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.
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 your manager 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 and you also, no doubt, were given a few challenges to overcome along the way in those first couple of weeks.
So, 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, plus you take on 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, having too much to do and never feeling like they complete anything.
So what to do? 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 is outlined within your 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.
The second of these things to hold in balance is:
What you are able to do
This is made up of your core skills, knowledge and abilities. The experience you have gained over the years will have taught you how to behave, how to interact and 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
This is your personal desire and motives to do certain activities, get involved with certain situations, interact with different types of people. These are the things the “float your boat” as it were. We are all built different and 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. For example, if you have no desire or motivation to do something at work, then the solution is to develop some discipline to achieve it because it needs to be done. Maybe it’s planning it into your diary, or asking someone to support you with it, or simply JFDI. Whatever the issue, getting stuff done that needs some effort just requires some good old JFDI.
So how about, if you lack the knowledge, skills and ability? Well that’s relatively easy to deal with through attending training, getting some coaching, shadowing someone more able or reading books, watching videos 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 stress and 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, or some data crunching you used to do, or some analysis, or maybe some product management. What happens, almost unknowingly, is that we start to tell ourselves that we should provide the answers and solve people’s problems as the manager. When someone is not as capable as we think they should be, or they don’t do things to our standard, we whip out the first of our many time management mistakes “it will be quicker for me to do it myself”, before moving onto the second “they don’t do it the same way as I do it” and then finally “I don’t mind doing this activity. I quite enjoy it”.
If you find yourself guilty of any of the above behaviour, then you are falling foul of an “occupational hobby”. Occupational Hobbies are those activities or situations you get involved in, that the company would say are not within the scope of your role. This might be because you should have handed them over to someone else and trained them to do things as needed. 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 and space to do what the company needs you to do. 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, 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. When I asked him about it, he said it was something he’d been doing for a long time, since being a call agent himself. When 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.
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. Instead, we mask the problem and add more work to our already busy lives.
Another example involved a lady I was coaching who was stressed and very unhappy with her 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”. This is where someone just turns up to your desk to talk to you. When I dug deeper to find out what these calls and drop ins were about, I found a clear occupational hobby. You see, she was getting calls from people who used to see her as the “go to” person for answers regarding contractors and processes from 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.
So, my hot tip to get some control back over your time 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 the article, now go start taking back your time!
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