You work at a company that talks a good game about flexibility. It’s also a competitive place full of high-achieving sorts.
You’d like to have a life outside of work, but for whatever reason, some of your colleagues seem to be available around the clock. You can’t shake the suspicion that they’re deliberately competing with time: scheduling meetings in the evenings, phone calls on weekends, and always being the first to volunteer to fly somewhere when a video chat might suffice. If you can’t or won’t do that, then so it goes. Maybe they look better by comparison.
Can you still advance–and set boundaries–when people use time as a weapon?
“I would say yes,” says Cal Newport, a productivity expert and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You. “The bottom line in an environment like that, in the end, is how much value you are producing. Quick responses to communication produce a minimum amount of value as compared to core work.”
Here’s how to emerge from battles with time warriors with your life, and career, intact:
Time warriors can only wear you down if you feel like you have to respond. Keep your external network robust, and keep abreast of other job opportunities. That way you know you can leap if you want.
“If you just started, you’re probably going to have to be part of that culture,” says Newport. You may need to earn your ability to say no. But if you’ve been steadily promoted and gotten good reviews, then be honest about what’s a real threat, and what’s your own insecurity.
If other people want to make their own lives difficult, then that’s not your problem. Let the colleague who wants to stay up all night writing that report do it. If she wants to fly across the country to meet a client who says you can take the meeting by phone, great. The client gets both of you, and you save yourself 12 hours of flying time.
“It’s convenient,” says Newport. “You get an answer if you want something quickly.” Of course, you can also anticipate questions before people will ask them, and if you’re very organized and clear about deadlines, and state when you will get back to people, you can approximate the same thing.
Knowledge work can be bewildering. “It’s way more complicated that it used to be, when you could point to a number of widgets produced per hour,” says Newport. That’s why people stress availability. It looks like they’re doing something.
But chances are some activities in your industry add more clear value: You cultivate new clients. You find a gusher of new revenue. The reports you produce are so amazing that people call your boss, unsolicited, to rave. Focus on that.
Once you find activities that are clearly valuable, “measure them constantly and pursue them deliberately in the same way that a professional chess player would pursue raising his or her tournament rank score,” says Newport.
Yes, knowledge workers can train too, and should: “Once you’re a rainmaker, they’re going to value the rain more than your instant response,” he adds.
You can exchange your career capital for a good life in a pretty straightforward transaction. If you are your company’s foremost expert on a topic–and others want you on the phone to share what you know–then the call will happen when you want it to happen.
In any organization, some people are reasonable, while some are not. Even if you’re client facing, some clients have no desire to meet with you at 5 p.m. on a Friday because they also value their personal time.
Over time, cultivate your relationships with these people, and try to work with them more frequently. If the time warriors are stuck only battling each other, then that’s a fight they can’t win.