There are of course professions that absolutely require your physical presence at specific times. It’s not possible to get a knee operation from a surgeon who’s out playing with her chil­dren in the park. In these cases, being cunning doesn’t imme­diately pay off in terms of time away from the office, but it can bring other benefits that lead to the same effect. If you perform well, over time you will be in a much stronger position to rene­gotiate your whole deal—to define your job in the terms and times you want.

Linda Brooks, our New York lawyer, whose law firm operates, like most law firms, on billable hours, says her profession does not really encourage time-saving techniques.

“You’re not going to see a lot of people spending a lot of time figuring out how to bill fewer hours,” she concedes. “Even if you get your work done much faster, the partners will still want you to be billing, or working, a certain amount of hours. I think the work-smart model, just fundamentally and economically, it’s kind of at odds with the billable hour,” she says. Obviously if you work smarter and more efficiently you will be seen as a better employee—you just might not get to take your reward in “down­time.” But, one could argue, Linda’s smart, effective work is the reason her partners were open to her taking a pay cut and taking a day off a week. “I think by making this decision,” she adds, “I am by definition working smarter. I just try to get as much done in the four days that I am in the office as I can so it frees up more time on Friday.”

Economically, it wasn’t the best thing for her. But psychologi­cally, it’s given her the life she wants, and she was more than willing to pay the price, literally, for that freedom.