The following is a guest post by Nick Snapp (who’s also been a guest on The Productivityist Podcast. Nick is an Engineer-turned-Productivity Strategist and the host of The Make it Snappy Productivity Show podcast. He’s also the founder of Snapp Forward, an innovative coaching program designed to help busy, high-achieving parents eliminate overwhelm, improve focus and achieve superior productivity.
Working a lot of hours? You’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21% of the North American workforce clocks at least 49 hours per week, and 11% work more than 59 hours per week.
You think there’s no alternative to all of those hours in the office. So you play the game.
Sadly, all these games and distractions create a looming tension between your company’s expectations and your personal boundaries (especially if you’re wired with the spirit of an entrepreneur). You could blame your company for the tension, but that would be unproductive. After all, you created it.
Fortunately, since you’re the creator you have the ability transform the tension into something that serves both you and your company. It’s called “hacking corporate,” and you can do it in less than 40-hours per workweek.
Here are five ways to start hacking corporate, create the freedom you desire, and still perform like a rock star at your corporate gig:
1. Shift Your Focus: It’s Not All About You
Effective corporate hackers figure out how to add the highest value to the company first, then (and only then), how to do it with freedom. In your employer’s eyes, the value you provide is limited to your personal performance. Yet, what is critically neglected in corporate is how an office environment can either foster or destroy the amount of value an employee contributes.
Which environment creates more value: one where employees have autonomy to pursue a challenging, purpose-driven career, or one where he or she is constrained to a cubicle, micro-managed, and challenged with unnecessary meetings?
As a corporate hacker, it’s your job to educate those around you of the value you’re able to create when you have the freedom to come and go as you please. But to get to this point, you have to start with the needs of your employer.
2. Prove Yourself
Corporate hacking is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re new to the company or you’re in a new position, congratulations…now prove yourself.
Prove yourself by listening to your colleagues. You need to understand their pain points, get curious, and ask questions. Talk to your Senior Directors, your Vice Presidents, and the CEO. Strive to understand what results add value to your company. Learn which activities or projects are perceived as unnecessary overhead to the higher-ups.
These conversations will serve as your roadmap. It’s amazing how much you can glean from a 15-minute conversation with an executive who has the ability to boost your career.
3. Plant Seeds and Experiment
Once you know which activities add value, focus on what you need to do each day to achieve exceptional results in these areas. Minutia will undoubtedly begin to surface: last-minute meetings, email clutter, water cooler conversations and cubicle invasions.
Prepare yourself for these events by building an effective personal infrastructure for navigating corporate boundaries. This requires experimenting with unorthodox office tactics in such a way that you’re constantly maintaining focus on the value you provide the company when you eliminate corporate distractions.
In practice, this may mean you work from a location other than your cubicle. Try working in an empty office or conference room, or the downstairs lobby. Sure your supervisor may not approve, but that’s how you collect data for your experiment.
If you get called out, great! Don’t make excuses—own it. This is your opportunity to show how your actions have created value. If your boss doesn’t get it and objects, consider this the start of your negotiation. Figure out each of the following:
- What are his or her concerns?
- How can you address the concerns and still create the freedom you desire?
- Does he or she understand the value in what you’re working on?
- Does he or she want results faster? Why or why not?
You may not get what you want right away, but you’ve planted a seed, and that’s the point.
Now create another experiment, then another, and another. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Permission-seekers never get the chance to experiment. Remember, your experiments are rooted in the question, “How can I add maximum value to my company?”
Don’t give up. Consistently plant seeds, exceed performance expectations and over time, your freedom will grow.
4. Set Boundaries Early
While working from home one afternoon, my Supervisor called to notify me of his retirement. He had been receiving a free education from me on corporate hacking for over three years. This was going to be an adjustment; his replacement had a solid reputation for micro-management.
I immediately set up a discussion with my new boss the very next morning (coming in on my day off – yes, setting boundaries is that important) to gain a clear understanding of his objectives for our department.
I communicated my excitement about his vision and described the environment I had already created to serve him optimally to make the best use of time: away from my desk.
He agreed. I left the office after our meeting to go add value, while the remainder of his direct reports endured the challenges of cubicle life.
There’s only one way to set boundaries: fast and hard.
5. Lead By Example
Corporate hackers are unconventional. They do things differently by:
- keeping their email off and only check it in batches,
- cutting off cubicle interruptions like a ninja while making invaders feel good about themselves,
- not attending meetings unless they know exactly why they’re there, and if they do, they leave when they’re no longer needed, and
- spending less than 50% of their time at their desk.
If you decide to embrace the corporate hacking lifestyle you’ll likely be criticized. Never be defensive; own it and maintain consistency. Are you adding value to the company? If yes, then what are you worried about?
Over time, insults will turn to praise. Then praise will transform to emulation, which is the best form of a compliment you’ll ever receive.