For some of us, the scene is a common one. It’s 8pm, the deliverable is due tomorrow. Jacqui left at 5pm, but she has kids to pick up and arrived at 8am working flat out until she left. She leaves promptly everyday, I actually set my watch by the sound of her footsteps racing past me. Sam left at 7pm and now Alex has just left, leaving it all for me to complete. I smile as they leave, but inwardly I feel frustrated, it’s left to me, again.
At 9pm an email arrives from my boss with some new details, more changes, I wait, hoping someone else will reply. 10 minutes later, I feel the compulsion to reply. Its left to me, again.
I think to myself, I’d better go quickly grab something for dinner before everything closes. Chris, my fiancee, will be frustrated that I’m missing dinner again, but understands, mostly, usually. Then again, understanding and accepting are not quite the same as agreeing and liking. I put that out of my head, Chris loves me, I know we can get through this, I think we can get through this.
I think to myself, if only Sam wasn’t so incompetent, I wouldn’t have to be here. I have shown Sam and Alex how to do it right, why can’t they just do it.
On the walk to M&S I start thinking…
…why don’t they care?
Do they lack of ambition to succeed, perhaps, or is it they just have a different perspective on their career and wider life experiences. Perhaps work is a less important factor in their life. They do it out of necessity.
After eating my microwave pasta, I’m feeling better, comforting food does that for me. I start to consider less about the blame game and perhaps, what if they are right, so…
…why do I care
It is a matter of personal and professional pride. I have the ambition and desire to succeed. There is no ways that I could spend a minimum of 8 hours each day in a place just because I had to. That sounds miserable. The feeling of being wanted and needed is a big motivator. Enjoying my job is an essential part of happiness but work alone is unlikely to make me happy.
I also remember that I only managed to get this role, because of my reputation is so solid, I can happily have companies contact all of my previous managers and (most of) my colleagues for a recommendation.
But sometimes it’s necessary to take a step and look at what’s really important – reflect on other things. My recent trip to Malawi had a big influence in this sense. It’s decided, tomorrow I will speak to the boss, this has to change….
…it’s time to get the bosses response
I arrive early (as usual), I couldn’t sleep. Only Jacqui is in the office (as usual), I make a cup of coffee, then log-on to check my e-mails, no new ones I need to action. A quick browse of my favourite websites and 20 minutes later I prepare my case to explain to the boss.
The boss is the next in, I had dropped an e-mail, before going to sleep last night, explaining I wanted to have a quick chat about workload first thing. I don’t like to blindside people.
After I make my case for carrying the team, my boss pauses and reflects. While I wait, I actually realise how petty some of it sounds, but I still have confidence in my gripes and I’m waiting for the outrage at how everything has been dumped on me, how the boss was going to scold the rest of the team, that the way things are done would change.
The first thing the boss says, catches me off guard, “You know that you actually make everyone feel guilty, they stay later than they would like, so they can help out.” Hmm, this is not going as planned. “When they go home, trying to make the most of what is left of the evening, they feel bad, but they also want to have more of a life than work.”
The boss then goes on to explain that I have brought a lot of this on myself:
- People expect me to organise the social events, because I organise the social events
- People expect me to drop everything and help them, because I drop everything and help them
- People expect me to fix their “mistakes” and complete the deliverable, because I… well the point is starting to be made.
This carries on for longer than I’d like, but it is said with kindness and empathy. The boss then explains that I struggle to chose between what is important and what is not. What is urgent and what is not. Most people expect delays, so they set earlier than needed deadlines, not all need to be hit.
The boss then starts to give some ideas of…
…what can be done
Firstly the boss hands me a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, while explaining that the Stoics core philosophies are probably more applicable today than ever before and I could learn a lot from them.
Using their 3 core principles, when considering a decision, I should ask myself:
- How can I control my perception of what is being asked and the situation I find myself in?
- How can I direct my actions appropriately?
- If it is out of my control, how can I learn to accept that it is?
Failing this, I could use Taoist approach and go with the flow. My boss smiles kindly, knowing that this will be hard for me.
The boss then suggests I consider if I have any of these surprisingly common mindsets:
- Parkinson’s Law – I stretch the work out to beyond the working day, perhaps I could be more effective if I did less. I am creating work for myself (and others), how much of my work is self generated?
- Impostor Syndrome – I don’t feel that I belong, so I am continually trying to justify my position.
While the contribution I make is valued, it doesn’t give room for Alex and Sam to develop, to take ownership. The Boss explains that in the past I have re-done what they do anyway, so they stopped trying. I start to feel bad, I had the best intentions, I wanted to be done right.
So between us, we started discussing what could could be done about it, we came up with…
…a new plan
Realising that caring too much is as bad as not caring enough. So I will try reign myself back when I am driving too hard, this would not be easy for me. I need to learn that some things take time and ambition can lead to impatience which can have a negative impact on my career. I will still continue to make sure I get the satisfaction of getting deliverables done, perhaps just less of them. Then the break through happened, I set “rules” to work by. Perhaps guidelines is more accurate.
My new rules to work by:
- Collaboratively agree ownership of different parts of the deliverable, accepting that I am only in control of my part.
- Block out my diary to ensure I have time for the key things I care about. I will have no more than 3 priorities each day.
- I will leave work at 5pm, ignoring any “are you doing a half day” comments are for people who struggle to manage their time and their workload. If I end up leaving at 6pm, that is still a victory.
- For the two weeks after quarter close, I will put in the extra hours needed. I will block time on those days, scheduling in extra time expected based on experience. I will have an automated response explaining “Due to increased workload associated with the quarter end this needs to be my number 1 priority, I will look to respond to your query on the 15th. If it is urgent, I may assume that it’s been dealt with in the interim. If it is important, then please chase on or after the 15th.” I will then block out the 15th, to respond to e-mails.
- If someone comes to me and asks for help, I will consider the request. If I am snowed under, I’ll suggest next week – typically their response will be one of, no problem, I can get xxx to help or next week is fine or I’m really battling, is there any way we can look at it sooner. Only on the third, is it worth considering immediately and I will balance this against my personal deliverables.
- Take time out each day to be more mindful and to be me, this will help keep perspective of what is important.
- I will set e-mail rules to manage my inbox:
- CC’d e-mails go straight to a separate folder;
- Newsletter e-mails straight to a folder for reading when I have time;
- I will only check my emails at specific times of day;
- I will turn off interrupting and distracting notifications.
In addition, I’ll practice saying NO (Look out for a blog post in the next couple of weeks about learning to say NO). I will still probably care more than other people, I can’t spend 8-10 hours a day at work and not. Now though, I’ll do it with a little more perspective.
The above is fictional, well the names are, the rest is drawn from my experiences directly and from input from people I have worked with directly in a corporate or coaching capacity.