Weird Manager Questions

Thanks for joining me in another installment of Weird Manager Questions! These are questions for the end of your 1:1s when neither of you wants to end early, and are helpful for better understanding how your team members are doing. If this is the first you’ve heard of these, you can catch up by checking out

Today’s weird manager question is:

How do you spend an average day?

This question is best asked when your employee is feeling, well, kinda blah about everything. There’s no one big pain in the butt that’s causing them stress- they’re just… not feelin’ it, you know?

Draw a rectangle. Ask them to divide it up into how they spend an average day 1. If their days are widely variable, ask them to smear that average into whatever makes sense in their brain. The goal isn’t to get them to accurately calculate their hours spent, but to understand how they perceive their time is spent 2. This means that they can group activities in whatever way works for them. The only thing you should do is express curiosity if it doesn’t match up with your perspective.

Now draw another rectangle. Ask them to divide it up into how they want their average work day to look like. This usually shows that what’s bugging them is too much of a certain type of work or not enough undisturbed time to focus on the parts that they enjoy. And you know what? That’s usually actionable. You can start to come up with plans on how to protect your employee’s time and redistribute the parts that drain them (similar to The Energy/Skills Matrix Weird Manager Question).

Sample Day Division rectangles. Top rectangle is labeled 'Current,' and is roughly 50% helping teammates and office hours, and the remaining space evenly split between tickets, meetings, and architecture work. The second rectangle is labeled 'Desired,' and is about 25% tickets, 25% help, 40% architecture, and 10% meetings.

If your team member feels like they are spending too much time in meetings (I’ve never had a direct report say they want more meetings), figure out which meetings they can cut or find someone to swap out with. Or if an honest review shows that’s not feasible, see if not turning on their webcam or something else would ease some of the stress of the meetings.

If you get what feels like a sassy answer, consider that this might actually be a clue to what they need to feel productive- for example, if they say their average day should be 100% PTO… your team member probably needs a vacation. A real vacation. And if they say they want 50% of their time spent on something that’s not their job… maybe you should work together on a plan to help them transition to a position where they can do what fuels them, rather than holding them hostage to a role they don’t enjoy.

The most important part of this exercise is coming back to it after 2-4 weeks and seeing if your plans have worked, how their average day has changed, and most importantly, if it’s helped them feel better about their work life. Usually you’re only able to make modest improvements (especially in the meetings department 😕). However, small, positive changes on a regular basis actually go a long way.

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  1. If your team member doesn’t want to draw for whatever reason, pivot quickly to other ways of getting this info, such as what percentage of your day should be spent on each responsibility or how many hours/minutes per day. Don’t let anxiety around art get in the way of understanding what they need to thrive in their role. ↩︎

  2. The longer lockdown has gone on, the more I’ve moved from thinking of work/life balance as being a time split to being an energy split. We get admonished to do self care things on our own time to balance out the work things. But all that does is prepare us for more work. Not for more life. Plus, I actually enjoy my life more when what I’m focusing on at work is energizing and aligned with what I value. Maybe work/life balance should be less about “undoing” the stress from work so you can have a totally separate life and more about ensuring work doesn’t generate the amount of stress that requires an hour in a float tank to lower your blood pressure. ↩︎