Amidst the corona virus crisis, how we handle the work space and exploring new methods to get work done have become key questions. While some of us thrive in the new-found freedom of home office without the time-filling cups of coffee in between and lethargic counting of hours every day, others face a genuine financial and existential crisis under the prevailing circumstances.
When pondering about the current crisis, I cannot help thinking that such situations only highlight the flaws and strengths of established systems and are a chance to re-evaluate and improve them for the future. I have long criticised how work systems worldwide function and how inefficiently they usually are - which is why I became a freelancer. In my article "Working for Life or Living for Work...That is the Question?" I wrote about the insufficiency of the 40+ week and how systems involving people are all interrelated and feed of each other. In "The Issue with Work-Life Balance" I discuss how we're apparently "dead" when we work, if life is everything outside work.
One of the reasons why I keep returning to this issue is my bafflement how companies tend to move consistently into the wrong direction when it is so blatantly obvious to me and backed up by numerous studies that it is a counter-intuitive and outdated movement. The Scandinavian countries come out top at most international tests although their school systems are among the least pressure-inducing and broadest in terms of curriculum worldwide. Sweden was also among the forerunners which introduced six-hour days instead of eight-hour days and celebrated major success with the scheme. Workers were less tired, more motivated and had more time to spend with their families, which added to their overall happiness and motivation. Workers also used up less sick days and their was a recognisable boost in productivity.
So why do we keep moving towards 10-hour days and weekend work when the studies and trials clearly show more work time doesn't mean more productivity? Well, sadly that is a question I am unable to answer, but I found an interesting article relating to the subject, originally published on Honeybook.com. In "The Top FOUR Reframes for Looking at Time, Money, and Success", author Kate Crocco presents forward-thinking strategies that have proven true for her freelance career. She gives succinct and clear ideas how you can determine key aspects for your work that will use the time spent more efficiently.
You can read the full article on Honeybook.com to delve into all four reframes, but I predominantly want to focus on Crocco's notion of "More Time Does Not Equal More Success" and the relating methods to implement improved dealing with time. Giving insight into her personal experiences, she doesn't only tell us about her first misgiving that more time always means more money and success, but also shares the candid notion that her business would be certainly dead by now if she hadn't reframed her way of thinking.
Avoid the breadcrumbs
Crocco writes that the real recipe to success is "working smarter not harder". By prioritising your time and choosing on what to spend your time, your work gains much more value and leaves you more time to focus on family, relations and personal growth. One section which I found very inspiring as a freelancer was her advice to avoid the proverbial breadcrumbs. When you start out as a freelancer, you're inclined to take on whatever work you get - regardless how poorly it is paid or whether you're heart beats for the project. These projects take up plenty of time and energy for little money and discredit the value of your work and time, too. I remember I once agreed to work on a ghost-writing project for a website and the payment was, in lack to sugarcoat it, shit. However, the company was still very keen on "pristine quality" and I ended up working the entire weekend to make everything perfect for a client who didn't value my work with appropriate pay that my time effort would have deserved.
As I progress in my career, I have become much more cautious which projects to take on - also because I endure all the risks and lows involved with being a freelancer to genuinely enjoy what I do. When I am left with the breadcrumbs left on the floor, I will certainly not enjoy my work.
Crocco advises to "take some time to say yes" and I wholeheartedly agree. Maybe you feel giddy when a potential client writes a nice email and wants to work with you, but I have learnt to always sleep a night over it (if the deadline allows it) and make a well-informed decision - because in the end you have to put in the hours.
Invest in high-quality work within your limits
When you are a freelancer, every client counts and you usually only have one shot. Sadly, a bad reputation goes viral much quicker than solid and professional work. Knowing your time and energy limits and spreading them evenly is pivotal to enjoy your work and gain the most out of it.
In the beginnings of my career I took on too many projects at once and then had issues delivering in time or didn't provide the highest quality I know I would have been capable of. While always delivering on time in the end, it meant me slaving away into the wee hours to get everything done - and still not being entirely happy with the result.
In the Four Reframes suggested by Crocco, she also writes about the mistakes of early entrepreneurs, eager to get their hands on everything. Part of being a professional means being honest with yourself and the clients. When you have a project going and another client requests your services, look at the project closely and consider well how much time you will need to deliver it in high quality. Be honest with the client if you cannot deliver in their requested deadline and let them know when you CAN deliver. More than often the clients prefer working with someone they already trust and wait a day longer than looking for someone new. However, if you regularly hand in sub-par work or cannot deliver in time, they will find someone else to do the work instead.
I am aware that non-freelancers do not have the choice of prioritising their work necessarily, nor can they choose as easily to turn a project down. However, although the Four Reframes presented in the original article are mainly targeted at freelancers, they show what efficient and independent work systems could look like. Letting people work on bland tasks for hours in which they go to the coffeemaker three times an hour to get the time over, demotivates and wastes massive amounts of time. Taking incentive from freelancers - who have to prioritise to keep afloat - may be an initial step to leave an industrial-inspired system where people are often slaved down mindlessly and without producing efficient work due to lack of motivation and boredom.
In challenging times like the corona virus crisis, work systems we held true as the only ones possible heretofore are suddenly tested and re-structured to match the new requirements. As much economic disaster as the virus means for many people - and I feel deeply with them - it also poses as an opportunity to put the trust and responsibility back into people's hands, as many of them structure their day now from home and combine the work and home sphere without too much trouble. Maybe it can really pose as an incentive to realise the work life should not only change, it actually can.
Writer. Editor. Blogger. YouTuber. Freelancer. Traveller. English fanatic.