My discussion replies
Very small. Literally one item. Write down the thing you're going to do, and more importantly, write down how long you think it's going to take you. Most people are really, really bad at estimating. They never allow for phone calls (in or out), trips to the bathroom or coffee machine, discussions on last night's episode of Celebrity Ice Dance Bake-off, or the match, or any of the 1001 things that make up what we do at work when we're not actually working.
So when you finish the task, make a note of how long it took you, versus how long you'd estimated it would take you. How far were you out? Up or down? If you were over your original estimate, note why. If you were under, do the same.
Cross your original goal out and set your next one. Again, make an estimate. We're still on single goals here. When your estimates have been within five minutes of the actual time, at least three times on the trot, start adding a second goal. Again, make an estimate for both. Cross each one out once complete and analyse the time difference. Was the time difference under your control or not? Can you adjust your next estimate accordingly?
Repeat this process until you can confidently write out a list of things you plan on doing today, and know with a high degree of certainty that you can fit these tasks into the day you have available.
There are few things more demoralising than writing out at 8:45 a list of the 17 things you intend to accomplish today, and staring down 5:30 with only one of them complete. Even if that single task was a genuine day-breaker, you feel bad for not accomplishing more, because that was the (completely unreasonable) goal you set yourself.
Be scrupulously honest with yourself on your time difference analysis. Were you 15 minutes over because the job is horrifically boring and you stared out of the window half the time, and engaged Fred from Accounts about his weekend plans, because tedious though they were, they were still more interesting than what you were doing? It's okay, this doesn't make you a bad person. We've all done it. But if you're trying to be realistic about getting more out of your day, you'll have to recognise these areas of zero productivity and work out how you're going to get through them, or get rid of them.
Clive, I agree, it's not about just doing whatever you like, it's about recognising that all our relationships are human relationships. We all have limits, things we won't do, or things we won't stand for, and when those lines are crossed, we may not have neat, pre-packaged, pre-programmed professional responses, but messy human ones. For various reasons, people end up in situations where they react like a human being, not like a professional, because they've gone past their limits.
It makes a difference whether they were pushed there, or went there of their own accord. There is perhaps less sympathy for someone who's made themselves do a 60-hour work week and is tired and emotional at the end of it, than for someone who was told to do it by a manager and didn't dare disagree.
I'm a staff association rep, and I've had a good deal of training in handling difficult situations. Even with that training, certain situations are extremely intense, and no amount of training can really prepare you for them. Without that training, most people are acting on instinct in unusual situations, and instincts don't always give you the right reactions. Unfortunately, it is an aspect of training which is overlooked for many managers, who may receive ample training on the mechanical aspects of their job, yet very little on interpersonal relationships.
I've seen managers on the borderline of panic, because a member of staff has broken down in tears in a meeting. It's as though they can't drop the them/us manager/worker barrier and just act like a human being when faced with someone who's in obvious distress.
A good manager would perhaps try to turn this into a learning opportunity for themselves about the member of staff. Is this an isolated incident, because they were really expecting that promotion? Is it not work-related at all - there's something significant in their private life that's spilling into the workplace - a bereavement, or a break-up? Is this just the member of staff's normal defence mechanism - turn on the waterworks and hope for some undeserved sympathy?
A really good manager would already know, and have the appropriate response ready. Empathy ("I'm sorry you didn't get the promotion, but I want you to book some mentoring meetings with me until you're ready for the next move."); sympathy ("Sorry to hear about your mother..."), and even casual indifference ("You done? Feeling better? Good. Let's discuss your performance in Q4..")
I think a better question from the original poster might have been; "How do I manage my relationship with my manager, so that they know when I've reached my limit?"
Sometimes an emotional outburst conveys a lot of meaning in a little message.
There's an old saying that says men swear to keep from crying - women cry to keep from swearing. I tend to be quite restrained in the office, so when I do let fly with an f-bomb, it's a sign that all is seriously not well.
Obviously, like anything, if overused, it loses its dramatic effect. And a lot of workplaces frown upon streams of invective, however justified they may appear initially. Ditto, tears (and/or attaching emotional outburst). When they're appropriate, they're appropriate. They show you've been pushed beyond your limits, to a point where you can't react any other way.
