What is the one question I always ask? And what is the surprising answer I always get?
We’ve been running many of our workshops over the last few months. The titles and content of these workshops are a result of conversations I have with the leaders of the business.
As an example, the COO of Growth Incorporated phoned me a few weeks ago to discuss what training would be most helpful for her organisation. We started with her downloading her concerns which included the following: “I would like to run a workshop to help the team manage stress. They’re feeling overwhelmed and I sense anxiety is creeping in. We’re offering support but I think we need to provide stress management tools.”
We discussed the reason for stress and, after a discussion, agreed that time management and lack of boundaries were the root cause. I recommended a 2 x 2-hour format over a period of a fortnight for a group of 10. I find 2 hours in one hit is long enough for most people in training, and the split across the weeks allows implementation for the tools, followed by an accountability check in and testing response. I can also engage and get to know a group of 10 in a relatively short space of time. Larger than this and it becomes a lecture, rather than an interactive workshop.
The other point I made is that accountability, time management and boundaries are usually the cause of stress, rather than workload. The pandemic adds an extra layer to this as the chat in the kitchen and walks to the café don’t occur, creating a sense of isolation and frustration. We can’t address all these issues, but we can call them out and help teams to recognise the impact lack of support is having on them and their teams.
The question that I ask in every one of my trainings and the answer which surprises me is: “have any of you done any time management training?” Out of all the trainings I’ve provided, I estimate less than 5% of those attending have raised their hands. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are at your work, or how well you develop relationships, or how well you run an agile stand up, if you don’t know how to manage your own diary. We all have things to do, and how you manage your day is your primary accountability. Ensure that you know your priorities, and this will allow you to manage expectations.
The 9 steps I recommend to creating a positive and effective workday are:
- Prepare your workspace. Opening your daybook signals the start of your day (Boundary). Use a notebook with a page per day, on paper preferably, but online if you prefer.
- Before you turn on your computer (most people have email on their phones and know what’s urgent anyway), start a fresh page and date.
- Download everything you have on your mind onto a page. Add boxes to the bottom of the page and title them your key stakeholders. I use ME, SARAH, MANLY CHAMBER. In these spaces list what needs to be discussed or actioned for your different stakeholders while acknowledging there will always be some personal activities and appointments etc.
- Now think about the time required to work on the key points, due dates and preparation needed. Prioritise using underlines, highlighter or numbers, whatever works for you.
- Then turn on your computer and review your diary. Ensure you have realistic breaks in place for the day.
- Open your emails once you have sorted your own priorities. Now you can react to further requests. Otherwise, the one who yells loudest gets a response, and they may not be the most time critical task.
- Review this list throughout the day.
- At the end of your day, review and tick off. Then turn the page and do the same for the next day.
- Close your page. This signals close of business (Boundary). Go for a walk, cook dinner or do whatever you need to do to move into your personal life.
This process takes discipline. Adding a few boundaries into your day allows the all-important subliminal work, or as I call it “headspace”, to think. Opening and closing your diary is better than opening and closing your laptop because we’re using laptops for many other reasons alongside work, for example shopping, games.
Here are some examples of boundary setting while working from home:
- “Max” goes to the front door, calls out goodbye, opens and closes it, and walks back to his office
- “Esther” makes a coffee, walks to her desk, and puts her “office box” on the dining room and opens her diary
- “Andy” goes for a run, and right on the dot of 8am, sits at his desk
- I open my office stationery cupboard door and close it at the end of the day.Each person follows their own ritual.
This is important for self-preservation, turning the “professional focus” on and off, and allowing others around you to know the rules. It is also important to recognise that most family members or flatmates will do their best, unless they are toddlers, to respect these rules if they know them. If you live alone, decide what boundary you will recognise, whether you use a specific space or office and close the door, or try one of the above.
There are ways around this challenging time of work/home/isolation. Book time for yourself to research what works for you – it’s not too late and will alleviate the stress. Taking control of your own day, own diary and own plan gives space to think about other things.
If in doubt, call me and we can help through workshops, mentoring or just a brief discussion about what’s frustrating and how to recognise the tipping points.