How long is a week?
How long is a week?
It depends. It really does.
It depends on what else is going on, good or bad.
A week is very different if you are on leave or at work. If you are working while looking after a sick child, or working while training for a marathon, or working while nursing a cold, or working while planning a wedding, or working while moving house, or just working.
It also depends on what you do with your day. Inside organisations, there are three types of jobs: jobs that face into the work (the people who do the thing you sell, be it fixing bicycles, creating software, making cupcakes or plumbing services); the people who face into the world outside (the sales teams and the delivery teams and the client support teams); and the people who face inwards (business partners, and special projects folks, and administrative office folks whose job is to look after the organisation itself).
A week is very different for these folks.
A week is very different if you are working on one thing and one thing only. All your time dedicated to this thing. Let’s call it preparing for a big meeting.
And let’s assume that this big meeting (a board update or a quarterly executive briefing) needs inputs from the people facing into the work… and into the world… so you just set them a deadline for inputs… and you asked for all updates and inputs to be submitted in a week.
And you feel most generous because a week is plenty of time. You could do it in a week with time to spare, you think to yourself. And it is important, so folks will make time. And it’s a week. It’s not like you asked for this now-now-now.
Only… a couple of your colleagues are on leave and won’t see the message till they’ve already missed your deadline.
All your colleagues have work planned for the week and weren’t exactly sitting around hoping for something to come in to keep them busy. And now their well-planned week just got stressful. If only you had given them a couple of weeks’ heads up so they could have managed their own workload.
And some colleagues were already under the cosh this week.
Some colleagues are on a client site, three time zones away, in pre-scheduled back-to-back meetings, and the week is already spoken for with no flex for much more than maybe making it to the gym once before breakfast. So the week you gave them to fulfil your request equals skipping that one slot to go to the gym plus working late into the night and getting next to no sleep while working with the client.
And it’s still probably not enough time or headspace to do the work well. But it’s plenty enough to affect their general well-being. Mental and physical. To stretch them thinner and force them to do work with their concentration depleted by fatigue.
Your ‘plenty of time’ is rather meagre, from where they stand.
A week feels like a long time to wait for an answer but a very short time in which to prepare an answer.
You catch my drift.
And it doesn’t stop there.
The pace of work moves very differently for folks inside the same organisation depending on what they are tasked with doing. Those facing in and those facing out. Those facing into the work, the world or the org itself.
And although all those functions are essential, they often lose sight of what the others do for them… or what they are meant to be doing for each other.
During the course of my career, every time I have come back from a trip, exhausted and over-worked, completely spent from having been switched on and on display from breakfast through to dinner with no downtime, privacy or quiet… every time… I have come back and walked into an initiative concocted by someone who thought they were doing a good thing.
An initiative that demanded time and energy away from those of us facing out, devised with the best intentions in the world by those facing in.
Some of it is essential work, poorly managed. Like… a good idea to be more internally connected leading to a terrible outcome of 14 new recurring meetings. Or the excellent idea of having some unstructured ‘team time’ leading to the terrible outcome of people being forced to attend socials on a day when they had planned leave… or spilling into time they would rather spend with their families, at the gym or quietly at home… or making choices around ‘what is fun’ for people who may not like alcohol, pizza or crazy golf. It happens.
A conversation about the need to reflect on an opportunity is picked up by the folks for whom a week is plenty of time, turned into an initiative requiring presentations and reviews and committees. They have spent their week setting up a convoluted process that they will now manage and you just need to find the time to feed the beast with endless PowerPoint presentations that you will have to somehow produce while doing everything else.
By next week.
There are good intentions behind the busy work.
Oh, we should be more connected. We should take turns to share the bigger picture of the work we do, or talk colleagues through the specifics of our day to day. It’s good to pause, think and understand, right? Right.
That is a genuinely good idea.
Having a rotating schedule of presentations done at an All Hands or Town Hall but no time to prepare the presentation, is a less good idea.
Assuming that the team member in question will work on their presentation over the weekend because ‘it’s a bit of fun’… that is a terrible idea.
Asking for colleagues to input into your work is essential and your work is important.
It may indeed be the most important thing.
But you knew the ask was coming and your colleagues didn’t. You could have warned them but didn’t. It is all you are doing and it is not all they are doing.
All those things are true. And they are true at the same time. And yet we very rarely think of them as we go about our work. We rarely think of what it is our colleagues do with the time we are asking them to give us. We rarely think what it is we are meant to be doing for them and whether the way we are going about things is at cross purposes to their purpose.
I remember speaking, years ago, to the person charged with rolling out the new KPI system in the organisation that employed us both at the time (he is still there, go figure). The intent behind the new system was to help us, as an organisation, get better MIS, have sight of leading and lagging performance indicators and generally become more data-driven in our performance management. But your man was not accountable for any of this. He was accountable for rolling the system out and ensuring adoption. So he made certain parts compulsory and left the rest to chance. So everyone set targets they could meet and everyone exceeded their KPIs by, on average, 70%. The programme was a success, other than in terms of what it was meant to achieve.
But it was a success in terms of what it chose to measure. The people facing into the work and into the world worked out a way to minimise the busy work and manage the noise. And the people facing into the organisation were well-pleased with their day’s work.
The distance between the intent and the outcomes, the distance between the work done and the disruption caused… that is how long a piece of string is.
As for how long a week is… it is exactly as long as your own goodwill towards your colleagues and theirs back to you. It is exactly as long as your understanding of what other folks do with their time, how context-switching may affect their concentration and productivity. It is exactly as long as your commitment to do the best you can by your colleagues and the business.
And exactly as long as your commitment to doing the thing that is most comfortable for you.
Exactly that long, as it turns out.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
Leda is also a published author – her first book, Bankers Like Us: Dispatches from an Industry in Transition, is available to order here.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!
Follow Leda on Twitter @LedaGlyptis and LinkedIn.