For some reason, all HR departments and all managers seem to expect that all staff will behave at all times like emotionless robots. I do wonder if it's getting to the point where we're so PC that it's no longer allowable to have a bad day. To be a bit off your game, or under the weather. Never allowed to be grumpy, nippy, snappy, snide, snarky, sarky or tired. Not so much the Seven Deadly Sins, as the Seven Minor Niggles. I appreciate that there are a number of fairly toxic traits that can become very tiresome when you're exposed to them on a daily basis, and that permanently negative people are difficult to work with, but you know what? So are permanently perky people. Drama queens (regardless of gender and/or sexuality) can be draining to work with, but I'd rather deal with that than someone who never gets worked up about anything. People who are passionate about things get things changed, get things done.
The flipside of that is such people are not emotionless robots, nor would they hold any value for the company if they were.
So yes, if you're constantly swearing like a trooper or blubbing like a baby, maybe you need a little more self-control. but when the moment is right, and nothing else will do, let your over-charged emotions out however you see fit. Don't worry if the people around you are made to feel uncomfortable by it. They're supposed to.
Maybe next time they'll remember how uncomfortable they felt and show a little more respect for your feelings in the first place.
There are two very powerful tools for use under these circumstances:
"No." and "Hell[***], no.".
However, at least at first, a little translation might be required.
"No." expands as follows: "Thank you for the invitation to participate in your current project, or add another item to my task stack. I've evaluated the proposition and concluded that I would add no value to it, nor would it enhance my current work-life balance. I therefore respectfully decline your kind invitation, and wish you well in your on-going quest to find the assistance you require. Have a lovely day."
"Hell[***], no." expands as follows: "I tried to be polite about this, but you leave me no choice, you time-sucking, life-stealing leech. I'm not doing your work for you. I have plenty of my own to occupy me, and this isn't a training need, or a development opportunity for either of us. You're just being lazy and fancied fobbing your work off onto someone else under the guise of needing 'help' with it. People like you are the reason I don't get to go home until 7 o'clock some nights, and enough is enough. Now go away and find someone else to leech off."
You might like to have these printed on little cards and hand them out the first few times you use the tools, until people get the idea, and you can convey all that useful information in one or two syllables.
Welcome to the conference. You'll notice that we've made a few special arrangements for today, so I'd like to take you through them. Everybody's been asked to sit in wheelchairs, to avoid singling out anyone who might actually need a wheelchair. You'd all have had chairs with castors on anyway, so there's not much difference. There is only one disabled toilet on this floor so you're going to have to share - we felt this would promote networking.
All the handouts are printed in 18 pt Comic Sans in chartreuse ink on lemon-yellow paper, in case anyone's dyslexic. All text has been edited down to a reading age of 8-10, in case anyone's not completely fluent in English. Pictures have been included to aid comprehension of more complex concepts such as "See Spot run with the ball.". Gender-specific terms and pronouns have been removed throughout, replaced with the non-gender-specific 've' or 'ves' instead of 'he', 'she', 'his' or 'hers', or the awkward compromises of 'he/she' or '(s)he'. It blew the entire year's training budget but we have Braille versions of everything, including the videos, and we have sign-language interpreters standing by to do simultaneous translation in English, Mandarin, and Farsi.
The catering company couldn't guarantee that the tea and coffee was pesticide-free, GM-free, fair trade and produced without the use of fossil fuels, and serving milk with it might have been offensive to anyone who is lactose-intolerant, so there's water in the taps if you get thirsty. At lunchtime, you'll be pleased to find that all the food is vegan, and suitable for those who are gluten-intolerant, nut-intolerant or just plain intolerant. We hope you like cabbage fritters and rice cakes, and we will ensure that the air-conditioning is turned up a notch this afternoon.
So relax, and enjoy your day.
An inherent problem with this format of performance review is that many people are uncomfortable talking about themselves. It is perhaps something in the British psyche that makes listing one's accomplishments sound like bragging. This is not generally regarded as a positive character trait. In many circumstances, it seems that the people who are most at ease listing all the wonderful things they've done are the ones who will not be attending a performance review, but hosting it.
It can take time to get people used to the idea of owning their own review. Many people still see this as being exclusively their manager's job.
What is the manager's job is to keep regular contact with everyone, and ensure that 1-1s aren't skipped or skimped on. A 15-minute chat once a fortnight, with the employee being encouraged to bring one thing which is outstanding from the preceding fortnight can help get people into the mindset. A meeting every two weeks means that any recent problems or successes should be fresh in the employee's mind and the manager's, and should be captured quickly in writing. These notes then form the basis of the quarterly reviews, ensuring no surprises at year-end.
Once staff realise that talking about themselves in positive terms is not only encouraged, but essential if they want to stand out, they'll start to get into it.