Do You Need Office “ME” Time?

Businessman sitting in lotus position, Isolated against white background

Being a leader is hard work.  Everyone expects you to be “ON” every moment of every day.  You are pulled in a million different directions and normally you handle this with aplomb.  But today is different, you don’t feel like being a leader.  You want to close your office door and get some YOUR work done.  You do not want to deal with Whiny Winnie, Need Ned, and the rest of your team.

Does this sound familiar?  You are not the first nor last leader who needs an office “ME” day.  In fact many leadership experts point to how you manage your calendar as one of the truest forms of leadership.  Blocking off “ME” time each week is an important habit that you need to start today and make it a weekly or daily habit.

So how do you start this “ME” time when you are so busy and everyone is so needy?  Find a natural time in your work schedule when people do not want to be bothered.  This typically falls early Monday morning between 8 am – 11 am or after 2 pm on Fridays.    People tend to be distracted at these times- discussing weekend events or plans.  I tend to use the first and last hours of my day, no one wants to talk to me at 7 am or at 5 pm.  Block your preferred times as busy right now.

How do you prepare for your “ME” time?  Turn off your cell phone, send your office phone to VM, close your door, and put headphones on if you are in an open floor plan.  Make every visible clue that you are working on something every important.  Because you are.

What do you do during “ME” time?  If you look at your day, it is typically spent in three phases- tasks, projects, planning.  If you are like most leaders, you spend all day on projects and ignore the other two.  So clear all of your tasks first.  A task is anything that can be done quickly.  Read and respond to emails.  Send meeting invitations.  Run/read simple reports.  Take care of all of the little things you never get to.  But cap it at an hour.  If you are using my method, use thirty minutes of each hour.

What do you do during the rest of the time?  Planning.  The key to success is a good plan.  Take this time to create your team and personal short and mid-term goals.  Devise the correct strategies to achieve those plans.  Set up the meetings to explain and implement those plans.  Monitor the performance of plans already in action (projects in above example).  If you still have time, dream about your team’s stretch goals.

But working your “ME” time into your schedule, you will be amazed at how you will achieve better results and be more in tune with your team.  You will have more energy.  You will be more focused.  And you will get better results.

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What Happens When the Rules Cause Chaos?

As a manager, you are governed by a set of rules, norms, and cultural standards that help guide your business decisions.  And for the vast majority of times, these standards help form the right way to handle a work situation.  The rules protect both the employee and the employer.

But what happens when the rules actually cause chaos?  Must you follow them to the letter?  Are you obligated to ignore them?  Will your superiors support you if you make the right decision, but it falls against the norms?

These types of decisions happen every day and many times you do not realize it.  How you deal with your employees’ attire, workplace interactions, and “free time” activities may all be in the gray area of your company’s published guidelines.  Your guidelines may not cover tweeting, posting, or shopping at work.  Or dress down days, telecommuting, and other “new” things in the workplace.

If you are a stickler for the rules, you may be running into a huge dilemma- how do I manage a situation without the safety of our corporate policies?  Even if you are a maverick, how do you manage the situation without some guidelines?  Failure to act will certainly cause issues, but how do you maneuver?

The answer is actually pretty easy:

  1. Involve your team (including HR and your supervisor).  For dress down days, discuss what people can wear when clients are coming to the office versus an inventory day.  Working from home is a great perk, but everyone needs to be available between normal work hours.  Posting your lunch may be an acceptable activity, tweeting your opinions about a co-worker, not so much.
  2. Create guidelines that are fair, consistent with your normal policies, and are steeped in common sense.  For instance, is it reasonable to wear running shorts to work?  If you work for Nike, maybe, IBM, not so much.
  3. Explain the basis behind your decisions, it will help your team when the next vague crisis takes place.  People crave consistency, explaining your decisions helps them understand your logic.

Managing situations inside of your company’s policies is hard, managing situations outside of them is even harder.  But by being inclusive, smart and transparent, you can help create policies that others will follow.

What You Do When You Think No One is Watching

h-jackson-jr-brown-2That is H. Jackson Brown, Jr.’s definition of character.  Think about that for a minute- character is defined by what you do when you are alone.  As a business person, that is powerful.  Your actions in a public setting are less important than what you do in the privacy of your office or off-hours.

What you do in your office time cements your reputation of having good character versus bad.  Do you:

  1. Meet deadlines on projects?
  2. Make timely follow up calls/emails, prepare presentations, research pertinent topics?
  3. Basically, do what you say you are going to do?

Think about a typical work day.  Can your teammates rely on you to achieve those tasks or are you someone who delays, procrastinates, forgets, dumps it off, etc.?  When people pass your office and you look intense, is it because you are working hard on a spreadsheet or are you looking for the perfect fantasy football lineup?  Do you arrive/leave five minutes before/after the boss?

Time management skills are obviously important to become a person of high work character but so does your inner drive to be seen as reliable, trustworthy and honest.  As a young employee, an experienced employee in a new company, or anywhere in between, you need to understand that how people describe your character affects your assignments, promotions, reputation, and “work friends”.

People know if you are moralistic in meetings only to waste days surfing the internet? I’ve mentioned the term “Empty Suit” before.  The quintessential Empty Suit lacks the ability to perform when no one is watching.  They live for the spotlight and hijack it whenever they can.  They cannot follow through with their promises, but don’t worry about that.  They are more worried about making as good public impression.

At the end of the day, your two main assets are your name and reputation.  Working hard to have good character is a good way to protect them both.

Are You a Meeting Animal?

We all know that person who tries to dominate a meeting- answering rhetorical questions, making counterpoints to their own points, pushing their agenda without any chance for input. Then they instantly become disengaged when they are finished with their rant. They read their phone, start sidebar conversations, and fidget in their chair until their time to pounce comes again.

Of all of the types of meeting goers, which also include the note taker, the contrarian, the face maker and the disinterested attendee, this person is the worst attendee. Their only agenda is to win the meeting, to prove that they are smarter, louder, and more aggressive than everyone else.

Ask yourself, “Am I that person?” If you are, please stop. Meetings are supposed to be for collaboration and team problem solving. If you need more attention, call your mom and ask if she is available to give you a hug. Your insecurities are hurting your team, your reputation and your career. Being passionate about the meeting subject is fine. Just be respectful that others may have different styles and perspectives and together you will solve the problems. It is really difficult to be an independent contributor in a group setting.

If you are running a meeting and you have a hijacker, you need to gain control of the situation. You need to exhibit strong leadership skills. Statements that redirect the meeting to your stated goals are important. “Thank you for the input, Tom. I think you covered that topic very well. Now we are going to discuss… Kate do you have any input.”

Put an end to cellphone use and sidebars immediately. Remind people that not only are those activities disrespectful, they increase the length of the meeting and reduce the effectiveness of the team. Be ready to handle snide comments with grace. Remember, you are in control of the meeting.

Plenty of books and articles have been written about the art of conducting/attending meetings. All of their main points center on respect- respecting the attendees, their time, their views and the moderator. Remember whether you are running the meeting or a willing participant, the way you respect your peers will go further than any idea that you have.