Manage Your Time Better
I was running a training programme the other day for a bunch of managers. The group was made up of people who were new to managing other people. Experienced managers who had never been on formal training and people who were likely to become people managers in the not too distant future. An overwhelmingly common topic that came up was “how to manage your time better”.
One of the concepts I shared with them seemed to resonate so strongly that it made me think, I don’t give it enough credit. You see, it is both timely and as practically useful today as it was when I first started using it many years back. It’s such a simple little concept that I now think it is one of the most crucial things to learn in managing others or tasks in projects.
The concept is called “Occupational Hobbies”.
Imagine, you are a member of a team and you’re hardworking, bright and diligent. Your performance results speak for themselves and you are reasonably ambitious too. At some point you either get approached by the boss to take on a new role managing a team, or maybe you apply for the role. You go through the normal interview or assessment center and congratulations, you are now the new manager and leader of a team. Maybe it’s a team of your peers that you now manage or maybe it’s a completely new team to you.
Either way, there is a high probability that no one handed you a “here’s how to manage people” guide or a “here’s all the things I wish I knew when I became a manager” book. Oh no, instead you were probably told where your new desk was (same place as your old one). You were given a bunch of tasks and KPIs that were now your responsibility. You also, no doubt, were given a few challenges to overcome along the way in those first couple of weeks.
So what to do?
What do you do with this new found responsibility and accountability? If you’re like many people, you kind of make it up as you go. You go on doing many of the things you were doing before, and a bunch of new stuff. Meanwhile, your new (or existing) team, suddenly develop an acute ability to annoy you. By not doing enough quite as effectively as you would like them to. You are now the boss and so everything is your responsibility. All questions (no matter how obvious the answer!) get thrown your way. All problems now become insurmountable and only fixable by you. Your loved ones start to refer to you as “that person who comes home once in a while………grumpy and tired” and telling you that “You need to manage your time better“.
You know I love dramatisation right? Ok so, it may not look so dramatic as this, but I promise you it’s not a million miles away. More of my coaching work these days is about helping people to manage the stress and pressure of being overworked. Because they have too much to do and never feel like they complete anything.
Well there is a perfectly logical explanation as to why the above happens for so many new and even experienced managers. It comes down to understanding your occupational hobbies.
Consider if you will, three things you need to keep in balance as much as possible. The first of these is:
What the company needs you to do
These are the core tasks, duties and activities that are outlined within the role specification. They are the things your manager says clearly belong within your remit to do hourly, daily, monthly or annually. It is also the things you should not be doing or getting involved in because they are no longer your remit as the manager. This is a key thing to remember in learning to manage your time better.
The second of these things to hold in balance is:
What you are able to do
Experience is made up of our core skills, knowledge and abilities. The experience we have gained over the years will have taught us how to behave. How you should interact with others and it’s given you some standards of approach to work. Your technical training will have given you critical knowledge and skill in carrying out work tasks. The resources you need provide you with the means to do the things you need to do.
The final area is:
What you are motivated to do
These are your personal desire and motives to do certain activities. The need to get involved with certain situations, interact with different types of people. These are the things that “float your boat” as it were. We are all built different. So it is logical that there are some situations and characteristics that we will prefer over others. More commonly than most, we prefer the things we know and like. Why, because they are safe territory and we have a prior level of competence doing them.
So then, what’s this occupation hobbies mumbo jumbo?
Well think about the above three things out of balance. All of a sudden, your ability to manage your time better, becomes exponentially harder. For example, if you have no desire or motivation to do something at work, then the solution is to develop some discipline. Maybe it’s planning it into your diary, or asking someone to support you with it. Or simply JFDI.
How about, if you lack the knowledge, skills and ability? Well that’s relatively easy to deal with. Attending training, getting some coaching, shadowing someone more able or reading books etc. This is simply about acquiring the knowledge or skills you are lacking to increase your capability.
So far, this is straightforward don’t ya think?
It all goes a bit wrong when we get to the “what the company needs us to do” area. This is the one, out of all, that causes the most problems. It also has a knock on affect on the other two areas. So, remember how I told you, there is rarely a guide book or training to prepare you for management. Well the reality is that many new managers start their new role doing largely what they did before. Plus all of the new stuff their role requires. Sometimes this is because there is a transition period to replace your old role. Or a hand over period whilst a new member of the team becomes familiar. There is nothing wrong with these things because they are temporary in nature.
The damage occurs when these tasks are no longer temporary and have become your everyday activities. As an example, think about a report that you used to produce in your old role. Some data crunching you used to do, or some analysis. Maybe some product management. What happens, almost unknowingly, is that we start to tell ourselves that we should provide the answers. We should solve people’s problems as the manager. When someone is not as capable as we think they should be, or they don’t meet our standards, what happens? We whip out the first of our many time management mistakes “it will be quicker for me to do it myself”. Then we move onto the second “they don’t do it the same way as I do it”. Finally “I don’t mind doing this activity. I quite enjoy it”.
Guilty as charged!
If you find yourself guilty of any of the above behaviour, then you are falling foul of an “occupational hobby”. You need ways to manage your time better. Occupational Hobbies are activities, that you shouldn’t be doing. Why? Because the company would say are not within the scope of your role. This might be because you should have handed them over and trained someone else to do them. It might be because you just like doing something that is familiar and more enjoyable than other aspects of your role. Or it may simply be that you don’t know what to give away and what to keep.
What I can tell you, is that tackling your occupational hobbies is a guaranteed route to buying yourself more time. I estimate that most manages have around 10% of their time sucked up by doing things someone else should be doing. Let me give you a couple of examples from real life situations:
I was working with a guy who had just taken on a new call centre team and was busy shadowing their calls. He was constantly checking KPIs, managing sickness and absence, amongst a whole bunch of other things. When we analysed his workload, I noticed that he was compiling a report with data on the call centre performance. So I asked him about it, he said it was something he’d been doing for a long time, since being a call agent himself. I asked why he was still doing it. He said “it doesn’t take me too long and it’s quicker than trying to explain it someone else. Plus it has to be right otherwise the senior manager starts shouting at people.
The classic pitfall!
This is a classic example of someone justifying to themselves why they should continue doing an activity they used to do. In almost all situations, it is nothing more than an excuse and an occupational hobby. Getting rid of the hobby, requires some short term pain, teaching someone else how to produce the report and to set the standard. This would be the right action to help manage your time better. Instead, we mask the problem and add more work to our already busy lives.
I was coaching someone who was stressed and unhappy with their management role. With some activity analysis, I could see she was spending quite a lot of time engaged in phone conversations or what I call “drop ins”. Where someone just turns up to your desk to talk. When I dug deeper, I found a clear occupational hobby. She was getting calls from people who used to see her as the “go to” person for answers regarding aspects of her old role. So they would call her up, or pop by to seek advice and answers to issue which were no longer anything to do with her current job. The problem; she didn’t like to say no and just wanted to be helpful. That’s a recipe for occupation hobbies right there.
My hot tip to get some control back and manage your time better is; know what your occupational hobbies are and work out strategies for removing them. I promise you it will make you much more productive on the right things and will do wonders for you own motivation. The real trick is genuinely understanding when something is an occupational hobby and not justifying to yourself that it really is something you should be doing, when in fact you shouldn’t.
The simple test is to ask yourself; “if my senior manager were looking at this activity, would they say it’s my role or someone elses?”. If you cannot honestly say it should be part of your role, then you’ve just identified an occupation hobby to get rid of.
I hope you enjoyed this “manage your time better” article, now go start taking back your time!
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