Does the type of work we do or how we get it done make us happier worker? Another survey on work preferences – and yet another non-surprising outcome (73 percent of employees would prefer some form of flexible scheduling) – has me contemplating this question.
Workforce surveys are in vogue (with 4 generations in the workforce for the foreseeable future, expect more of them for the foreseeable future) and attributing changes in the way we work to generational differences – I’m no expert (just a Gen X who started a career not expecting options or the ability to voice work style preferences when it came to “how work got done”) – doesn’t fit squarely with me.
Dialing my own career back to 1996 at Osler in Toronto, I recall a colleague who regularly started work after noon. Why? He was most productive at night. He was an absolutely brilliant attorney so accommodating his unusual work style for the times was not an obstacle for the firm.
Fast forward to 1999, I’m practicing law in New York City on a flexible work schedule that mirrored the structured finance transactions I was working on (that is, I worked 24/7 on a deal then took a chunk of time off between transactions). The schedule was completely inflexible while the deals were on and had tremendous flexibility in the weeks that followed the closings.
Jump ahead to September 2015. With a manuscript delivery deadline looming over my head, I cleared my calendar and as a full-time writing newbie, I sat down to figure out pretty darn quick HOW THE HECK was I going to write 50,000 words by January 6! My big inflexible do-the-work revelation: just get my butt in a chair each day and write.
Which brings me back to the workforce survey. Flexibility is more than permission from HR or redesigning the office, it’s awareness of self. It’s being in tune with ourselves. Where, when and how do you do your best work? And does knowing this (plus having the flexibility to work this way) change your attitude towards the work you are doing?
Back to Osler and the year 1996. Casual attire is assumed today. Back in the day when my career started, it was a rarity. Osler had casual Fridays (a big deal) and the option of wearing jeans on those days (an even bigger deal). I recall being a very content associate putting in long hours at the collegial firm. I recall rather enjoying the work too.
That flexible work schedule I crafted for myself a few years later? No doubt it extended my legal career a few years longer when in hindsight, my passion for the work I was doing was waning.
As for writing a book – writing everyday was a requirement and to do that I had to quickly become aware of the time of day when I’m most productive (mornings) and then I had to guard that time like a hawk! No coffee dates, no breakfast meetings, no rambling in to a co-working space at 10 am. Complete inflexibility! Butt in chair first thing in the am (ok, could be my butt in jeans or leggings or PJs but nonetheless, no flexibility on how each day started). In my recent interview with her, best selling author Kate White shares that while she is a night owl, mornings is when she writes (and no, like me, she doesn’t take morning appointments either).
Which brings me to you. And work. And flexibility. And a little about finding your passion – or rather, find your work zone.
Here’s my guidance: Discover when you are in the flow of work then protect that space. Is it a time of day? Location? Atmosphere? Is it a deadline or intense pressure or the flip-side, absolute unstructured freedom? Notice it, explore why then guard it! If getting work done means giving up your membership in a co-working space to force yourself to work in an uninterrupted zone, then do it! If it means switching from your preferred morning spin class, by all means, switch it up! If you’re not sure how/when you produce your best work, start making notes in your calendar at the end of good (and bad) workdays. What made a day good (or bad)? Only you can answer that question for your work self. Within those reflections you are likely to discover what makes the world of work tick for you.
For you – remember those two words.
Your work preferences are different than mine and everyone else – and it has nothing to do with what bloody generation in the workforce you are.
Here’s the thing. When work works in a way that works for you – because of collegiality or hours or cool office design – you throw yourself into it. No regrets or defensiveness or anxiety or frustration or anger. Finding your passion has nothing to do with it (‘cause your passion might be a hobby, which is terrific or trying to find your passion could be a stressor or even if you’re doing something everyone else considers dull as dishwater you could simply enjoy the work you’re doing even if you’re not passionate about the industry AND THAT IS FANTASTIC too).
And that is not the end of it.
Once you’ve figured out how and when you work best…take notice of the behaviors, habits and work patterns of others you’re interacting with or hoping to connect with or required to work with (ah yes, there is a networking element to this post as you knew there would be).
To create your own work (or networking) magic, you equally need to know how you operate and how the other person does too.
Back to 1998 and the continuation of my legal career in NYC. I immediately noticed that lawyers in the Big Apple didn’t start their days as early as those in Toronto (or at least not the ones I worked with). This caused friction with a partner at the firm, once and just once. He was confused why I was leaving the office before him at night (as he was not through editing the documents he needed revised by me and ready for him on his next in the morning). I pointed out that it would be ready for him – as I generally arrived at the office 2 or more hours earlier than he did and as such, it made no sense for me to sit around for several hours waiting for him to complete his edits, then for me to review and revise based on his comments (after he had gone home) for a couple more hours only to leave the office and get home, oh, about the time I could be getting up to head into the office to do the work he needed THAT would be ready when he got to the office at 10 am. The partner had not thought through his work and commuting patterns. I had – and I used it to for my work-life benefit.
There may be no flexibility as to actual deadlines in your job, but my guess is there is room for improvisation on how you meet it.
Another example on how you structure your work day and daily to-do list.
When she moved to start a new job and build a new line of business, Jennifer Johnson Scalzi made note of how everyone worked – in part to get into her own work rhythm and in part to connect with her clients. As she shares in her #BYDN networking roadmap interview at page 27:
“…After a while I found my own work rhythm. I observed that the clients I needed to work closely with were often more available later in the day, so it made no sense for me to start making calls or sending e-mails before 9:30 a.m. if no-one picked up my messages until noon (or were ready to make time for a meeting until after 5:00 p.m.).”
Figuring out what makes you tick when it comes to work is half the equation. The other half is who you work with, alongside or for. And who knows what opportunities you may unlock by listening, observing then reconfiguring how you work.