Here at =mc we encourage every participant we meet on our programmes to get in touch if they have specific issues they want to follow up on. From this we hear some common problems, issues, challenges, and worries. In this regular feature we share some of those challenges, and our advice, for dealing with them.
This time, the issue comes from a manager with a very common challenge: a seemingly endless list of things to do.
I am a new manager, having been promoted around 3 months ago. We are a charity that supports young people in developing their creativity through film and media. As you can imagine it has been a tough year, firstly moving everything online and then supporting the young people we work with through very trying situations. Right now, we are gearing up to bring our clients back into our space, with new programmes and of course lots of safety measures. I was promoted to manager as we have hired a couple more people to help me to deliver our programmes. At first, I was so excited about this job – I have loads of ideas, and I’m thrilled that my boss is trusting me with taking the team forward. I have never managed before, but I am good with people. In the past I have helped train and support volunteers. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, and wrote a list of all the things I wanted to do in this role when I started. Now I look at that list and I feel overwhelmed. I have just got so much to do. Every day it feels like there is more added to my plate, and every day is just as busy as the last. I’m in meetings almost all of the time, and can’t seem to get any actual work done. I’m constantly answering questions and helping the new people get on with things. I am starting to look over my to-do list and worrying about it. I can’t see how it will all get done. I don’t want to let my boss down. Or even more importantly, the young people that are relying on me. Help!
Hello emerging manager! This is indeed a tough spot to be in. It is also common when we first become managers to feel like this. Being a manager is about having a whole new perspective and mindset. As a manager, remember what you are there to do and to deliver. Your purpose is to deliver organisational goals, to ensure the people you manage can be their very best at work and to ensure your team is working well together. Your people skills will help you here. However, you also need to learn about your management style, how to develop the team, and I’m sure learn all about the processes and procedures expected of managers at your organisation. So, you’ll be learning new skills right now, on the job. Whenever we learn new skills it can feel like a lot – it is hard work to learn and do things differently. Give yourself a break and don’t be hard on yourself. You are a manager yes, but you are also learning so be kind to yourself. You are not going to let your boss down, try talking to them. Remind them you need to find your feet and ask for their help and advice. Ask them where they think the priorities are, and where they expect you to focus your time.
Dear new manager, it certainly sounds like you have a lot on your plate. I totally agree with Laura that taking stock and recognising this big shift you have made is important. It may be useful to review your work, and the tasks you have on that very long list of yours. I wonder if you are trying to do more than one role? Often managers will be promoted for being great at something, in your case programme delivery for young people. Then after being promoted, managers keep doing the thing they have always been brilliant at, and then try to add management on top. This will create a very heavy workload and isn’t sustainable. You talk a bit about ‘actual’ work versus ‘meetings’ – I wonder if these meetings are your new ‘actual work’? Review the meetings you are going to and how productive they are. If you are there because you need to give your input, that is productive. If you are there because you need to hear from others, that is also productive. Meetings help us make decisions, solve problems, and take a wider view. All of which is part of being a manager. Helping your team to learn is setting up for future success – answering their questions means they are better equipped to take on more. Try delegating to them, help them to be as great as you were in your previous role. That should then give you a bit more space to do your ‘actual manager’ work.
Hello successful manager! Firstly, huge congratulations on your promotion. Clearly your boss thinks you were ready and capable, so try and take some confidence from that. I’ve been thinking specifically about your reference to your ‘to-do list’. I’m a big fan of lists. They keep me organised, help me keep track of a varied and sometimes heavy workload, and help me stay focused. The thing is, the list is also constant. By that I means it is always there. No matter how much is done, more will always be added. That is a great thing! It means I can continue to add value, and still have more I can do. The trick however is to control your list – make it a tool that drives your decision making and effectiveness. Don’t let it become so big it is unwieldy. To make your to-do list a more manageable list, try prioritising it. What is on there that must be done, and must be done now? What is on there that should be done, but could wait? What is on there that is a nice to do, perhaps when the team are more settled and working independently? You’ll never get everything done, but then you don’t need to. Instead, focus on getting the right things done. Then you will have more impact, be more effective, and will gain a sense of control.
Hi busy manager. Thanks so much for reaching out. There is some great advice here: be kind to yourself and be patient as you learn, consider delegating more, review your priorities, and reframe what you think your role is. When I was in a similar position, what really helped me was also having someone to talk to – someone who could empathise and share their own experiences with me. Laura is right to suggest speaking with your manager and getting their help – particularly to check you are on the same page when it comes to prioritising. I would build on that by getting yourself a mentor. Moving into management is a big deal, possibly the biggest step we take in our careers. Is there someone in the organisation who has been through this too who could share insights with you? Or perhaps at a partner organisation or similar charity? It is really helpful to share your thoughts aloud with another person to help you to problem solve and figure out the areas of work you really want to focus your time and energy on. This also gives you space to vent, get your worries off your chest, and talk things through in a confidential and judgement-free setting.
If you’d like to explore ways of preparing for situations like this, take a look at the Managing Multiple Priorities training programme.
You can also contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to discuss similar challenges and how we might be able to help.
Finally, if you’re facing a challenge you’d like some advice on in the next issue of the Safe Space, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Whilst we can’t promise to publish all the requests we receive, we will offer advice by email as a minimum.