As I write this blog post, I am sitting in a chair in my bedroom instead of my home office because painters have taken over the rest of our house.  In fact, they will be here for the next few weeks repainting the majority of our home.  What is impressive about contractors is that they estimate the amount of time it will take to do the work; they know what materials they need; they know what tools they need; and they do the work.  If blue-collar workers are not this deliberate, they’ll lose money.  Blue-collar workers typically pay their workers by the hours, so the slower work is done, the less cost efficiently the work gets done and the less profit they will make in the end.  At the start of the job, the clock is running.  They know they need to do quality work quickly…. That’s the name of the blue-collar contracting game.

Unfortunately, for us white-collar workers, we think and act much differently.  Let me know if this sounds familiar:

Our calendar looks like Swiss-cheese.  We have a few networking appointments here and there.  Then a few business appointments where we plan on meeting about getting something done.  Maybe a seminar or workshop on the agenda to learn something new.  But most of the time on our calendar is blank space where we think we’ll be productive.  This productivity is bound to be a report, or something electronic; but quite hard to nail down.

We meander when it comes time to work.  Now that we have all of this time to get something done, we find ourselves making several trips to the bathroom, the coffee pot, the refrigerator, the microwave and letting our pets out to do their business.  If you’re in a home office, the distractions are immense.  When we finally sit down and stare at our computer screen, our hand is trained to type in “facebook”, “google”, “linkedin”, or “amazon”.  We then find we are straying off down some other rabbit hole of wasted time.

Email checker.  If it wasn’t enough to be distracted by the internet and our biological urges, we tend to check email just to see if we’re missing some important correspondence.  If we have an email, we have to read it right now; and respond to it right now.  Even if we are getting only SPAM, we feel like we need to delete it or save it to some folder just in case will have time to read it in the future.

We have no time.  When we finally slap ourselves on the face and decide that it’s time to do some real work, we realize there are only a few minutes before we need to be on the road for our next meeting.  We know there’s no time to focus and do a quality job on whatever it is we’re doing, so we decide to meander a bit longer before our impending calendar event.

Is it any wonder that we never actually get anything done?  Sure, we meet with people and think about a lot of cool stuff… and may make a few online purchases… but WHAT ARE WE ACTUALLY DOING?

My house painters are making progress on an hourly basis, which leads to progress on a daily basis, which means they will finish their painting job and be complete within a week.  We can all look at the walls and see the fruits of their labor.  They will get paid and move on to the next job.

How can a White Collar Worker PRODUCE like a Blue Collar Worker?

The problem with us white collar workers is that we struggle to know what product we produce.  This struggle results in random events in our calendar, random actions in our work space, and a sense that we are truly wasting time.  As a business coach, I have watched this problem manifest itself with three different dysfunctions business leaders: 1) managers tend to try to do their worker’ work because they feel ineffective and inefficient in their white collar world; 2) managers tend to sit in front of their computers instead of lead their people; and 3) small business owners are wearing so many hats they freeze with indecision on which one to wear.

Managers as Doers

You felt productive when you were a doer. Now, you are stuck in an office and told you are supposed to be a leader.  How boring is that?  Leading can be quite awesome, if you actually do your job.  As a leader, your job is to grow your people, and get them to be successful by whatever means necessary.  While that may sound vague, it is a job… and a big job at that.  In order for you to better manage your time as a leader, you need to identify what tasks are required to grow your people.  Take each person you lead, and define (preferably with them) specific objectives with each person within your responsibility.  You need to identify your role and their role in their development.  Just in case you’re wondering, your job is not to DO their job.  The skill of a manager is the ability to grow the efficiency of your staff and your team to be better than any individual team member.  If you don’t have a clue what this skill is, hire a coach, mentor or attend leadership training.  If you do have this skill, schedule your leadership tasks out and do them like a blue-collar worker.

If you do the work of your subordinates, you will diminish your ability to lead, you will destroy any independent spirit your folks have; and you will be destined to have a grossly inefficient and ineffective team.

Passive Managers

A passive manager will typically come to work, get his or her coffee, enter their office, close their door and sit at their desk doing something they feel is work.  I’m not saying that there isn’t some desk work involved in managing people.  However, most work that involves leading people includes the people.  Even communication will be more effective in person or in groups than with email or text or phone.  In order to ensure you are an active manager, you need to clearly identify your job, and schedule yourself with your people.  You may simply be observing your people.

A phrase was coined by Hewlett-Packard managers in the 1970’s entitled “Management by Wandering Around.”  Most workers are doing their work in the way they know how.  If you know something they don’t there is no way they’ll ask you.  If you watch them work, you are more able to understand what they are doing and help them.  This doesn’t mean micro-management; it means understanding what they do and how they do it and offering help where they need it.  Incidentally, you will probably learn as much from your workers that you can transfer to other workers as they will learn from you.  The key here is to get out of your office and engage with people.

Multiple Hats Syndrome

As a small business owner, we’ve all been there… facility manager, administrator, internet shopper, sales person, marketing person, buyer, book keeper, shipping and receiving, and visionary.  Yes, you most likely have to do all of these jobs to start.  Just because you have a lot of responsibilities, doesn’t mean you can’t plan each role.  As your own business leader, decide what percentage of time you need to be spending on each role on each week.  Then fill your calendar’s blank space with tasks.  Don’t allow your time to be idle or unaccounted for.  Just like the blue-collar worker, plan your time and work your plan.  As a multi-tasker, use a timer or something to remind you of the next task.  This reminder will allow your mind to be 100% focused on the role at hand rather than checking the clock constantly while you have a specific job to do.

Know What PROGRESS Looks Like

It really doesn’t matter if you are a white-collar worker, a manager, or a blue-collar worker; you need to know what progress looks like.  As Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  Whatever job you have, if you have no sense of what you are supposed to do; you will flounder and waste time.  My painters in my house know what they are doing; they are actively working to get there; and they will get there.  Take their lead, and set a plan and then work the plan.  Go blue-collar!

As a business coach, I help my business owner clients change their mindset in a way that allows them the freedom and profitability they have always hoped for, but never thought possible.  I write weekly blog posts just like this one; and am developing a robust online training system for business owners.   I use a concept called Core Energy Coaching.  If you want to quickly learn how Core Energy Coaching can help you grow a successful business, get this free look at how your energy may be helping or hurting your business.

Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster.  I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”.  I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace.  I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013.  I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.