It's true, I'll admit it. I thought this job would be pretty easy. Write about something I know? Sure thing. Do it while traveling? Even better. What optimistic me didn't completely anticipate is that writing about managing a hostel is a lot like actually managing a hostel- the work is never done. And the work you do attend to often takes longer than you think it will. I find it funny that more than one person has told me "I love your blog, it sounds so much like you. I can practically hear you when I read it." Who knew that a casual, conversational tone actually takes a lot of work and editing? It's like those girls who spend 45 minutes on their hair to make it look like they just got out of bed and threw it up. Though I truly hope this blog has slightly more integrity.
I could write and write for weeks and months and there would still be more to write about. Whether a new topic or technique, new suggestion or question, it won't end. Just like the real thing. You can have the near perfect hostel, and your work will still never be done. Something will break or go missing. A double booking will happen because of a computer error, while new emails pour in at the same time. You will have a great team of solidly trained staff when one decides to go chase a new dream 2,000km away and you need to start the cycle again. Managing a hostel is easily one of the best and most difficult jobs out there. Which is interesting, because there isn't one single thing about managing a hostel that is particularly daunting or difficult. But put them all together and WOW. It can be exhausting, mind boggling, and fascinating all at once.
One night I was laying in bed after a particularly long, long day of work. I laid there reflecting at the events of the day, thinking "Nothing was particularly crazy today, but why am I still so tired??" Then, ironically, I started reading the monthly Hostel Management Newsletter and came across 'Description of a Hostel Manager'. It was posted with the intention of providing a solid job description of a hostel manager, even though each hostel is different. I decided to give it a read, and by the time I got to the end, I wasn't tired anymore- I was utterly exhausted. Just thinking about everything it said made me curl up tighter under my blanket. Bookings, maintenance, security, marketing, problem solving, customer service, cash outs, social media, entertaining guests, inventory, and on and on. How was it possible I was doing all of this, every day?? So often when guests would ask what I actually do, I couldn't seem to come up with a definitive answer because 'Everything!' just seemed to be more accurate. I would start to wonder to myself 'Dang, what AM I doing every day if I have trouble answering that question?' Reading that post was a bit mentally tiring, but also gave me a great big sigh of relief and vindication. It seemed I was frequently tired not because after 27 years I still don't drink coffee (trust me, I've tried), or due to all that running I had taken up (erm...intended to take up...). No, apparently I was often worn out because my job really was doing anything and everything. And, well, trying to do everything can be pretty tiring.
Which is precisely why no one should actually try to do everything at once. I know, I know. Duh, right? Insert common sense lesson here. Unfortunately, I find two small issues with common sense. For one, common sense is not altogether common. One example that comes to mind was a certain hostel where some guests marked their names on the fridge itself instead of on their food inside the fridge. Sigh.
At least you know the culprit?
The other problem with common sense is that even when we know and understand it, following through with it can seem harder than it should. Of course I knew that due to having just poured boiling water- not just hot, but boiling- into my tea cup yesterday, taking a sip 0.8 seconds later would likely burn off 47% of my tastebuds in less time than it took to ignore the common sense telling me to wait. Ok, I made those numbers up. Judging by my inability to taste anything the rest of the day, it was probably closer to 83%, but whatever. Not only did I ignore a widely held understanding by the general population (just wait for it to cool, idiot!), I'd be lying if I said yesterday was the first time I've done that. On the same token, it's pretty easy for me to logically understand that I shouldn't be attempting every possible hostel task, every day. And it's not that I actually thought that was a good idea, or even possible. But when each 'normal' day is already balancing 12 things, it's easy to feel like 10 more is just part of the game.
Hot tea, why must you get me every time?!
I realized pretty quickly while managing my last hostel that, just like the previous one, the work would never be done. An ongoing to-do list was going to need some serious time management and goals. That is always something I'm always working to improve, but this time around I found a lot of help in a 'high priority-must get done/ medium priority- don't wait around/ low priority- when I have extra time (ha)' system. For a long time I felt like so many things were going into my high priority list that there was no way I'd ever finish them in a day. To which I thought, "How am I to start tackling the medium tasks let alone the rainy day ones??" Yet I simultaneously felt an opposite problem as well. It was so easy for me to get caught up in the daily minutiae of emails and bookings and cash outs and such that I would forget that my time and energies I so badly wanted to put into making the hostel the best it could be were being wasted on menial tasks. Here I was wondering how I would get to rainy day tasks someday when I wasn't even getting to high priority tasks in the first place. Not exactly a great start to a day.
