During my interviews with practicing managers, I normally ask them at some point “what keeps you awake at night”? While the substance of their concerns varies, they always have some answer. The point is, all managers take some of their work home with them from time to time.
Whether this is good or bad depends. The stress of shouldering responsibility as a manager inevitably means certain issues and problems cannot simply be dropped at work’s door like a wet umbrella in a bin at the concert hall to be retrieved later. They accompany managers in their cars, busses, planes and trains; nag away at them during meals; force themselves into conversations with loved ones and friends; disturb their sleep; and sometimes if unresolved, actually make them sick emotionally and physically.
The real questions are how often does this happen and is it just about any work problem and troubled relationship that can’t be left at work’s door, or only the really important ones? Like many things, it is a matter of degree and frequency. If you are in doubt in your case, ask a loved one or friend. They will let you know if you bring too much work home, and way too often.
What the best managers know is that learning to leave their work at work, whenever possible, reasonable, and practical, is fundamental to their capacity for clear-headed thinking and effective performance. What the best managers do is work at it. While there is no best strategy for working at it, I believe reminding oneself of the following four realities on a regular basis can help a lot.
First, you never have enough time. As a manager you can work 20 hours a day and still end up with oodles of things left undone. So why put in long hours at work and then take more work home with you at day’s end. There will always be more to do than you had time for. Establishing the right priorities for your daily activity is, as I have said elsewhere, a fundamental skill of all effective managers. Better to concentrate your attention there than attempt the quixotic and feckless endeavor to, just once, get everything done.
Second, remember the value of fresh eyes. Have you ever noticed how a new employee manages to see some things more clearly that the old-timers did not? How many times have you returned to work from a vacation and realized that some problem you thought was a daunting mountain when you left, was actually a mole hill after all? Why is it that the new person to join a problem solving group often sees a solution almost at once that alluded the rest of you through hours of discussion? In each of these instances it is a matter of “fresh eyes”. Although the time between the end of one day’s work and the start of the next may be short, the mental escape afforded by leaving your work issues behind, is often enough to gain you the fresh perspective you need to maintain your managerial edge. Because you are paid for that quality of your decisions as a manager, that fresh edge can often be your best friend.
Third, the fact that many around you never seem to leave their work behind, does not mean you must follow suit. Most organizations pay and reward their managers for the quality of their results, not the hours they put in each day. The best managers have the courage to do things their own way and that means carving out sufficient down-time daily to keep themselves sharp and their judgment unimpaired. While they may value highly the wide array of technological gadgetry for maintaining constant connectivity with their colleagues at work, the first thing they master on each of these objects is the “OFF” command.
Finally, the relationships, activities and avocations you wish to sustain throughout your life must be nurtured and developed along the way, or they will not be there for you when your days as a manager are done. If all work and no play makes Jack and Jill a dull pair indeed, it also often leaves them lonely, alone and adrift when their working years are done. Don’t let this happen to you.