It’s time to shed the idea that commitment to something can be measured by how much time you spend doing it. You see it at work, where those who come early and leave late are seen as more valuable to the organization, regardless of their results. You also see it at home, where those who stay at home to spend more time with their children and volunteer extensively are often seen as better mothers.
But wait, sometimes, better workers do work late and better mothers do stay at home with their children. We get that. Generally speaking, when someone loves what they are doing, they do spend more time doing it, so that could signal commitment. But it is also the case that some people are able to prioritize “flow” time, that is, the time during which they are in a groove, riding creative energy, and experiencing “flow” so that they maximize their results during these periods. This frees them up to spend less overall time on the activity, while still being highly effective and “committed” to the outcomes.
Can you remember a time when you were in “the flow” and able to focus the best of your creative energy towards a project. Didn’t it seem easier to complete the project? Didn’t it take less time?
Now, contrast that with the person who is always first at the office and always last to leave. Does this person always get great results? Or, are there periods when this person wastes time, when their energy lulls, or when they are less than optimally productive? We have all seen those people who seem to wander around, looking for opportunities to “add value” and we secretly wish they would just stop interfering and leave us alone so we can get done our work and go home. Also, sometimes when people know they are going to spend extra time at work, they purposely slow down their work and/or perfect things that don’t really need perfecting. How much better is the presentation that was fussed over for weeks in advance versus the one cranked out the night? Marginally better? Was the difference worth the effort?
And isn’t face-time just code for ‘I don’t really know how to measure your value but I can certainly see you are here’ ? Isn’t it just a subpar approach to determining value?
But how do you change the perception of others? Even if you want to work with your own “flow” and avoid time-based constraints, how do you convince others to shed their prejudices?
1) Stop asking permission for anything related to time. This simply relinquishes power over your own time management. Instead, inform the organization when and where you plan to be working.
2) Work when work is needed. That may mean traveling on a weekend to meet with a client, staying late to take an overseas call, or capturing a creative energy burst in the middle of the night. You can’t make working extra time an automatic “no”.
3) Stop working when it has become counterproductive. Leave or take a break when you are tired, ineffective, or when being there is just for show.
4) Call out when others around you are working against this system; not in a gossipy way, but using what we call “Direct Speak.” For example, “Are you asking me to be here at 8:30am every morning because we have actual work that can only be done at that time or to reassure you that we are all working hard? If I were to come in at 9:00am and bring you a list of everything I am working on, could that achieve the same thing for you?”
5) Avoid holding others to a time standard or gossiping about how others manage their time. This includes logging how much time others are out of the office and focusing on the reasons for their absence.
The workplace is slowly changing to better capture the creative efforts of employees, versus the industrial “assembly line” mentality of the past. You can help it along by modeling a results-oriented approach and delivering great results in the process.