Getting Nowhere In a Hurry? Take a New Route. | Manage Your Day-to-Day

It’s wonderful when a book moves me to recalibrate my routine and reclaim my creative goals. That’s what happened when I was invited to read and blog about Manage Your Day-to-Day edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U. This book delivers the goods as  the structure, content, and style harmonize. I keep it within reach.

We work hard to find the right job and even harder to progress in it. manage_book

So, it’s discouraging when our days feel:

  • Harried or unsatisfying
  • Repetitive or fragmented
  • Controlled by the needs of others
  • Menial and incomplete

The hours can be long and the unrelenting demand for information exhausting.

There’s an edge to our days when we’re concerned that we’ll miss something and inadvertently disappoint the expectations of others.

Working your way

You’re the one who controls the way you use your work day. It may not always feel that way, but it’s true. It comes down to setting boundaries, adopting right habits, and managing the expectations of those around you.

Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U, targets the drags on your time and psyche through short, tightly focused articles by 21 accomplished business people, writers, and academics who get at the heart of big issues and provide realistic ways for change.

Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, writes in the foreward:

No matter where you work or what horrible top-down systems plague your work, your mind and energy are yours and yours alone. You can surrender your day-to-day and the potential of your work to the burdens that surround you. Or you can audit the way you work and own the responsibility of fixing it.

The book unfolds in four sections that become the routes for a career going somewhere.

Route #1: Build a Rock-Solid Routine

All routines aren’t necessarily productive. We can spend a lot of time checking devices, meeting with people, and walking the floor, believing that somehow we’re capturing essential information we need for..well…something.

Mark McGuinness, author and creative professionals coach, advises:

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.

Reactive work is all that checking.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project,  reminds us to protect the time needed for creative work if we want to produce something of worth.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently…frequent work makes it possible to accomplish more, with greater originality….    

Route #2: Find Focus in a Distracted World

Differentiating ourselves is essential to our career growth. It’s how we stand out from the crowd to demonstrate our uniqueness and creativity.

Consider this point by Jocelyn K. Glei:

In a world filled with distraction, attention is our competitive advantage. Look at each day as a challenge–and an opportunity–to keep your eye on the prize.

Our ability to manage distraction to enable our creativity to flourish means we’ve conquered the paradox noted by Cal Newport, professor at Georgetown University:

Increasingly, creative minds are torn in two opposing directions. We’re asked to apply our intellectual capital to solve hard problems….At the same time, we’re asked to be constantly available by email and messenger and in meetings…..

Route #3:Tame Your Tools

In every career there are tools of the trade; pros know how to use them effectively. Technology, both a social and practical tool, challenges our decision-making and self-control.

Jocelyn K. Glei reminds us that:

Technology should be a tool, but if we do not keep our wits about us, it can easily become our taskmaster…It’s easy to blame the tools, but the real problem is us.

So each time you reach for a device, ask yourself: “Why and why now?”

Route #4: Sharpen Your Creative Mind

What we want from our work most often is the freedom to make a difference, to produce something useful, and to be creative.

Design professional, Stefan Sagmeister says it best:

If you want to do projects that you really love, you have to be aware of how difficult they are to do. For a long time I wasn’t doing certain projects, but I thought I would love to do them if I had the time. Then when I had the time, I avoided doing them because of all the other stuff that I still needed to do, like e-mail. And it’s just so much easier to do e-mail than to actually sit down and think….we don’t have time because it’s convenient not to have the time, because we don’t want to challenge ourselves.

Re-claim your time

Time is precious and limited. What we do with ours is our choice. It’s time to break our bad habits and dig into the work that will ultimately fulfill us. Taking control of our time day-to-day is immensely empowering.

Pretty Good at Managing Employee Performance? What About Bob?

Go to training. Learn how to manage people. Go back to your work group and deliver all those promised results. Sweet!

Ugh…then reality turns sweet into sour. Live situations don’t match the training role plays or the workbook exercises. 

Our success as managers is a function of our ability to select and apply the best practices we need to solve the performance issues staring at us. 

Here’s a test case for you the puzzle through. See what you think and then we’ll compare notes at the end. 

What about Bob? You decide. 

Bob is an individual contributor who wants to become a supervisor. He’s been after his supervisor, Gail, for an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership skills and his readiness for a promotion. 

Recently, Gail’s work group customer satisfaction ratings had declined, so she wanted to determine the root cause. She saw this as an opportunity to give Bob a chance to lead a team to develop an improvement plan. 

