Oswald Letter

Unchain Yourself from Your Desk

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my youngest son pulled out his favorite holiday movie to get himself in the Christmas spirit. You see, my wife was planning a day of putting up the Christmas tree, stringing lights outside, and generally decorating our home for the holidays. You might say that not everyone in the family shares her enthusiasm for these duties so my 14-year-old needed a little motivation to get ready for the day.

His method for motivating himself got me thinking. What if everyone could do something to put themselves in the right frame of mind to get the work at hand done? My next thought was, maybe we do. Do we all possess little tricks that allow us to ready ourselves for the tasks at hand? Are there ways that we all summon the courage or enthusiasm to face another day on the job? Or do we just show up and either have “it” that day or not?

It could be something as simple as a regular stop at your favorite coffee shop that gives you that shot of caffeine you need to come to work ready to conquer the world. It might be your morning workout, the peace of a morning drive to work listening to a good book on tape, or the draw of lunch with colleagues that puts you in the mood for work.

Do you challenge yourself each day in order to get more accomplished? Maybe you promise yourself a little reward each time you check another item off your “to do” list. I’ve had colleagues who would run out for a milkshake should they make a certain amount of progress during the day or even week. I’ve worked with people who would move their meetings to the local bakery as a way of breaking the monotony and increasing their motivation. You know, you don’t have to be chained to your desk to be working.

I think it’s really easy to get into the mindset that if you’re not in the office, sitting at your desk, slogging through paperwork, emptying that in-box, and returning phone calls, then you’re not working. Let’s face it, with PDAs strapped to our hips virtually 24/7 we’re constantly sending and receiving e-mails and answering calls. You start to believe you’re not working because you’re sitting in your recliner while you shoot off that e-mail at 9:30 p.m. The same is true if you step outside the office. I’m not at work, so I must not be working.

Yet, a change of scenery can be a great motivator. Whether you move down the street to a local bookstore, coffee shop, or even park, you can still be “at work.” There seems to be wireless connectivity everywhere so a laptop makes each of us a mobile worker. But first you must free yourself from the mindset and, dare I say it, the guilt that can accompany leaving the office to get a clear perspective.

Yes, I’ve worked with and for people who believe you’re not working unless they can see you sitting at your desk. I’ve seen companies with policies that prevent people from leaving the office during regular business hours. I’ve worked for bosses who believed all their charges should be at work when they arrived and still there when they left, regardless of the hour. It’s insanity.

If any of this describes you as a manager, commit to change right now. Change your focus from clocking time at work to measuring results. Why should you care how many hours someone works or where they do their job, as long as they produce the desired results? If your best salesperson could outsell every other member of your sales team by a margin of 3-to-1 and do it in two hours per day, would you fire her for not giving you a full day? Sure, she might be able to increase her productivity significantly by putting in more hours. Or, maybe it’s working only two hours per day that motivates her to achieve stellar results. But you don’t want to get rid of her because of her short workday and replace her with someone who will give you a full day’s work but only one-third the results — do you?

Anyway, that’s my way of saying “focus on the results.” Let your people do what they need to do to put themselves in the right mood to be great employees. And don’t hesitate to afford yourself the same opportunity to break that chain from your desk and be a productive, motivated worker each and every day.