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How I Wear Multiple Hats at Work?

It’s the Norm.

If you are working for a startup or just interested in the startup world, you would’ve come across the phrase ‘wearing multiple hats’. It’s a startup lingo that’s been overused in many job descriptions and you’ll hear it one way or another from us (yeah, I’m a growth marketer working with startups too).

Harshil Mathur, CEO of Razorpay, a payment processing startup that recently became a unicorn emphasizes that early-stage companies should hire people who can wear multiple hats.

“In the early stages, people should wear multiple hats. People should not be limited by their role. For example, engineers should not be doing anything else. That should never be the culture. From the very beginning, set the culture of the organization in such a manner that people are ready to wear multiple hats.”

– Harshil Mathur, CEO, Razorpay (Source).

Note that wearing multiple hats doesn’t mean that you have to completely switch roles now and then — from marketing to finance to operations. You can still wear multiple hats just within the ‘Marketing’ wing itself. You can get involved in paid ads, social media, PR, content creation, planning, and the list goes on.

Startups aren’t going to hire specialized talent to build an extensive team right out of the gate. They hire generalists or people who’re willing to handle multiple responsibilities until there’s a person for a specific role.

Before it’s too Late.

While it’s all good and sounds exciting to be the person wearing multiple hats — lots of learning, experimentation, and growth, etc., things can turn awry. We know Murphy’s law, don’t we?

If you don’t train yourself (or the team) to wear multiple hats effectively before it’s too late, you are going to either:

a) Exhaust yourself without any fulfillment. You’ll know what you need to do to move the needle but couldn’t do it as per the expectations (of your own or the managers) because you always try to switch and fix different little things constantly.

b) Or worst case, you’ll end up focusing on work that doesn’t matter — snacks. Because that’s the default. Snacking gives you a bit of accomplishment as you’re getting things done, but it won’t make a real impact.

As Hunter walk puts it:

“It’s the low-effort, low-impact work that can kill you, because it’s so attractive. Hunter refers to it as “snacking”. It feels rewarding and can solve a short term problem, but if you never eat anything of substance you’ll suffer.”

Des Traynor, Co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer at Intercom voice the same sentiment “The default position for a smart team without a clear plan is to snack. Eat, don’t snack.”

Wear Your Hats — One At a Time

As a growth marketer, I tend to have multiple responsibilities, and because I work in an early-stage startup, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Lucky for me, I’m an organizer. I spend time thinking about how to improve a process, how to organize work so that I can contribute more and also help others in the team.

I’ve been trying out a framework that suits me well and perhaps it can help you too. So let’s begin.

1. Plan for a week, not a day.

Planning for what to do — on a daily basis works up to an extent. When you know you’re likely to juggle b/w tasks and roles, it becomes harder to plan your day and stick to it. So plan for the whole week ahead.

How?

List down all the tasks that you’re supposed to do in the next week. Of course, there’ll be unexpected entries at the eleventh hour or even while you’re actually doing something as per the plan. The point is to plan for the week and have some headroom/flexibility at the same time.

Another advantage of planning for a week is you’ll feel in control and don’t have to stress yourself when something pops up during the day. If you just plan for a day, an unexpected task can disrupt your schedule considerably. If the plan is for a week, then you wouldn’t lose control and scramble to get back on track when there’s a new task. Especially, if you have left some room in your weekly plan, you can figure out how to accommodate/fit in the new task.

In other words, the longer the plan, the lesser the impact.

2. Create Work Clusters

Now that you know what you have to get done, group them based on the context. That is, create work clusters. Each cluster will have tightly-related tasks under them.

Example cluster:

The number of clusters depends on your Focus Areas* and the tasks. If you are responsible for four Focus Areas (let’s say content planning, email marketing, social media, and PR), then you can have four work clusters + one more (misc).

*Work Clusters = Focus Areas = Responsibilities

If you have trouble picking up your clusters (decide what matters and where you should contribute), here’s a good read.

3. Earmark Your Days

The last step is to assign your days to the clusters. A cluster can simply take a day; Or two or three successive days.

This way, you’ll end up working on all the areas that you need to take care of, moving things as per the expectations, and most importantly, dodge context switching.

If I’m putting it in a simple table format, it would look like this:

DayFocus AreasTasks
MonArea ITask 1, Task 2, Task 3, Task 4. 
TueArea IITask 5, Task 6, Task 7.
WedArea IITask 8, Task 9, Task 10, Task 11. 
ThursArea IIITask 12, Task 13, Task 14, Task 15. 
FriArea IVTask 16, Task 17, Task 18.

Considerations

1. Now you might have a question. What if I have things that I have to look into every day? Well, we all do. You can still do them — cluster them up at the end of the day and do it. Don’t spread it across the day. An example from Paul Graham:

“Several times a week I set aside a chunk of time to meet founders we’ve funded. These chunks of time are at the end of my working day, and I wrote a signup program that ensures all the appointments within a given set of office hours are clustered at the end. Because they come at the end of my day these meetings are never an interruption.”

2. To cite PG’s essay again, if you are a manager who spends time meeting with various teams and having discussions with other stakeholders, then this isn’t going to be of much help. It’s for makers.

3. Apparently, you first need to understand your responsibilities and define your Focus Areas. It’s best to keep your Focus Areas around 5 – 6 as you can fit most of them in a week. Areas can be updated/changed based on how your job progresses. If you have a new responsibility, it means you have a new Focus Area.

For SEO analyst, Focus Areas could be:

  • Content & SEO Cluster Planning.
  • On-page SEO & Publishing.
  • Cluster Creation and Indexing.
  • Backlink Building.
  • Content Update.

4. Some Areas (or Work Clusters) don’t have to be worked upon — every week. The idea is to adjust the plan as per your work requirements.

By Rasheed Ahamed

I am Rasheed, a startup enthusiast and a growth marketer working with interesting tech cos. I reside and write from Bangalore mostly. Always happy to help, meet, and discuss with like-minded people.

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