If you told your employees today that they could rearrange their weekly hours however they see fit, do you think they would change their schedules?
Some people would instantly say “yes, I’d love to start work much earlier and then have more of the afternoon off”. Others would be tempted to push their hours to later in the day. There are definitely people who wouldn’t change a thing, and for whom the classic nine to five works best. Then there’s those of us who’d rather go for four-day work weeks.
That’s just one example of the variety in everybody’s personal work style. The concept of a ‘personal user manual’ can be a lifesaver when it comes to developing a clear understanding of how you (and your colleagues) work best. It’s also a great tool to help manage teams more effectively by adjusting for the needs of all your team members.
What is a personal user manual?
A personal user manual is, essentially, a guide that explains how to optimize your work conditions so you’re working at your best. In other words, it’s about how you can use yourself (and your employees) to the best of your own (and their own) abilities.
They’re like manuals for electronics - only instead of telling you how to set the timer on your microwave, they tell you how you work.
The key thing to keep in mind is that everyone works differently. With a personal user manual, you can avoid trying to force your employees to work to a schedule that just doesn’t suit them. That saves you a lot of time, as well as preventing a lot of frustration.
How do personal user manuals lead to collaboration success?
Personal user manuals make it easier to work efficiently - especially when it comes to doing collaborative work. Here’s the main reasons why.
1. They help structure days
If you’re an early bird managing a team of fellow morning people, you’ll probably find that the way all of you structure your days is going to look pretty similar. For example, you’d likely all be part of the people who check emails as soon as they wake up, early in the morning:
Of course, people whose brains don’t fully get into gear until later in the day are unlikely to be going through their emails first thing in the morning.
When everyone involved in a collaboration has their personal user manual to hand, it’s easy to make sure you’ve structured your days according to everyone’s needs. That means planning who does which tasks based on the contents of those personal user manuals.
In other words, you get to make everyone’s day more productive and ensure more work gets done throughout the day. That’s a sure-fire way to guarantee that every collaboration yields better results.
2. They help you understand others
People are complex - they’re also incredibly diverse. When you try to understand how everyone works, it can be easy to get lost in the details and wind up feeling overwhelmed while having learned very little.
That’s where personal user manuals come in.
They let you get a good grasp of how your colleagues and collaborators handle their business processing. That means you get to avoid all the times you’d otherwise spend butting heads over when certain tasks need to get done, or who should be working on what and when.
Personal user manuals help you learn what you need to know about the people you’re working with. That means you can go from being strangers to collaborative partners working on a project together in a matter of minutes.
The best part is that personal user manuals make it much easier to work with people who are fundamentally different from you. By learning to understand others better, you can effectively manage diversity in the workplace, turning it into the massive benefit it has the potential to be.
How to create a personal user manual
The process of setting up a personal user manual is actually a lot easier (and more fun) than it might seem.
It essentially involves asking yourself a bunch of questions and then recording the answers in an easy-to-scan way. The exact layout is up to you - and you can make team management much easier by choosing a simple format, then asking everyone who reports to you to follow that same format.
If you’re wondering which questions are important to answer in your manual, consider starting with the ones listed below.
When do I work best?
This takes us back to the “early bird versus night owl” question - except it goes much deeper than that.
You might find that you’re great at creative tasks in the evening, while you get your admin work done faster before lunch. That sort of information is great to have at the ready when you’re planning your days - especially if you’re going to be working in a group.
Where do I work best?
Even during the lockdown months, not everyone was working from home. That’s because trying to work at home isn’t going to cut it for everyone; some people work best in a remote environment, while others need the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop or busy office around them.
If you’re not sure where you’re best at working, shop around. You might surprise yourself by loving a location you’d never have otherwise considered.
Which adjustments would help me work more productively?
For some people, being able to get up and stretch for a few minutes every hour makes up the difference between a slog of a workday and a well-paced day of productive work. For others, it comes down to using the right workflow management tool.
What makes you tick? Which changes transform your work experience? The bigger the impact an adjustment has on productivity, the more important it is for you, as a manager, to know that your employees need that adjustment.
What are your strengths?
When it comes to understanding the way you work, few things are going to be as helpful as getting a solid grasp on which things you’re good at.
Sure, it’s also good to make a note of your weaknesses. Knowing when to ask for help is a wonderful thing that ensures you’ll be more productive.
However, people tend to skip over their own strengths for fear of seeming like they’re bragging.
Consider it this way. If you’re managing a group, you’ll benefit hugely from knowing who’s best at which tasks - and if that information is readily available in everyone’s personal user manual, then delegating tasks becomes a breeze.
What goes in a personal user manual
There isn’t a hard rule for what must go into a personal user manual. As long as your manual is full of information about what improves your efficiency, you’ve done it right.
Which bits of information need to be put into the manual is also going to vary greatly depending on the individual in question. For example, if you’re someone who really can’t concentrate for more than 45 minutes at a time, you’ve got to put that information into your personal user manual so others know what to expect.
As you can imagine, there’s a great deal of variety in what’s important to people’s productivity. With that said, there are a few details that every personal user manual can benefit from including.
What all personal user manuals should contain
Perhaps the most important thing any personal user manual can contain is a summary of the hours when the user is most productive.
Just by including that information, you’ll make it clear when your meetings should be. Your “active hours” also give insight into how you tend to work. If they’re broken up into chunks, your collaboration partners know you’ll benefit from multiple short breaks more so than one long break.
To that end, it’s also a very good idea to include details about which business processes work best for you at which times of the day. Maybe you need to be at work for a while before you’re ready to contribute to meetings, for example. Or maybe you struggle with emails but are happy to work with numbers at any point during the day. These differences should be noted and embraced by you and all your employees, so you can plan accordingly.
Improve your collaboration using personal user manuals
The better you can understand the things that help you work efficiently, the better you’ll be able to work. And when you can also understand how all your employees work, it becomes a simple matter to make efficient and streamlined plans.
Personal user manuals let you reach that understanding in a matter of minutes. All you’ve got to do is put your own user manual together, then ask all your employees to do the same so you can make the most of this tool.