Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell
When you put all these separate strategies and techniques together you may find that you can actually create a flexible schedule on your own—without even asking permission, negotiating a new deal, or, most critically, taking a pay cut. Let’s face it—some companies just aren’t prone to offering you the possibility formally. It will be up to you to make it happen. Lauren, for example, says it’s unusual to get a formal flexibility agreement in her line of work.
“In investment banking or private equity it’s tough to do, probably because, even these days, there’s so much money at stake,” she explains. “It’s just the culture. The group norm is to work as hard as you can.”
Miriam goes one step further. “You’ll always have younger men or younger women ready to steal your lunch money, as we call it. If you don’t work your tail off, you probably won’t be wanted as part of the group. So if you want flexibility, don’t ask about it, just take it,” she advises. “It’s basically don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Most of us are not in industries quite that cutthroat, but we still may need to create our own utopia. So together with all of the savvy techniques we’ve laid out, here’s a path to follow that will let you start to set precedents, create routines, and carve out a way of working that will leave some colleagues wondering, “How did she get this great work setup?” But once it is set in place, your new schedule will be hard to roll back.
• Make a point of leaving the office a few times during the day for "meetings.” Let everyone know you’ll be on your BlackBerry. While you are gone, send several e-mails back to the office dealing with pressing issues immediately. People will start to realize you don’t need to be there to be on top of things.
• Come in at 7 a. m. one morning. Make sure you boss knows how early you were there. Be superefficient in a public way throughout the day, meet deadlines, take on new projects.
But at lunchtime, announce you have an appointment at
3 p. m. Try to have an assignment finished or some other impressive piece of work done that you can hand off as you head out. (Don’t apologize and don’t promise to be up all night.)
• Or stay late one evening, and again, make sure people know. As your colleagues leave the office, let them know you’ll be working from home the next morning, since you want to get a jump start on the day and avoid the commute. While you are working at home, send a slew of e-mails and information to all concerned. Let them feel you work.
• Pick a project that is not due for a while. Get most of it done in advance but don’t tell your boss. Then let him know that since you’re an early bird, you’d like to get a "head start” on the project from home at 6 a. m. the next day. Put it on his desk when you walk in the door at noon. Highly impressive! He’ll think you did it all that day from home and wonder whether working from home is more productive!
Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek has some quite creative suggestions about becoming “ill” but insisting to your employer that you can handle your work at home, and then while at home, you suddenly become so productive both you and your boss realize you may be on to a good thing in terms of efficiency and productivity! We love the chutzpah of this one.
So you get the idea. Start small, but be assumptive. Always have your work covered in spades, so that nobody can say you are not getting everything done. If you can find ways to prove that you are somehow superefficient even though you are at the office less, then all the better. Soon you will find that your quirky schedule is simply accepted, and nobody will question when you are in or out because they know your work gets done on time. Once that happens, all you need is a few more tips to keep things running smoothly.
• Go public with deadlines. Announce your internal limits out loud to whomever listens in a way that is focused on productivity. "Gang, let’s get moving on this. I’m out of here at 4 p. m.” "Guys, let’s spend the morning on this. I’m not around this afternoon.” "We’ve got to finish the Braden proposal by Friday. I’m away next week.” It will make you seem efficient, bottom-line oriented, and will help to ingrain the notion that your schedule will not change.
• Energy executive Sarah Slusser says being clear about schedules and time limits is both good common sense and helpfully respectful—two things that in the end make you look strong. "A lot of work is teamwork, so you can’t just disappear,” she says. "You have to let people know ahead of time what you’re doing. That really helps. If you let people know you need a flexible schedule and tell them exactly what it is, colleagues know to build around that, and they think you’ve done the responsible thing by informing them.
It’s a hard thing to do, though; you feel like you’re weak by saying I want to leave work early on Fridays. But it’s not weak; you have another obligation or another responsibility or another priority, and that’s who you are.”
• Be assertive and clear about your schedule, and depending on the company, don’t hide the family. Most places have moved beyond the Stone Age. Once you have a pattern established, the more truth the better. "Can I take that home with me? I’ll have it reviewed tonight. I’ve got soccer to coach at 4 p. m.”
• Offer alternatives. Christy Runningen at Best Buy says having that attitude breeds understanding and agreement. "I’ve finally gotten to the point where most of the time I can just say ‘I won’t be available here,’ ” she explains, "but I try to be up front and also say, ‘I can do this, or would this work instead?’ ”