Gail met with Bob, explained her expectations, assigned three coworkers as team participants for two hours each a week, and gave Bob a deadline to deliver an action plan. She also asked for bi-weekly progress reports

After the first team meeting, Bob told Gail that he didn’t think the right people were on the team. He also requested more detail about what kind of action plan she wanted and tried (unsuccessfully) to negotiate more weekly meeting time. 

After each team meeting, Bob was in Gail’s office asking for more particulars about what she wanted and for her approval of his meeting minutes before sending them out. 

Bob then started having disagreements with team members and asked Gail how to handle them. He complained again that they weren’t the right people. Gail was spending almost 3 hours a week dealing with Bob. 

To make matters worse, Bob submitted the action plan a week late. It lacked substance and did not have the full endorsement of the team. 

What would you do? 

This situation challenges us to put into practice all aspects of what we’ve been taught about managing employee performance.   

Here’s my take on the performance management techniques that were at play. (The bold is what I focused on.) Gail used some techniques effectively but not others—at least not yet. What did you see? 

Employee development: Gail decides to give Bob a chance to lead a team, an opportunity for professional growth aligned with his career aspirations. The project was important and created an opportunity to engage other employees by making them part of Bob’s team. 

Project managementGail recognized that process and accountability are important to team success, so she built that into her stated expectations for Bob when she asked for bi-weekly progress reports. 

Coaching: When Bob started having disagreements with two of the team members, Gail needed to coach him on how to resolve conflict effectively, including some self-examination by Bob about his team leadership approaches. 

Time management: Bob’s reluctance to act and/or inability to solve problems independently was costing Gail almost 3 hours a week. She needed to reestablish her expectations with Bob and hold him to them. 

Performance feedback: Bob delivered an action plan… that lacked substance which was unacceptable on several levels. So, that assignment needed to be redone with or without Bob. Bob needed specific, documented performance feedback about his work, including initiatives for further supervisory skills development. 

We need all the pieces. 

Using performance management techniques in isolation only gets us part way. Each situation we face demonstrates how different best practices intersect, strengthening each other and delivering greater benefit to the employee, the company, and ourselves. 

Effective management is both art and science. The people we work with are pieces of a complex puzzle which challenge our ability to solve problems. Individual performance management techniques are part of our toolkit. When we use them well and together, we can create a positive workplace experience. 

So how do you size up this situation?

Photo from alasis via Flickr

Employees Draining Your Time? Try “Monkey Management.”

Time is a resource we control. If we don’t, we get stressed like when: 

  • We’re up against a deadline
  • Work volume is overtaking us
  • We need help
  • Priorities conflict 

We’re not much fun to be around when we’re on edge. Time stress affects the way we relate to our peers and employees. It makes decision-making more difficult and less reliable. It takes its toll. 

Avoiding the time drain trap 

People are often the culprit, especially those who: 

  • Waste our time with low value requests
  • Interrupt us looking for information
  • Distract us so we make mistakes or lose momentum
  • Pile on by assigning new tasks 

Day-to-day, most time drains come from our own employees. That’s when we need to look within and ask ourselves, “How am I at fault for letting this happen?” 

In 1974, Bill Oncken co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review titled, “Managing Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” 

His view was that the work we assume responsibility for is the “monkey on our back.” That work, however, isn’t always really ours, but we’ve taken it on anyway, giving it our precious time. 

Oncken’s Rules

Oncken’s principles of managing management time were turned into a classic book by Ken Blanchard, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey

In it, Blanchard presents Oncken’s thesis about managing management time: 

“Taking the initiative away from people and caring for and feeding their monkeys is nothing more than rescuing them, that is, doing things for them they can do for themselves.” 

Every time we do work our employees can’t, won’t, or don’t do, we put their monkeys on our backs like this: 

Harriet comes to you at the eleventh hour to admit she doesn’t know how to upload her data for the department report. She asks you to help her just this once. You grudgingly say “yes” because that’s easy. 

What you’ve taught Harriet is that, in a pinch, you’ll bail her out. She’ll now convince herself that you don’t mind helping her and will feel free to try this tactic again. 

In this example the monkey is not Harriet and it’s not the task. Oncken tells us the monkey is “the next move.” In this case, you chose to accept Harriet’s work task as your next move. You will now add a time drain to your job and subtract one for Harriet. 

