How not to be your own micromanager

A couple of weeks ago, I actually did that thing on a Monday where you look at all your emails, turn them into to-do items, allocate time in your diary… and then mark the emails ‘unread’. (Even the emails that need thoughtful responses are now tasks). 

This was part of my plan for #FebFlourish to pace my work, not to always be in a rush. 2020 was a constant rolling series of emergencies for external reasons that many of us share, and I wanted to at least reach for calmer waters.

And on the second day, I already hated it. Instead of dealing with each email twice (to read it, and then deal with it later) I dealt with it four or five times. 

As you might expect, tasks took more or less time than I planned. And then on day 2, new tasks arrived and my energy was in a different place. I felt like staying in, writing 1800 words for a new project and refining the argument of a nearly finished project, instead of going to the library to hunt down references for my ongoing project. 

Nonetheless, Tuesday was awesome. I wrote 1800 words and actually finished the very tricky argument of a project that has stymied me and my coauthor for months. I recruited some staff, approved some things, wrangled some admin, planned some stuff. I wrote my monthly done list (another a new strategy I’m trying out this year, which I’m loving so far. I’ll blog about that later!) I also dealt with an energy crash first thing, still went to the gym, and ate proper meals. Like, I crushed Tuesday. 

But my planning just made me feel like my Tuesday was full of stuff I didn’t do or had to delay. The planning experience was messy and boring. 

Reflecting on the mismatch between my actual day and my planned day, I realised that Monday-me had delegated a lot of tasks to Tuesday-me. While it was appropriate to delegate the tasks, Monday-me had done it in the worst possible way. I had made myself my own micro-manager. 

Most people hate being micro-managed. In fact, micro-management is recognised as being a form of bullying. What’s more, micro-management is generally understood to be an ineffectiveway to get your team to do what you want.  

I personally have left jobs where I felt micro-managed. I like to have my manager explain to me the overall goal and then trust me to deal with the details. And I excel when I am trusted (as do most people!) Micro-management says you don’t trust your staff. 

So it was useful to realise I’ve resisted this kind of planning in the past because I’ve instinctively recognised it’s inefficient and offensive. Essentially, Monday-me was saying she didn’t trust Tuesday-me. But Tuesday-me was on the ground on Tuesday and really knew what was going on. Tuesday-me outperformed all of Monday-me’s plans, but she also had to waste time dealing with those plans.

It is still absolutely worth it to make big picture plans. For example: admin before lunch, research after lunch. I also sometime like to make a plan for what I will do in a pomodoro block, something that will take at least 25 minutes, or block out an hour for similar tasks like ’email’ or ‘errands’.

Most emails, though, are mini-jobs. And, at the micro-email-task-diary level… it’s not worth it. Read the email, mark it unread, come back to it later. On the day, judge what is important, what your energy level is, what else is going on. Your health, work, and inbox might not tell the story you expected even 24 hours earlier. 

Also, don’t be afraid to mark that email ‘read’ because you know it will never be important enough to respond to. That request for a rating on that cafe, that cool book you emailed to yourself that is only tangentially related to your research—let it go! I use filters and rules which helped me when my inbox was out of control to prioritise and sort my emails. But at no time did I need to micro-manage my inbox to this extent, and I’m not going to start now.

I trust future-me. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have on my team. So I’m going to support future-me by not micro-managing her. She’s got a great track record, and I know she’ll do a great job. 

Maybe this helps you to feel like trusting yourself. Maybe it helps you avoid wasting time on a piece of productivity advice I have often received and never had time to test out. In any case, avoid micro-managing anyone, including yourself, as it’s totally unproductive! 


Succeeding in a Research Higher Degree

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