Flexible Work: 16 Tips to Excel in Your Career When No One Makes You
Flexible work is a reality many students will need to embrace as they move through their educational, and into their professional, careers. Sometimes the freedoms of this form of work will be available in a W2 setting while others will be exclusive to the gig economy.
The chances of you working remotely in either capacity are pretty high as companies and vendors realize a physical office is unnecessary for holding their employees or contractors to productivity standards.
This is all great news for anyone who feels being forced into the same location eight hours a day with a boss always staring over your shoulder is a bad thing. But it does demand a certain degree of precaution.
In the following article, we’ll be talking about the 16 tips that will help you not only survive but thrive in this free-for-all culture. Let’s begin!
Flexible Work Tip No. 1. Treat it like a ‘regular’ job.
Just because you have the flexibility to work from home or a coffee shop, that doesn’t mean you can come and go as you please. In fact, you’ll probably feel like you’re working harder on your own, at least if you’re doing it right.
This comes partially from a sense of fear. You don’t want to do a poor job or perceived as being lazy. That may get the privilege taken away from you. On the other hand, contractors know you won’t be paid anything if you don’t actually get the work done. No work, no eat.
The only way to ensure you’re exceeding expectations is to treat your “flexible work” time as if it’s a regular job. Because it is. That means get up, go to the place where you plan on working, target a goal, and complete it.
Compare this to a regular office job where you likely can get away with sloughing off all day and taking eight hours to do four hours worth of work.
2. Limit social media intrusion.
By this point, any sensible person would have to agree that social media is ruled with alternative facts, misinformation, unruly, and often gutless mobs of people looking for a fight so long as they don’t have to give up the anonymity of their keyboards or touchscreens.
The real world isn’t on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. While these sources can be used for good, they’re often not. It’s best to limit the role they play in your life by uninstalling apps and only accessing through a mobile browser. Allow yourself to use it, but don’t make it so easy to do so that it gets in the way of what you’re supposed to be doing.
3. Don’t let constructive activities become destructive.
Sometimes we distract ourselves with things that are actually worthwhile. In those moments, when we should be doing something else, these constructive activities become destructive to our productivity.
We’re thinking things like the following:
- Reading books
- Responding to a friend
- Negotiating terms on a new job that can wait while you’re under a short deadline
- Listening to music or podcasts
- Spending time with family and friends
Each of these things has their place. But you should not be using their inherent value to under-value the work you’re supposed to be doing.
Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness podcast has a recommendation that you divvy your life into three core buckets of 56 hours. That’s because each week has nothing more than 168 hours in it, and you need to find room for work and errands, personal time, and sleep. One hundred sixty-eight divided by three is, you guessed it, 56.
While you can figure out what to do with your personal time in another setting — and the sleep thing (8 hours per night) is kind of obvious — the 56 hours of work and errands give you a nice framework for how you can plan your flexible work day.
Let’s assume it takes you between 30 minutes to one hour per day to shower, get dressed, and get set up for work. That’s 3.5-7 hours. Set aside another nine hours for any errands or quick lunches. That leaves 40 hours for productivity. Will you work five days (8 hours per day) or seven days (approximately 6 hours per day)? Maybe 13-hour days across three days if your job allows it?
Use this flexible framework. That way, you can more easily plan your days and make sure you’re hitting all deadlines and meeting every obligation. This is how you use compartmentalization to your advantage when working from remote or flexible locations.
5. Find the time to network.
It can be easy to stay isolated when you work in such a manner. Don’t allow that to happen to yourself. Instead, try to maintain contact with people who can help you in your career.
How do you do that? Extend lunch invitations. Send friendly and non-intrusive emails or texts. Be encouraging, and look for individuals to whom you can add value even if they’re not really in a position to help you currently.
Building and nurturing these networks now will pay off later. Since so many people credit their network over job advancement than answering job ads, this is unquestionably a necessity.
6. Get the tax situation in order.
If you’re a W2 employee working from home, it’s pretty cut-and-dry. Gig economy folks have it a little more difficult, but not really.
You just need to set aside between 20-30 percent of your gross income. This will generally cover federal and state taxes as well as the so-called “self-employment tax” once your deductions are accounted for.
Not having to worry about large tax bills from Uncle Sam will free you up to do your best work.
7. Find a place where you can be effective.
When you work out of the office, it really doesn’t matter where you choose to do your job as long as you can be effective in that position. Choose a coffee shop, the public library, your home office, or in the family room in front of the television set (though we wouldn’t recommend that last one as most of you aren’t nearly as effective as you think you are in such a setting).
The important thing to remember about getting the most from your workstation: keep it clean, so you can easily organize and start working without delays or distractions.