In this case, your other options were: 

  1. Telling Harriet to follow the upload process in the manual
  2. Accepting that Harriet’s data will be uploaded late  
  3. Teaming Harriet with a peer who successfully completed the upload early and now has time to coach her 

Solution #3 likely solves the problem without it consuming your time. It keeps the monkey at the right level of the organization. You can deal with Harriet’s performance issues later. 

Managers face situations like this every day: employee requests for information, clarification, approvals, and input. Each one can become an avoidable time drain by managing the monkey—that next move. 

When faced with one of these situations, Oncken proposes we follow these four rules: 

  1. Describe the monkey clearly so that you and the employee understand and agree on who has the next move(s)
  2. Assign each monkey to the appropriate person/people
  3. Insure the monkey by making it clear whether the responsible person: a.) must recommend and get approval from the manager before acting or b.) can act and then advise afterward
  4. Check on the monkey to provide feedback, praise, or direct changes 

Work smart 

Working long hours does nothing to raise your currency with employees or bosses. Instead it’s a sign that you can’t manage your time effectively or use company resources (your employees) appropriately. 

Your employees will delegate up to you if you allow it. When you suffer from time stress, everyone in your life feels it. So do yourself a favor and read Blanchard’s book. It’s a short and easy read that will make a big difference. 

Photo from smemon87 via Flickr

What Working Long Hours Says About You! | Self-Limiting Job Traps

Staying late. Being available. Responding immediately to messages. These are the signs of being dedicated, career-minded, and a high performer, right? 

We’ve all been taught about the rewards of “hard work,” but what is that exactly? The “work” part is usually clear. It’s the task and responsibilities assigned to us. But what about the “hard” part? 

The meaning of effort and time 

Sweat and strain are the physical signs of working hard. But there isn’t much of that going on in office settings. Without those visible signs, how does anyone working at a “clean, warm, and dry” job get recognized for his/her mental elbow grease? 

When time spent at work becomes the measure of our value, it turns into a trap! 

If we believe that “putting in the time” showcases our commitment, we’ll just spend more time at work or connected to it. But, we know that time doesn’t generate goal achievement. Effort does. 

So, if we can increase our effort while reducing the time it takes to achieve results, we’re there! 

It’s too bad that more people don’t do that at work. Instead, many would rather be “seen” attached to their work for more hours than dig in with their intellectual shovels and get the work done expeditiously. 

Look at what you’re doing! Then ask why? 

If you’re working lots of hours, you need to take a look at how you’re using your time and what value you’re producing. A key question to ask yourself is, “If I stopped doing certain tasks, who would notice or care?” 

I’ve worked with plenty of managers who chose to be chained to their own desks, sacrificing family, health, enjoyment, and ultimately advancement. Their time donations to their jobs, in the end, produced little lasting value.

Here’s a little self-inventory for supervisors and employees. If you’re doing any of these things with your time at work, ask yourself “why” and be honest about your answer. Are you: 

  • Checking (and double-checking) the work of your employees
  • Approving all requests by employees no matter how small
  • Taking on tasks from others because they (and you) think you’re more capable
  • Over-analyzing and editing your own work to avoid any possible chance of error
  • Giving everything assigned to you the same priority
  • Completing every task even if it interferes with more important work
  • Being unwilling to negotiate or renegotiate work priorities with your boss
  • Having no measurable/observable goals that confirm the way you should use your time
  • Believing that everything is important and needs to get done 

These actions and viewpoints say a lot about us. They tell our supervisors and colleagues that we: 

  • Are unfocused and overcommitted
  • Will likely become a bottleneck
  • Don’t understand our responsibilities
  • Are unable to identify and manage multiple priorities
  • Are indecisive and a poor time manager
  • Have become a work hoarder for reasons like insecurity or ego
  • Are unable to balance our life and work 

Staying out of time-sapping traps, like these, is good for your career and your life. 

What’s yours and what’s mine? 

Self-awareness and self-management are crucial for a successful career. It’s so easy to get caught up in behaviors that we think will pay off but don’t. There’s a classic time management book by Ken Blanchard, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, which I finally read this week. 

It illustrates how we can lose our way at work when we naively take on work that really belongs to someone else. This is a major job trap that ends up voraciously consuming our priceless time. 

It will take less than two hours of your time to read Blanchard’s130 pages, a time investment that will give you the ability to free your calendar and your mind. Business fitness includes staying current on techniques that improve your performance. Now’s a good time for that. Happy reading! 

What time traps have you experienced at work? Do you have an idea that will help us avoid capture? Thanks.