It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
My I don’t have to run day
It’s just another manic Monday (Manic Monday, Bangles)
On a Monday morning most employees glance at their calendars for the week, see the myriad patchwork of colored blocks staring back at them from their chock-a-block calendars, heave a long sigh and head for the coffee machine in the hope that caffeine will make it all go away.
And this is just the ‘planned’ part of the week.
The slivers of white that do remain in the calendar can quickly get filled with calls from the colleague who has just had a brainwave about how ‘things should be’ from reading a book over the weekend, a colleague who needs to discuss something he hasn’t put any real thought into and wants to ‘pick your brain on’ or just somebody who wants you to ‘quickly review’ something.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.
A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.
Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern. (The Writing Life, Annie Dillard)
Rushing from one meeting to another; Forgetting to return calls to people you promised to because you are just plain exhausted; Not having time even to eat a (healthy) meal – we have clearly taken the art of ‘busy-ness’ way too far.
It’s difficult to imagine that people are effective in a situation like this. Chances are the sheer mental exhaustion is resulting in employees under-performing rather than doing anything close to the ludicrously sounding goal to ‘use creativity to come up with innovative solutions’ set for them in the annual goal-setting process.
Get rid of the crap!
Let’s break that down a bit further.
Managers: Don’t shovel crappy activities onto your team-members. Respect their time.
Team-members: Don’t accept crap. Respect your own time, because if you don’t nobody will.
One of the ways you can truly show people that you respect and appreciate them, is to not steal their time. You wouldn’t steal their lunch and make them starve. You wouldn’t steal the fuel from their car and make them angry. So why would you think it’s okay to steal their time with impunity?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced us to the concept of ‘Flow’ – that highly focused mental state when people are totally absorbed in the work on hand. That is the state in which the ‘magic’ happens. A very important prerequisite for that state is that people have the time to get there. It can’t happen in 15 minutes in between two scheduled meetings.
So how does one create time?
By not destroying it (for yourself and others)!
Dissect your meetings and team work mercilessly and ensure that the groundwork is done.
- Set the right goals.
- Get everyone’s alignment on expected outcomes.
- Reach a mutual agreement on deliverables and timelines.
- Assign tasks and get out of the way.(Twiddle thumbs (or do some other work) while your colleague does her work.)
So here is the funny part. All four steps require you (the person giving the task irrespective of the position) to pull the heavy load. This doesn’t apply just to managers assigning tasks to team members, it also applies to a team-member requesting her superiors time, for say a review.
Steps 1 through 3 requires you to do the background work on what it is you want to talk/review/assign/brainstorm-on, and have good reasons for your expectations.
You can always try and resort to an artificial environment of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to ‘compress’ timelines.
This is …(fill the blanks from any of the options below)
- …a critical project,
- …a large project
- …represents is 10% of our top-line for this financial year
- …the new direction for the industry and we need to be ‘market-leaders’
You can keep layering the crap till nobody really cares anymore. They just nod their head and don’t deliver anyway. When you keep saying that again and again for all your work, you know what people are thinking.
When you make a plan or propose a timeline, be willing to hear a revised proposal or even a No from your colleague. If you think she is not giving you a qualified and correct opinion, then you have the wrong person in the wrong job. Either way, you can’t possibly imagine that you know her job and work-schedule better than she does.
And if for a minute you thought that steps 1 to 3 were tough, it’s not. # 4 is the killer. All that is still work and it aligns with the ‘programming’ of ‘busy-ness’ we are used to. Getting out of the way means you are not ‘busy’ anymore.
Gasp! All that blinding white on the calendar! What is one to do with all that time?
How about … really thinking deeply about the difficult problems facing you/your team/your organization?
References and Acknowledgements:
How We Spend Our Days Is How We Spend Our Lives: Annie Dillard on Choosing Presence Over Productivity (BrainPickings.org)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness, TED Talks
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