It was 7PM, my daughter had just gone down for the night and I was back in the office at home, doing absolutely nothing. At least that’s what it would have looked like if you’d been wandering the streets of Seddon and looked through my front window. You would have seen a woman wearing an unnecessarily large dressing gown, holding an equally [but necessarily] large glass of wine, sitting next to a computer and staring out the window for almost an hour [at this point I’m tempted to ask why you’re outside my window for an hour, but that’s not the point right now]. It looked, and sort of felt, like I wasn’t doing anything at all. But in that hour, I had designed [and redesigned and redesigned again] a really bloody complex spreadsheet that has since been giving us answers to questions about productivity, resourcing and future planning that we had until that point not even realised we needed to ask. We use that spreadsheet for everyday insights and to help with work distribution, but we also use it for huge, big-picture decisions that will ultimately continue to strengthen our teams. It’s a damn good spreadsheet, if I do say so myself.
The point is, I designed that spreadsheet at 7PM in the quiet lamplight of my office at home because I didn’t give myself the space for big-picture strategy during the working week. Like so many of us, a lot of my feelings of productivity come from ploughing through tangible tasks – things I use to fill my Asana board with, and then dutifully chip away at, so that every moment of my week is accounted for. And in a lot of roles? That really works. There is something truly addictive about the traditional perception of productivity. Checking off task after task is like running a marathon: you know what lies ahead of you, your progress is undeniable, and though you may tire towards the end, you can look back and see how far you’ve come. The problem with a marathon though, is that you’re running all day. I know, I know, way to state the obvious. Stick with me.
Let’s back it up a little. If you’re in a leadership position, you’re likely to have arrived there by one of two ways. Maybe you worked your way up the ranks by being very good at a job, and by way of natural progression, you found yourself managing a team. Or maybe you started the business yourself, and through your brilliance and hard graft, you built it to the point where you could sustain a team, and lo – you’re a manager. Either way, leadership is often perceived as an afterthought, secondary to the main function of a role. I’ve seen this at many levels, in many different sized companies over the years, and while this approach doesn’t necessarily [always] lead to bad management, I do think it’s a missed opportunity.
When leadership is considered a consequence of a position, rather than a key function of it, then we aren’t given any space for innovating [you just try putting ‘staring out the window for an hour, just thinking’ in your calendar], and equally importantly, we aren’t as available to our teams. We use a time tracking system at TDP, and when I track my ongoing ‘Internal Comms’ task, I easily rack up at least five hours a day on people management. Many of these hours aren’t pre-scheduled meetings, they’re in-the-moment requirements: quick bits of advice or opinion, conflict resolution, problem solving on a client account, explaining an internal policy, or maybe just acting as a sounding board. These things are difficult to anticipate, but in my opinion, they’re as essential in a leadership role as the “actual work” we fill our calendars with.
In my experience, we often pack our days so tight with tasks that the chance to innovate, or the ability to really be there for our teams become afterthoughts. What if innovation/accessibility/ mentorship was the task? For me? I’m a recovering task-addict. Often these days my calendar has tumbleweed languidly rolling across it. And I won’t lie, often it feels deeply uncomfortable. But I can tell you one thing for sure, my days are never empty, and you should just see those spreadsheets, they’d blow your mind.