In behavioral scientist Daniel H. Pink’s enlightening and enormously useful book “Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself”, he reveals a number of tips for people who want to work smart, not hard. Below is a short selection of his suggestions, plus some additional ones from my own treasure trove of tried and tested received wisdom.
See also: How to Work Hard & Play Hard
1. Establish an opening ritual
Start your day in the same way every day. If you’re a home worker, develop habits such as going for a short walk or reading before you begin work. Pink suggests having a cup of tea or meditating. Studies have looked at the effectiveness of rituals in a variety of contexts, from alleviating stress to boosting confidence, and found them to be highly influential in generating specific outcomes.
2. Establish a closing ritual
Just as you start the day with an opening ritual, develop a closing ritual to signal the end of the day. The ritual could be as simple as clearing your desk or switching off your gadgets, but it must be a signal to you that work is finished.
3. Set clear boundaries
We live in a 24/7 economy, but you do not have to be on duty 24/7. And indeed you shouldn’t if your health is important to you. So, set clear boundaries: when you’ll stop working (see point 2), when you’ll spend time with your family, when you won’t take calls. Let others know what these boundaries are; otherwise, your boundaries won’t be respected. For example, say, “I switch my phone off at 6 p.m., so to catch me, please call before this time”.
4. Be client focused
Reply to emails from your clients as soon as possible (i.e.: within 24 hours), even if your reply is “I’ll get back to you shortly”. Make sure you do indeed reply; your clients will appreciate your professionalism. Another Pink tip is to ask clients to complete a feedback/customer satisfaction form after you finish a piece of work for them; doing this will demonstrate your commitment to quality (especially if you accommodate their feedback). Clients are your bread-and-butter, so treat them as such.
5. Challenge your basic assumptions
Get used to asking the question “Is this really necessary?” regarding your regular habits. Do you really need to go to that meeting? Why? Do you really need to write that report right now? Is it really your job to do this? How many of your tasks are ‘nice to do’ as opposed to ‘need to do’? Could your time be better spent elsewhere? As Pink says, “You are your calendar, so treat it with respect”. Any unnecessary tasks should be on a “to don’t list”: things you should not be doing.
6. ‘Benchmark’ your clients
If you’re selling a service, Pink suggests you ‘rate’ your clients after you finish a piece of work for them. What makes a client a good client? Reliability with payment? Quality of work? Volume of work? Then, when you are contacted again by a client, you can make an informed decision about whether to accept their offer of work.
7. Underpromise, Overdeliver
A well-known maxim, underpromising and overdelivering is a good way to ensure you’ll “look like a hero”, says Pink.
8. Look after your health
Be considered when it comes to the foods you consume. Eat foods that will boost your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
9. Find a mentor
Mentors are useful whether you are self-employed or not. A mentor is someone to whom you can be accountable. Mentors will help you stay focused on your goals and aspirations, and ask you those challenging, searching questions that others won’t ask. If you are struggling to find a mentor, look for professional associations in your field: there will invariably be networking groups or something similar that you can join.
10. Plan ahead
It’s very easy to get caught up in the moment, but it’s very important to make plans to help you achieve your hopes and your dreams. ’Downtime’ or quiet periods are a good time to do this.
What are your tips for a smarter approach to work? Add them to the comments box below.