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BY Tanya Tarr

How I Changed My Schedule So I Could Pursue A Passion Project

By Tanya Tarr

Negotiating flexible work schedules can have a freeing effect on your worklife balance. Woman with dark hair stands with arms wide and open while facing the sun.

Photo credit: Photo via Pexels

Creating flexibility in your work schedule can expand what is possible for you, your boss and your company. But what’s the best way to start creating this benefit if it hasn’t been a part of your organization’s work culture? I was able to do this for myself through doing two main things: leveraging a big project win and presenting my bosses with an appealing plan.

About 12 years ago, I was working as the data manager for a large national nonprofit. I had overheard my boss and the executive director talk about a dilemma they were facing. A large number of member records were set to expire soon, and our organization was headed into a big campaign where having those active members would be crucial to our success.

The organization typically signed up members through paid phone calls and direct mail campaigns. However, no one routinely tracked electronic source codes on member records. As I began to examine the data, I found that all of these records had some sort of dated source code — in other words,  the day the member signed up. In fact, though unknown to my boss, some members had another 6 to 8 months before their records would expire. I managed to rescue about 125,000 of these records, which proved to be helpful in winning our campaign.

I knew I had to explain the value of what I had just done to an audience that had no understanding of my very specific, very technical skill set. So I set out to create a cost-savings analysis. This analysis would show the monetary value of the deferred costs I had saved the organization. I knew from previous campaigns that we would spend anywhere from $3 to $5 per member acquisition. So I split the difference and arrived at $500,000 in differed costs. I wrote up a quick memo, presented it to my boss, who in turn presented it to the executive director.

The trust I built through this and other small negotiations paid off when I decided to propose a flexible work schedule for myself. I wanted to work on a personal passion project one day a week, and needed to get the bosses to approve a compressed work schedule

Before going in to the meeting, I spent a week preparing to make my case, including writing out a memo that detailed:

  • Five reasons why it was to the bosses’ advantage to approve this unique situation
  • A plan for coverage of my responsibilities in case something happened on my flex day
  • A detailed work plan of my time on compressed days
  • A short review of the ways I had innovated on my work product so that other team members would always be supported in their needs
  • A firm timeline and a guarantee that this flexible schedule would only last one quartere 

The executive director and my boss quickly approved my proposed flexible schedule, allowing me to keep my job and pursue my passion project (which, at the time, was helping someone get elected to state office).

So how can someone replicate this plan to advocate for a flexible schedule?

Consider the following four takeaways to prepare for that negotiation:

1. Take advantage of a recent big project win or success that you had a part in. Nothing builds credibility like success, so be sure to authentically document the success of your work. As you include others in this process, you also have an important chance to build relationships of trust with your teammates and your superiors. 

2. Show how the flexible schedule provides direct value to your company.  Always have clear evidence to back up the value of your request. Remember, you're not asking for something, you're offering them something. Reframe all requests in terms of how what you are proposing creates or expands a direct benefit to your company. For example, working from home could be reframed as increased productivity because it reduces time lost on commuting.

3. Come with a clear plan for your proposed flexible schedule, including contingencies. Minimize uncertainty by being transparent and develop a clear, written plan for coverage of your job. Developing and writing a plan can reassure your boss that you are looking after important details of your work. It also can signal to your boss and team that you are committed to the work and the success of everyone involved.

4. Remember that you are helping create a precedent that might help your colleagues in the future, too. Increasing flexible schedules can help your teammates pursue passion projects, and can also help in situations where flexibility could be vital to easing the stress of parental or family leave. If you’re nervous about negotiating in uncharted territory, remember that research shows that women often do better when they are negotiating on behalf of others. So consider that as you help your company form flexible schedule policies, you're helping yourself and also helping other staff members who might need that flexibility for any number of reasons. That flexibility can create a real retention benefit for your company as well.

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Tanya Tarr helps people step into their power through teaching collaborative negotiation skills. Since 2000, she has supported executive leaders in local and state government, as well as leaders in public education. She has also managed political and legislative advocacy campaigns across the US. Tanya has a masters of science in performance measurement from Carnegie Mellon University and is a certified health coach. She is currently writing a negotiation manual for introverts.

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