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As a lead, how do you know when you’re doing enough?

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

As an individual contributor working in support, it’s easier to tell when you’re doing enough: you do a certain number of interactions per day, do other core work like buddying, join a guild/project, and you’re probably all set. As a lead, it’s more difficult to measure your work, and also to know when you’ve passed the “enough” line for the day. I’ve spent the last few months asking everyone I met about this and have learned a few things.

Note: I’m writing this through the lens of a support lead where the entire company works remotely. You may have different options available when you share office space.

What is it that makes you feel accomplished and satisfied with your work at the end of the day?

Talk to the people around you

I often feel that I’m not doing enough and that I’m letting my fellow leads down. This is likely a variation on Imposter Syndrome.

As usual, it comes back to communication. Asking the other leads, “Am I doing enough?” may lead to crickets because that’s such a big, broad question. I’ve found breaking it down and looking at it from different angles can help:

  • Ask people for their perspectives individually through a Slack DM – they are more likely to be direct in this setting, and help you figure out how your work comes across. You could phrase this as “what do you wish I would do more of?”
  • Work with the team to figure out who is doing what. Seeing your work in the context of everyone else’s can be eye-opening: you may be doing more (or less) than you think.
  • Talk with your lead: they’ll have a high level overview of what you’re doing as well as the impact, so they can share their perspective with you.

Recognize your limits

I’ve spent the last year apologizing to everyone for not doing as much as I feel like I should have. I feel terrible at the idea of letting down my team members. I went through a burnout long ago and while writing this post, I’m starting to realize that I didn’t ever re-calibrate my own expectations of myself. While talking to your team members and getting their thoughts is important, a lot of this comes down to you. You’re the one who knows how much you can handle: it’s up to you to plan within your own capabilities and communicate them to others.

Things to think about:

  • Are you asking more of yourself than you can/should be able to deliver?
  • If you have too much on your plate, don’t be afraid to speak up and work to adjust. That’s not a failing, it’s a win because you have a better chance to deliver in a sustainable way.

Be honest and reasonable with yourself.

Work smarter, not harder

Have you ever said to yourself, “Come on! Stop being so lazy! Just work a bit harder and it’ll all be fine?” The thing is, it’s not usually about working harder – we already work hard. It will never be enough: How To Stop Feeling Productivity Shame. So how can you work more efficiently?

You’ll want to figure out how to best use your time:

  • Schedule every task: if you’re going to spend an hour writing performance reviews, put that in your calendar
  • Schedule themes: work on quality reviews for your team, then move on to quality work for the division. Grouping things together can help keep you in the same mindset and save mental shifting.
  • Plan your week in advance to carve out time for high priority tasks. And then stick to the plan.
  • Figure out which scheduling works best for you: for me, I prefer to schedule meetings in a cluster, then have a bigger block of deep-work time.
  • Have a clear end of your day, so that you know when to wrap up. Even if you don’t get through everything, you do need to stop.

Here are some other things that have been mentioned:

  • Review prioritization: are the things that you think are high priority really that important right now? Or are other things more important? Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate. Ask yourself: “What is the impact of not doing this?”
  • Work on time estimation: if you find that you tend to underestimate how long things will take, then either break tasks into smaller tasks that are easier to estimate. Alternatively, make a time estimate and then double it: it’ll initially feel like too much time, but you’ll be more accurate as you get more practice.
  • Some work will feel intangible: I struggle with some of the peer 1:1s with other leads, but then I realize that the time is valuable in terms of sharing ideas and inspiration or talking through a problem. I track everything in a personal p2 so that I can look back and see that I really did do stuff.

Make tangible progress

I’ve found that it’s easy to get lost in the ad hoc tasks (someone pings me on Slack) or the checkbox work (easy admin where it’s satisfying to see it done, see The busyness paradox: Why you love being busy (even though it’s burning you out)). While those things all need to get done, they eat up time needed for the bigger projects and initiatives. This is the difference between working in the business rather than on the business.

  • Break the big projects down into smaller, manageable tasks. If you can’t figure out the smaller, then have someone else help you: sometimes you are too close to be able to see it or you need more practice.
  • Do one thing to move your project(s) forward each day/week. Even if they keep getting pushed down your task list, committing to do one thing will help them towards completion.

My personal takeaways

Here’s a big takeaway: “enough” isn’t the same for everyone.

If you look through the tips that I’ve collected above, some of them are complementary and some of them conflict. For example, there are multiple ways to schedule your time – you’ll need to figure out which one works best for you.

It turns out that I had “am I doing enough in general?” wrapped up with “how do I find the line where I feel satisfied with my day?” The work that I’ve done in talking with people for all of these different perspectives has helped: I’m not alone. The work with my fellow leads has also helped, in better understanding our collective workload and adjusting where needed.

From this adventure, I’ve learned that I am a completionist:

  • Checking off boxes motivates me.
  • I need to clean up my task list at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if the tool is Todoist or a Bullet Journal: the point is reviewing the tasks that are still open and deciding what to do with them. That lets me feel like I’ve wrapped up my day in a satisfactory manner.

Wrap up

What do you need to feel accomplished and satisfied at the end of the day? How do you know when you’re doing enough?

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