The Employee Perspective on the Time Perspective
In Part 1 of this Perspectives of Time series we discussed what time feels like and how its impact is different from person to person and moment to moment, depending on factors that are internal to the individual. Some of those factors include state of mind, novelty, and your lifestage. In Part 2, we focused on how time perception varies depending on whether you’re the user/client or admin/MSP.
In today’s part 3, today’s final chapter of the series, we’ll talk about how differing perspectives affect your life as an employee and your relationship with work.
We are well into the Big Ignore and people are regularly migrating back into the office, working remotely, or some hybrid of the two. Productivity differences are frequently being evaluated by leadership at organizations of all shapes and sizes:
Disclaimer: we know that some jobs, by their very nature, will require 40 hours (think customer support) but maybe not specifically in the office. Others will require both a full schedule AND full onsite (think retail or restaurant workers) but their hours will vary for a variety of reasons. Still others will not require one to “punch a clock” for 40 hours, and the expectations around how much time is spent on the job… and actually working… are more fluid so long as the work is getting done.
Make no mistake, though, from a typical business leader’s perspective, time is framed by the work week and evaluated on how much can be done within it. I think it can be done better.
You and I (and every other employee) see time in a different way. We have 24 hours in a day. If we assume 8 hours of sleep (an important goal everyone should strive to achieve), we have 16 hours left in each day. Some of that time is taken up by meals (and their prep), personal time, health time, commuting time, errands, etc. For some reason, we have an 8-hour workday (seems arbitrary but I’m not up for researching the genesis of this practice at the moment). That leaves, on average, roughly 4 hours of unstructured or unscheduled time in a day. Many of us use that for precious little family time.
Our perception of time is one where our time at work is in competition for time for the balance of our daily life; depending upon the kind of work we do, and where we have to do it, it’s no wonder employees feel stressed at work. We don’t always have sufficient wind-down time, or we feel a constant tug-of-war between where we need/want to spend our time, and from what part of our life we have to take it from.
Needless to say (but I will anyway), employers and employees see time differently. While both agree that we need to use work time effectively, we often have different ideas of what “effectively” means. Too often, an employer thinks that if you work faster you can do more and if you do more work they make more money. The employee, on the other hand, views working faster as a result of being more focused and knowledgeable or experienced. Working faster doesn’t mean their time should be filled with more work…it means their time should be spent improving their knowledge so their work is improved, not increased.
Productivity, like time perception, varies depending on whose perspective we’re viewing from.
We are not machines. We need time to think, time to process, time to do nothing. Without time to refill our tanks, we will simply burn out. But employees today feel a lot of pressure - especially in an economy that is as unstable as ours has been. Added to the feeling that employees have to give more and more to their employers, there are companies that monitor mouse movements of their employees. I won’t lie, that seems barbaric to me. We are all adults. What we produce is more important than how we produce it.
Working for the project or the goal would be the least contentious and most beneficial to all parties involved. My teammates and I frequently talk about this method of arranging our work. Our sprints are based on the effort it takes to get a project to completion (or to the next step). Some projects are self-contained and require only our own brain. Some require research. Some are independently produced and some require coordination and collaboration with colleagues outside our team, or even outside our company.
We have strong feelings of ownership and responsibility for what we do. So it’s not uncommon for us to feel some guilt if we’re not clocking a full 8 hours of literal typing every day. The reality is, we shouldn’t feel any guilt.
And, of course, one cannot force creativity. Each of us has our own creative process…it’s what makes our content high quality, intelligent, and delightful to read.
While writing is our job, it’s not the sum total of our work, however. It’s impossible to be creative for every minute on the clock. We need time to learn, to process, to ask questions, and to free up our brains so there is space for creativity. It’s that creativity that our readers enjoy and the reason they keep coming back to our blog and to our community. We’re not robots, y’know. And neither are you.
There are a lot of similarities between what I do now and what I did when I was in the throes of IT Admin work. I created proposals, I created documentation, I created processes and procedures, I created my website, and I created sales presentations. And that was just the business part. As an IT Admin I created procedures for keeping my client organizations’ networks and systems running smoothly. I created scripts and schedules and training. And I learned new things every day.
I guess what I’m saying is that even when you’re not specifically doing IT Admin work, you’re still being enormously productive. And the work you’re doing by creating those processes and procedures, by learning new things, by developing documentation, instead of just focusing on closing tickets, is what helps you to be more productive in the Admin part of your job. That is, if we agree that we’re defining “productive” as having a happier and more productive user base.
Many believe that the only way to work is “harder,” and the lexicon (at least here in the States) is that hard work is the only way to reap rewards. What isn’t discussed is the expense of doing that. It’s hard work to answer every ticket with “please restart and get back to us”. Yes, you’ll close a lot of tickets but you’ll also gain carpal tunnel. Instead, spend the time to create an autoreply for certain conditions. Solves many problems, closes many tickets, takes time up front but ultimately saves time. Work smarter, not harder.
I give you permission to stop feeling guilty when you’re not closing tickets, ok? There are things you (should) do in your daily work life that enhance your productivity. Remember, happy users don’t enter as many tickets as unhappy users. And enriched admins make for more talented admins.
When you refill your tank, you are better able to work smart. The struggle and stress lessen. But we often forget to use our time differently because we are so focused on the number of tickets we close. We forget that research is work. Reading is work. Chatting it up with others is work. Going out for a walk to clear our heads makes better work possible. IT Admins are not widget makers. We are problem solvers and teachers, working to figure out ways to make complicated topics easy to understand; to make magic from the tedious. There is a mental exhaustion factor that goes with having to be constantly creative in ridiculously detailed fashion, leaving nothing to chance. Sometimes that creativity bursts and a script gets written very quickly. And sometimes it takes a painful amount of time.
There’s the “c” word again. I seem to write about it a lot, don’t I?
If your tasks are getting in the way of your work then you, as an employee, should be able to ask for what you need. Speak up for yourself and the quality of your work. Speak up for a better work-life balance. You are more than just your work product.
As a boss, you have the opportunity to be an amazing employer. You can listen to your staff and allow them to work in a way that benefits you as well as them. Set goals with the team and help them reach their goals. Assign KPIs that are achievable but not so high that you cause your employees to become stressed. Stressed out employees don’t perform well. Stressed out employees don’t perceive time well and that impacts your business.
Ultimately, to be as productive as you know you can be, you need to communicate with your leaders and/or your team about how you effectively use your time to help you reach your target. Talk about why showing up for 40 hours isn’t the same as doing tasks for 40 hours. You are more than the tickets you close or the scripts you write. You are the relationships you foster and the good will you build - because those allow you to create success across the board.
Throughout this series we talked about different effects and feelings around time. We’ve learned how we perceive it differently depending on many various personal and environmental factors. We’ve talked about how technology impacts our ability to perceive the passage of time. And we’ve brought it all together to talk about time’s impact on us as employees and employers. And we’ve discussed how to use time perception to our advantage as MSPs. Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comment sections.
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