I can safely say that Timothy Ferriss opened my eyes as well as confirmed that I was right all along. I’m reading his best-seller “The 4-hour work week- escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich”.
I stumbled upon Ferriss’ book when browsing a news paper kiosk at Schiphol airport, while waiting for my father’s arrival in Amsterdam. He was supposed to land at 7pm- I arrived late as usual- but his flight was delayed. I’m not sure what it is with airport news stands and I, but I always come across the most interesting reads at the airport. Perhaps it’s because I rely heavily on the recommendations from Amazon.com when purchasing books online or that I simply never venture out in the wold between business hours anymore, let alone take my time to browse. So when I do have the time to browse, I usually find myself at an airport.
I bought the book together with The Economist’s style guide to the English language (can’t hurt right?). I started reading Ferriss’ book that same evening after a long and relaxed dinner with my father, brother and his girlfriend. At 4 in the morning I forced myself to set the book down and get some shut-eye. I am now half way through and not only did it inspire a story I am working on (yay!), but it includes numerous tips on how to work smarter. Since I’ve decided to turn my life around and chose happiness, without the intention of getting fired or a bad appraisal, I started to think of ways to work smarter. Not shirking on the job or free riding (hate that!) or anything, just work smarter and more efficient in order to free up time for myself and my writing.
Through trial and error I came up with basically the same things that Ferriss suggests. Take the concept of face time for example. Face time, in the wonderful and magical world of commercial law firms, means that associates should be available during business hours, which, depending on the law firm, can range from 8 am to midnight and beyond. Clients and partners alike should be able to reach said associate at the office no matter the time.
Not only do I hate the concept, I think it is utterly ridiculous. If I should be in the office anyway, why make sure I have a working blackberry and token for remote access to the system before I even get assigned a desk? Besides, why not make use of the wide range of IT solutions allowing employees to work off-site? Nowadays, technology is so advanced that you can work from anywhere in the world with internet connection without the client even knowing! Assuming. of course, he or she won’t just drop by the office- but let’s face it, the chances of that happening is remote as the client is probably travelling all over as well.
So, I’ve started analysing the concept and thinking of ways to beat the system. I’ve noticed that most partners come in early (say around 8.30 am) to read their emails in peace, work through the tons of documents that they have to sign before opening of business and to just enjoy a cup of coffee. Most associates mimic that schedule and find themselves picking their noses out of boredom and taking on unimportant tasks or know-how development work just to keep busy. Between 8.30 and say 11 am, no partner will ever ask you to do any billable work.
I also noticed that partners are human beings too and need some human interaction from time to time. They aren’t energizer bunnies, so around 5.30 pm their batteries are mostly depleted and they start roaming the office for some good banter. Most associates are AWOL by then, which is perfectly understandable as they had an early start and some want to run personal errands before shops close. During lunchtime, partners are either having lunch with clients or injuring themselves in the gym. Most partners leave around 7 or 7.30 pm as clients have usually gone home or are reading whatever memo or contract we have sent them. After 8 pm most clients don’t bother to respond to any emails that can wait until the next morning- which are most.
I started planning my work day around the partners’ schedule and trained my clients to email me (by responding quicker to emails and responding to phone calls by emailing) instead of calling me. Presto change-o! As a result I have more free time, which I use to write or dream or read or run errands or whatever. I feel like I get my personal errands done during the week, leaving my weekends free for me to lounge, read, write, Skype with friends, shop, sleep and generally be lazy.
Thing is, everyone still thinks I am one of the hardest working associates in the office. At first I thought it was because I built enough credit with the firm that the partners generally accept more crap from me. Or maybe because my output remained constant. Or because I am always sitting behind my desk at the right time looking (and actually being) very busy. Anytime a partner needs me, he can find me sitting behind my desk. Also, I’m always the only one there when disaster (read: some client requests something outrageous after 7 pm) strikes. My utilisation is still high, as I work efficiently and effectively during the hours I am there and unlike others I don’t have a lot of time allocated to non-billable stuff (which brings the utilisation down, calculated as the number of hours billed divided by the number of hours you are in the office).
Associates often ask me how I manage to pull it off- in their eyes I get away with murder! Easy-I come in between 10 am and 10.30 am, avoiding any non-billable work that was allocated earlier to bored associates. I take a long lunch break between 12 and 2 pm to either enjoy a long lunch or run personal errands (while my peers do a desky). I usually leave around 7.30 or 8 pm, long after other associates have sneaked out. My schedule allows me to have free time, while avoiding non-billable work, allowing me to have some good chat with the partners in the afternoon (that is always the best time to discuss topics like bonuses, vacation time that seem unreasonable and other topics you don’t want to discuss when people are stressed) and being the big hero if disaster strikes. While effectively working only 8 hours a day instead of the usual 12 or 15 hour days I used to (and other associates still) pull.
Lately, I have been struggling with distractions at work- colleagues walking in an out my office for a quick chat, some input on a matter. I also catch myself spending a great amount of time sending BBMs, browsing social media sites like Facebook or other entertaining websites like Roll on Friday or Here Is The City (boring sites only City lawyers and bankers visit). And this week, it got worse! I have to share my office with an intern for the next two month (oh, the horror!). She keeps asking the most ridiculous and pointless questions ever (other than that she is tolerable, nice even). Those interruptions are nothing but time wasters in my new uber efficient work day.
Comes in Ferriss with his helpful tips and tricks to eliminate those time wasters. He recommends little changes you can make based on the presumption that no one can actually multitask (of which I am a believer..I really can’t!). E.g. limit the frequency you check your emails. Let the emails accumulate and read and respond to emails only twice or at most three times a day. Only allow yourself to spend an x-amount of time on social media sites and other time wasters. Do not check them every time someone updates a status or posts a pic. Same goes for BBM.
My personal favourite- manage those chatterboxes. I admit it can be useful to chitchat with colleagues (e.g. if you want time off that’s the best moment to ask for it), however people shouldn’t interrupt you willy-nilly. Ferriss suggests keeping chitchat to a minimum by the way you respond to people. Don’t invite prolonged chitchat. Imagine something like this:
Peer: “Hi, how are you? How was your weekend?” You: “Bit busy here. My weekend was great, probably as enjoyable as yours! How can I help you?” It totally cuts the chitchat off, without you seeming unfriendly. Winning!
I will definitely give Ferriss’ tips and tricks a try starting Monday. Who knows, I might actually be able to increase my productivity, while keeping my face time to a bare minimum.
(images of Timothy Ferriss and his book from http://www.fourhourworkweek.com)