8. Be honest about your limitations.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re better in this situation than you really are. If you’re struggling working from home, then you should find a new location or even go into the office should your employer have that option. Being honest about your limitations will give you the ability to get things done while also experimenting with your work style.
It’s possible that something that doesn’t work for you today will work for you six months from now. But you won’t know that until you’re comfortable and confident in the work that you’re getting done. Don’t try to deviate in large quantities and don’t start experimenting until you’re sure of those strengths and weaknesses.
9. Remember to continue your education.
Flexible work can sometimes turn into its own factory. You get used to doing what you’re doing with the thought, “The faster I’m done, the more I can vedge out in front of the television!” That’s a great mindset if you want to become obsolete in the next five years.
Don’t take advantage of your freedoms. Instead, take the extra time you save to really assess your qualities and shortcomings. Then, check out some useful programs to grow your education and become more marketable and valuable to your employer or client.
10. Make time for socialization — actual socialization.
Texting and phone calls have their place, but they’re not actual socialization in our opinion. While it’s easy to make most of your relationships digital, try to get out and meet people.
Strike up with baristas at coffee shops or team members at bookstores. Invite a friend with a regular job as well as one of his co-workers you may or may not know for lunch. Schedule some sit-down interviews with experts who can help you refine your understanding in a certain area.
This will keep you from burying yourself in an echo chamber of opinions you agree with. It also will help you to function in a capacity that helps to improve the world as a whole. And at least indirectly, that’s a benefit to your employer as well.
11. Don’t force anything.
It may seem contradictory for us to tell you that you have to work harder at a flexible job than a regular job, then come in with this bullet point that says not to force anything. We hope that’s not how you take it.
What we mean is that on some days you feel like you’re going to take on the world and get a lot done. On others, you feel as worthless of a worker as has ever been set loose on the workforce. That’s normal.
What does it mean? It means you have to listen to yourself and avoid doing shoddy work. It also means you may have to take a look at what you’re treating as your prime productive hours and weigh that against what your body is actually telling you. If you do your best work between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m., then don’t try to do the body of your work from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Sure, you can retrain yourself through altering sleep habits, diet, and exercise, but why do that if you have the ability to start where you are and be a better flexible worker because of it?
12. Develop the right atmosphere for work.
Aside from cleaning your workstation, other ways you can set the right atmosphere for work is to do the following:
- Switch up where you work
- Incorporate comforting rituals to help ease you into the process
- Listen to pleasant-sounding instrumental music while you work (i.e., study music on YouTube, classical, instrumental jazz, nothing with lyrics)
Also, make sure you’re dressed for the working conditions. No long sleeves when working outside on a warm summer day. No T-Shirt and shorts when sitting in a Starbucks. Etc.
13. Keep emails on a backburner.
There’s a word for people who send emergency info and expect instant replies to their email inbox. Idiots.
We’ve been doing this whole work-from-home thing for over a decade and not once has someone sent a time-sensitive, all-hands-on-deck message via email. If their jam requires your immediate input, that’s what instant messaging and phone calls are for.
If they haven’t got that memo, then you need to retrain their thinking by not responding ASAP. Leave emails on the backburner until a lunch break or the end of your workday. The world will not go into meltdown mode if it has to wait a few hours for you to respond.
14. Leave room for analog.
Technology has made it so much simpler to do good work quickly. However, it is possible to overdose on tech if you’re not careful. What happens is this: you get so drunk on the perceived productivity increase that you go full bore into over-planning and organization.
You essentially tap into a part of your brain that lacks creativity while using it for tasks that require creativity. Breaking away from the tether of tech and using your brain, pen, and paper to sketch out ideas will keep the right parts of your brain engaged. So leave a little room for analog in your life if you want to make the most of the flexible work environment that digital living affords.
15. Never forget the alternative.
If you ever feel like you’re tired of the flexible work environment, do yourself a favor. Imagine a world where you’re chained to a computer in the same location every day with a boss breathing over your shoulder. Literally breathing over your shoulder. Every hour of the day. Regardless of the amount of work that actually needs to get done.
Millions of people still have to deal with this scenario. Consider yourself lucky if that’s not you, because it doesn’t take long for a job like that to suck the life out of you.
16. Know when/if to quit.
Flexible work is not for everyone, and that can be hard to admit to yourself when you go into it full of enthusiasm and optimism. But if you reach a point where the results don’t justify the means, then it’s time to get real about whether you should be doing it.
Just remember that there’s no shame in walking away from the flexible work environment if it hinders your productivity. The important thing is doing your best work in the way that best facilitates it.
Do you have any experience with the flexible work environment? What are some of the tips that you find to be the most helpful? Share yours in the comments section below.
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