My Career: Productivity road test

These guys don’t work alone. Maybe you shouldn’t either, writer Sue White suggests. Photo: no creditIt’s all very well to have a job that allows freedom and flexibility (the dream, right?) but at the end of the day, nobody is likely to want to pay you to start late, finish early and do your washing between the occasional stint of surfing the web. Most folks new to working solo soon realise that in order to be successful, some serious discipline needs to be harnessed. The answer? Working bees. I know, the term conjures up visions of a craft group, or a circle of colleagues working collectively on a task. This isn’t either. In my circles, a working bee involves you and your own ’to do’ list, working in the same space as a friend who lives nearby, in order to silently kick each others ass into gear by virtue of proximity. It’s mindblowing just how effective making yourself accountable to someone else can be. Tell your friend you’ll turn up at 9am for a day of work, and not only does it drag you out of bed, but it does the same for them. The way the day unfolds is up to you, but my current working bee buddy and I usually start the day with a casual, ‘‘So, what are your priorities for the day?’’ before settling in to our respective work spaces. (Admittedly, the ’visitor’ ends up at a dining table, while the ’visited’ works from their home office, so spread things around a bit.)
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You’ll need to experiment to find the right person. For me, I want something between a flexible arrangement, where it doesn’t matter if I arrive 30 minutes later than planned, and a regular commitment – it’s hopeless having a working bee buddy who regularly cancels at the last minute. While it’s not an excuse to chat all day, working bees aren’t all about work. What you’re really doing here is mimicking the good parts of office life, without the bad bits; it’s nice to eat lunch together or chat over a morning cuppa. When I tell people about my regular working bees, they think it’s about physically helping each other get through work. ‘‘No,’’ I explain. ‘‘We just do our own thing, at the same time.’’ But I’ve realised that over time, collaboration happens naturally. My website whiz is now fixing my working bee buddy’s site, and I’ve recently had two job referrals from my “bee buddy”, just by virtual of her knowing what I’m currently working on. Of course, all of this can happen far more formally; coworking spaces now exist in most major cities, and have all the same benefits. It’s just that this one is free. While the boon of not needing to harness quite as much motivation as I would solo, simply to tick tasks off a list, is probably the biggest productivity boost working bees offer me, I can’t deny that there’s a clear personal benefit too. Over time the best working bee buddies become each others’ unofficial cheer squads. After all, you’re in a private home, so there are no outsiders to roll their eyes at the occasional celebratory fist pump.

Sue White is a freelance writer who credits working bees with kicking her into gear on more than one recent occasion. @suewhitewriter

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