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Who cares what your employees are doing?

Here’s how I work these days: someone gives me a task and a deadline, and I complete the task by the deadline. Amazing, isn’t it? Between beginning and end, I’m entirely free to do whatever I want, dress however I want, waste hours playing board games online with strangers if I want… But if you try this in most work environments, there’s a lot of pushback.

Even if you’re on salary rather than an hourly wage, there’s often a sense that you should be in a specific place (your desk, say) by 9am and still be there at 5.30pm. Managers don’t like to pop their heads in and see a mostly empty office at 9.15, even if there’s not much to do yet and some people will still be around after hours to finish whatever needs doing on deadline.

And they certainly don’t like to see people scrolling through Twitter, even if they’ve completed their work early. After all, if someone has completed an important project ahead of schedule, shouldn’t they move on to the next job? Isn’t that what we’re paying them for here? Can’t they discreetly check Twitter on the toilet like the rest of us?

Time-jumping back to primary school for a moment, you might remember being a smart kid who finished all the assigned work faster than your classmates. You might also remember being praised by the teacher for this… and given bonus learning tasks to do while everyone else caught up.

And finally, if you’re my clone, you’ll definitely remember taking your time in future to avoid those extra learning tasks at all costs – because punishing efficiency with more stencils is not a good motivator.

Time-jumping back to today, my doodling skills are impeccably honed over decades and I say things like “I charge based on deliverables rather than hours” so I can get tasks finished and go back to my board games instead of feeling like I have to justify arbitrary lengths of time for the same result.

(I know – you’re shocked the smart kid in primary school grew up to be an avid gamer.)

Fundamentally, this comes down to trust. If you’re anxiously assuming all the people you employ are work-to-rule toil-dodgers, doesn’t that say more about your hiring practices than some immutable law of human nature?

If, on the other hand, you’re confident that you picked the right people for your team, try setting tasks and deadlines… then use that time you would have spent worrying about what they’re doing each minute of the day to join me on Yucata for a game of Russian Railroads or Targi.

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