However, I began to understand that just because some of these tasks were more important than others, every category was going to continuously fall into the 'work is never done' dilemma. So, I started a system where each day I would write a to-do list comprised of all three. I'd first pick out the most pressing priority issues, then add a couple medium, then at least one low. This helped me out in two ways. First, I was actually starting to knock down my never ending to-do list on multiple levels, instead of only getting caught up in the never ending important bits. Secondly, I stopped a vicious cycle of so often feeling like I wasn't doing enough or would never 'get there'. One of my staff used to tell me all the time "You know there's always going to be something else to do, so pick what you can and move on. Stop feeling bad about yourself." And I knew that. It wasn't some big secret to me. Yet, no matter how hard I tried to accept that fact, I was still judging myself on how much 'some non quantifiable amount of stuff' got done. I still struggle with that, and probably always will, but using that system at least helped keep negative feelings at bay and replaced them with a sense of daily achievement. I strongly believe in thinking positively to progress forward in any aspect of life, and work was not to be exempt from this.
I also stopped writing such long, optimistic daily to-do lists. If one of my biggest frustrations was not getting enough done, it certainly followed that one of the biggest reasons was all the 'unexpected' that came up daily. Again, this is something that I understood deep down was part of the job. However, I don't think I gave the unexpected happenings of the day enough credit. They aren't part of managing a hostel, they ARE managing a hostel. Operations systems are in place to keep the smooth, daily flow of things. Staff are there to help and guide these systems to their maximum benefit. And after months I finally realized- really realized- that a manager is not there to oversee everything happening correctly, but rather to manage the unexpected. To think on your toes when suddenly the hostel is overbooked. To quickly pull out plumbing skills from that time you watched your dad change a faucet, because the kitchen is leaking and you have 12 new checkins arriving at the same time. If a hostel has been set up well, the day to day is going to run well. It's when the unexpected, the situations that were never a part of the daily systems, suddenly appear that a manager really needs to shine.
This actually came to me in a bit of a tail-between-my-legs lightbulb moment while on Skype. I had been working in my office all morning and getting frustrated with my lack of progress (the to-do list, that blasted to-do list!), so decided to take a quick break and call a good friend. Right in the middle of the Skype call, reception called my work phone. I talked quickly with one of my staff on the other end, hung up, and turned back to my computer. I must not have been overly friendly on the phone, because my friend on Skype gently but seriously said, "Did you really need to speak to him like that?" I said, "I know, I know, I didn't mean to be curt, but all morning I was interrupted while trying to get work done, and now I'm being interrupted while trying to speak with you." He simply responded, "Yes. Because it's your job to be interrupted."
Wow. Talk about being (rightfully) put in your place. The to-do list of 'this task' and 'that email' was not my job. My job was to solve problems, whatever they were and whenever they arose. My job was to make things work when everything seemed to be going to shit that day. My job was to pause in writing my 85th email on Airbnb (don't get me started!) to answer a staff member's question, because Airbnb can wait but my staff are the life and soul of my hostel. And with this, I realized what a poor example I was setting for my staff, who I cared about so deeply. If I couldn't make time for them without sounding annoyed, how could I expect them to make time for our guests with a smile on their face? Would they pause from making a bed or responding to a booking request to answer how to get to the Golden Gate Bridge for the 27th time? And would they do this with genuine care and enthusiasm for a guest if I, as their manager, didn't give them the same respect for their questions? I took that job, joined this industry, knowing how committed I would need to be. I was ok with it, because it was something I was (am) very passionate about, but clearly I wasn't showing that passion in a positive light.
I wish I could say that after this somewhat embarrassing epiphany I suddenly became the greatest hostel manager in the world, with all the time for everyone, including myself, and a fully crossed off to-do list to boot. But, this blog is about reality, including my own, and that didn't happen overnight. Anyone who has tried to make a big change knows it takes consistent work and practice. I'd like to think I improved, as I certainly tried, but old habits die hard and I still have a long way to go. Changing how I interacted with and made time for my staff was a much easier change to begin since I loved them like family and didn't want to lose that special bond. Luckily one of the best parts about family is their acceptance of you even when you mess up, and I am so grateful for an amazing staff who put up with my learning curve. However, the 'to-do list/ have I done enough?' struggle is still there for me. When I really care about something, am passionate about something, I delve in 100%. I can be a workaholic and want to keep on top of things. Remembering that 'things' does not have to equal 'everything, everyday' is difficult for me, but perhaps is something we'd all do well to remember. That, and wait a minute or two before taking that first sip of tea if you want to truly appreciate the gloriousness of a Cookie Time ice cream sandwich you may or may not buy later that day.
So what about you? Do you ever feel like you can't get it all done, or that your hostel is a never ending cycle of things to fix and problems to solve? What tips or advice do you have for sorting it all out, or shall we dare ask, keeping your sanity? Even if you don't have advice, sign in, comment, and let us know we're not alone!
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Peace & love,
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