Workin' a Half-Day!

I've always had a very strong work ethic. If you've ever met my parents or any of my grandparents when they were alive, you'd understand why. I come from a long line of people who like to get things done and who believe that any job worth doing is worth doing well. I also grew up with a strong sense of needing to take care of myself so that I could focus on the work at hand. Whether this meant taking time away from work to go to the doctor, or just taking a day to stay home and recover from a nasty bug, I always tried to make sure I stayed at my best. Early in my career when I was working at one of Austin's many tech companies, I came across someone who really opened my eyes to how so many people work. She was my first experience with what I call "list bloat." She was very busy doing many things that were of little consequence yet highly visible. She may have been productive — but not truly producing the right work. I've seen this over and over again in my career. She kept adding to her to-do list and checking off lots of un-important things. For her, a long to-do list was a badge of honor.

This particular person had an office just down the hall from me. The break area was across the hall from both of us. One afternoon I was putting some dishes away in the dishwasher and had my laptop bag ready to head out for the day. It was right at 5 o'clock. She looked at me and half-jokingly said, "Working a half-day are ya?" I just stared blankly at her. "I'll be here another three hours. So much to get done. It must be nice to head out early," she added.

What she didn't know was that I had been there since 6 a.m. for a conference call with our EMEA offices. I had put in a full day paying attention those things that were important like expanding our sales offices in that region. I've always prioritized my work using an Eisenhower Box. I felt good about my day because I had spent most of it in the top left box — those things that are both urgent and important. I would find out later that those three hours she was about to add to her day would be doing work from what I would have put in the lower right hand box — neither urgent nor important. For her, it was all about optics. There was no extra money for her staying late, just the ability to tell us all how many extra hours she worked all the time. It became her mantra and consequently because of her relationship with the VP, became the yard stick by which we were all judged. Ultimately it didn't matter how significant the work was that one did, it only mattered how much time one spent doing it.

As leaders, this is something to which we need to be very attuned. We need to acknowledge and support boundaries in those who work with us. Good leaders of professionals (in general — I realize that the model has to flex for other job types,) manage to the work and not to the time. A good, clear job description is the foundation and helps to define what is expected. The salary that a company pays is really for the work as outlined in the job description — the results. Time and time again I've coached managers on how to manage based on results and not on time in the office. Granted, time in the office is a fallback because it is easy to measure and judge. If you're managing correctly, you'll know what the results should be and when you're getting your money's worth. This type of management is key to the success of any program that allows staff to work from anywhere, allows for open PTO plans, and allows for true time away as a new parent. Knowing what you expect from a role can allow for boundaries while a staff member is taking leave. They deserve protection from assignments and general organization chatter while they're taking their leave.

How do you prioritize work as a leader? Do you have a handle on what is or what is not productive? Have you ever used the term, "Working a half-day?" These are all questions to work through when trying to understand the boundaries that we need to support as leaders. We need to understand what our specific work expectations are — not how many hours we'd like to see people in the office. People have to feel comfortable having time to themselves. When all is said and done the question should never be, "How much extra time did you give?" But instead the question should be, "What are the important things that got done?"
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