Three key elements to help you maximize your productivity and ultimate happiness are what you do, where you do it, and with whom you do it. I discovered this over time, first working for large corporations, then working for myself. When I started out in the workforce, as an overachiever, I was led to believe that happiness came from success, and success came from going to the top schools and moving up the corporate ladder at Fortune 500 companies.

And so I set out, Cornell undergrad, Merrill Lynch financial analyst program, Wharton MBA, Procter & Gamble marketing…I was well on my way to success, but happiness, not so much. Although I loved the school environments which involved both hard work and fun, the work environments were cutthroat and competitive “up or out” business cultures. But back then, I was a Generation Xer working for Baby Boomers, and those were their values. We were expected to work hard for abusive bosses and be happy we had jobs. My first step off the fast track was to a more humane consumer healthcare company where they cared if you made it home to see your family at night. I fixed “with whom I worked!” Still. when I mentioned to my very nice boss that I wasn’t having any fun, he said with a smile, “That’s why they call it work.” Enjoying one’s work was not a typical expectation, just a happy byproduct that only a few lucky people achieved.

That’s why I think I am a Millennial at heart. Not the lazy part. Millennials get a bad rap for being perceived as lazy and not committed. But what they (and I) really want is to find pleasure and purpose in their work. Now companies are finally seeing that to attract and retain top talent, they need to offer employees more than just money. When I was working in the corporate world, I would have readily taken a pay cut for more vacation time and the ability to telecommute. But prioritizing family over work was a death blow to one’s career back then. So I had to suck it up, put on my game face, and stay late for face time purposes, because I would be available just in case my boss wanted to walk into my office to talk to me.

Then in 2004, I read The Millionaire Next Door by Stanley and Danko and decided that to have the lifestyle I wanted, I had to become an entrepreneur. I fixed the “where I worked” aspect, as I could work in the office or from home since I was working for myself. My kids were four and seven years old, so the “what I was doing” didn’t really matter, as much as my freedom to work when and where I wanted. The other benefit was being able to create the work environment I wanted to have, one of cooperation vs. competition. We encourage collaboration among our freight agents. Some are too busy for that “touchy, feely stuff”, but others truly appreciate the ability to team up. We have a pair who have never actually met in person, but who team up to help each other cover loads or cover for each other when they are out of the office. I just love it!

As my kids grew into their teen years and needed me less, so I had more time to work. “What I was doing” started to matter to me more. We had built a very successful company, during which time we automated away most of the grunt work. This gave me the opportunity to craft the “job” I really wanted in my own company. The old thinking was to focus on correcting your weaknesses. The new thinking is to just leverage your strengths. So that’s what I did, I started getting back into marketing, social media, writing, and interacting with others. I bundled the accounting work that is easy but mind-numbing for me into a discrete time period so it wouldn’t drain my energy. As I do more and more of what I love to do, I find my days flying by and I end my day with a feeling of accomplishment. I am so much more happy and productive!

How can you do this for yourself? Remember the three key elements:

  1. Take a look at what you actually do all day. Do you enjoy it? Are you excited to get up and start your day, or do you find yourself saying, “Not really.” Are you energized by what you do or is your energy drained? If you can try to identify which tasks inspire and motivate you vs. which tasks suck the life out of you (accounting for me). With this self-knowledge, you can start to create your dream job right where you are today. As a freight agent, you are responsible for both finding customers and then finding and following the trucks with which you cover their loads. If there are parts of this you absolutely hate, maybe you can delegate them to someone else and focus on what you love. When you are more productive doing what you love, it can more than pay for the person doing the work you find less desirable. Finding someone who loves doing that work is key, so your energies can feed off each other and you can get the highest level of productivity from that person as well
  2. Now take a look at your physical work environment. Do you go to an office with other people around you or do you work from home? Do you have a choice? Does having a lot of people around you energize or distract you? Are you in a cube or can you close an office door? If at home, do you have an inviting workspace that is well-organized where you can focus? Can you close the door at home, or do you have kids and dogs making constant noise or your spouse/sigot (significant other) thinking they can just barge in at any moment and disturb you? What kind of changes can you make to actually enjoy your physical work environment? More or less light, a better color on the walls, decorations, better equipment/computer, a closed door, rules or boundaries about when you can or cannot be disturbed? I always loved taking a little break when my kids were younger and they came home from school to tell me all about their days. Then my son would close the door to let me work, because back then he could talk to me all afternoon.
  3. How about your brokerage’s business culture? Do you feel like you fit in, or is it a struggle to deal with a cutthroat environment with agents pitted against one another, competing for shippers? Is it supportive or “every person for themselves?” Are you micromanaged and pressured to improve your “numbers”? Are you being neglected by non-responsive back office who don’t approve your new customer’s credit fast enough and you lose the loads? Can you approve and assign new carriers yourself or do you have to wait for back office people who seem like they got fired from the department of motor vehicles? What if you have a carrier disappear or a load held hostage? Do you get chastised or helped to solve the situation? As you may guess, I am very proud of the supportive/collaborative culture we have built at One Horn. In my experience, if you don’t fit in with a company’s culture, you are much less productive and definitely less happy. Identifying what is important to you in a broker’s business culture and then finding it are also key in achieving higher levels of productivity and happiness. It may feel like a big obstacle to change companies, but once you find a “home” where you really fit in and are appreciated, you will be more productive and feel happier and less stressed on and off the job.

So take a look at what you do, where you do it and with whom you do it. You may be surprised that if you can tweak some of these areas or make a drastic change, you could be twice as productive and infinitely more happy on a daily basis. It can seem overwhelming, so attacking one area at a time can be a good approach.   Life is short, do it for yourself and for your loved ones. It has taken me many years and several stages, but it is possible, so why not go for it?

– By Cheryl Biron, President

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