This article was originally published on riskology.co
I’ve always been an early riser, but I’m not what you would call a morning person. I like the peace and serenity that comes with a sun rise when no one else is awake. I like knowing that when I wake up, I’m guaranteed a hot shower. Lately, I’ve noticed I like getting my daily exercise done early so that it’s out of the way and I can focus on other things for the rest of the day.
Until just a few months ago, I had a day job in the construction industry. Getting up early in that line of work is a prerequisite. On my first day, I was issued an official alarm clock and coffee grinder. If you’re not an early riser, you’re going to become one.
Apparently, I missed a memo, because early mornings at the office aren’t usually spent enjoying the sunrise or improving your health. They’re spent sweating bullets trying to finish work that was neglected yesterday or put out fires that someone else started.
Not exactly my cup of tea, so to speak. I like mornings, but I like them on my own terms.
I’m sure you’ve had the misfortune at some point in life of trying to reconcile what you wanted to do with what you thought you had to do. This is exactly the situation I found myself in and it was thoroughly problematic. All these rules that someone else made and I had to follow.
When I was new, I just tried to fit in and do what everyone else was doing. “That’s just how it is,” they said. You show up at 7:00 every morning and leave at 5:00 every evening. It had to be for a reason, right? Besides, I was on an prosperous career track. If I could just get used to this schedule, spending the first hours of every day pulling my hair out in what felt like a incoherent stupor, there’d be years of financial good fortune ahead of me.
This is the part where I state loudly and quite firmly, “Wrong!”
I was fresh to the professional world and wet behind the ears, but it didn’t take too long to figure out why we had this 7:00 to 5:00 rule. Of course, I’ve always been aware that most companies keep set working hours, I just wasn’t always sure why.
Turns out, they had a pretty good reason. Know what it is?
Most employees (in any industry) are completely mediocre and mediocre employees demand (yes, demand!) rules that tell them how to behave.
Setting a schedule that says you show up at 7:00 and leave at 5:00 is an easy way to ensure that average people are at work for an average of 10 hours a day and, if the averages play out, a few of them are productive.
Now, I enjoy sitting around and being unproductive just as much as the next guy, but its not a hobby I care for at work. I like to reserve that kind of activity for weekends and downtime after I feel like I’ve really accomplished something.
At the same time, though, who can kick ass for 10 straight hours? I’m trying, you know, but my bionic brain is still on back order. I felt forced into a position where I either had to completely drain myself every day or adopt this law of averages that just felt wrong.
There’s good news, though. If this is how you feel too, and you’re willing to work a little smarter, you can start making your own rules about your schedule, or about anything at work or in life for that matter.
A Little “Experiment” With Rules
When I realized what kind of system I was in, I knew right away that I wanted out, but I liked my paycheck and I wasn’t really interested in trying to change an entire corporation’s policy.
I’d gotten a lot of praise for the work I’d been doing and it seemed like everyone was really happy with my results, so I decided to do a little test — I quit showing up at 7:00. Yep. I just quit going to work on time. I didn’t do it all at once, and I didn’t just start showing up after lunch, but slowly and surely I started coming to work later and later and doing it more frequently.
And you know what happened? Absolutely nothing! No one even noticed.
You can probably do it too (even though I can hear you saying in your head that it would never work at your job).
Sure, there are some jobs where this kind of stunt won’t work. If you work on an assembly line and all the pieces pile up at your station and break the machine because you’re not there on time, you’re probably out of luck.
But there are far more jobs where it will work. If you’re reading this article between the hours of 7:00 am and 5:00 pm at your desk, then yes, I believe you can do it.
The Secret Formula for Changing the Rules
There’s a catch, though. Are you surprised? There always is, isn’t there?
Remember what I said about average employees needing rules to tell them how to behave? You can’t be one of those average employees and expect to pull this off.
Thankfully, it really doesn’t take much to excel above “average.” If you can grasp this concept (it’s the most important one there is to beating “average”) then you’re well on your way to a much happier workplace:
Success is measured in output of value, not input of effort.
A lot of people think that if they put in the hours, they’ll be noticed and recognized for their effort. It isn’t true. Unfortunately, no one cares how long it took you to complete a job or finish a proposal, or do anything else, really. What they care about is that it got done, it worked, and it worked well.
In fact, the only time anyone is going to care how long it took to do something is when it took too long. And that’s not something you want to be recognized for.
Once you have a real understanding of this concept, you can start using simple productivity tricks to abandon the standard corporate work formula that looks something like this:
(1 hr. of half ass work) + (1 hr. of surfing the net) + (30 min. of frantic work to meet a deadline) = 1 happy boss/customer/client
and substitute it for a much nicer formula that looks like this:
(1 hr. of focused productivity) = 1 really, really happy boss/customer/client
Get it done. Make it work. Make it work well. Consistently nail those 3 things, and you can start changing any rules you want to.
Action is a Revolutionary Act
It’s pretty easy to see how fast you can get ahead when you embrace the reality that people appreciate effort, but they expect results. The funny thing is that this is not a revolutionary concept. When you read it, your first reaction was probably, “Duh!” This is something that everyone, on some level, understands.
But actually implementing it is a revolutionary act. There’s a huge disconnect between those that understand the concept of results over effort and those that actually live by it.
It isn’t easy to do. Most people have been trained their whole lives to do exactly the opposite. They’re even programmed to try to put a stop to it when you decide to do it. But resisting the urge to fit in is exactly what makes you stand out.
If you want to change the rules in another man’s game, you must make yourself an indispensable asset to him. Once you accomplish that, you’re free to make the rules as you see fit and what seems like dangerous behavior to many is, in fact, more empowering to you.
The real danger in this idea comes once you realize you’re tired of playing another’s game. Not a danger to you, but a danger to them. But that’s an article for another day.
Now, over to you. What are your tactics for changing the rules in someone else’s game?
Tyler Tervooren founded Riskology.co, where he shares research and insights about mastering your psychology by taking smarter risks. For more, join his Smart Riskologist Newsletter.
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