don’t have to clear an entire afternoon.

But the biggest benefit perhaps is that it helps to highlight any gaps between what your manager’s expectations are and how you’re interpreting them. For example, if they say it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes, but you find yourself spending several hours on it, that’s cause for concern.

Maybe they forgot to mention shortcuts you could take. Maybe you didn’t quite understand the instructions. Or, maybe your boss has never done the project before themselves so they’re unaware of how time-consuming it is. Whatever the case, it’s important to communicate that it’s taking longer than predicted.

That’s why knowing this timeframe from the get-go helps you prioritize, while also holding your boss accountable. Not to mention, it’s an easy way to “manage up”—you can set guidelines for how you manage your time, and your boss can keep track of how quickly you’re picking up new skills and getting comfortable with certain projects.

Plus, isn’t it a great feeling to know exactly what you’re getting into? I certainly think so.