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All posts by Morley Surcon

Permanent Employment vs. Contracting: A Fine Line with No Clear “Right” Answer

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

As a tech professional, whether you prefer being an employee or an independent contractor, it’s best to take a focused approach.

Contractor Making a DecisionContractors (or rather those considering becoming a contractor) frequently ask me whether being a permanent employee or a contractor is the best way to go.  There’s no correct answer to this question.

Certainly, the world is heading towards what many are calling the “Gig Economy” and this means that not only will contingent workers be more in demand, people will begin differentiating themselves from their industry peers by marketing themselves as professional contractors.  Eagle has witnessed fantastically talented people who, having been an employee for many years with the same company, struggle to find work as their “loyalty” is actually viewed as a detriment to their resume – how different the world is from that in the ‘70s and ‘80s when longevity at a single company was a filter companies used to identify good “company” men and women.

That said, companies often do show more loyalty and will make greater investments into the skills of their employees.  Contract professionals are expected to keep themselves up on the latest technologies, approaches, etc. and it is expected that they come to a new position ready to go and able to deliver.  Even so, job security for employees is not what it once was and, when times are tough, they can see themselves between jobs just as easily as contactors.

Many people are trying to sell themselves as interested in both – employee positions and temporary contracts.  But there is a drawback to this as well.  Prospective employers may be concerned that a person’s interest in one or the other is only temporary and they may fear that you will not be as committed to this course as others might be.  We have seen over the past 5+ years that specialization, especially within the IT industry, has trumped generalization.  Eagle used to track which people were specialists in a certain area or areas and which people had more of a generalist capability.  The companies that Eagle works with have almost exclusively moved to a “specialist-only” mentality when it comes to hiring contract workers; and there has been a noticeable trend toward this for full-time permanent employment positions as well.  We now focus only on what applicants are best at and we market this to our clients.  Hiring managers want to know what people stand for, where their interests lie and what they are good at. So, saying you are interested in both contract and permanent opportunities in equal measure no longer makes you a match for either.

The key to making the right choice (for you!) in this matter is to “Know Thyself”.  Know what you really want from work and your career; and design your education and your work experience to reflect your goals.  That way your personal branding can be clear and on-point. If you are clear on what you want and build your resume accordingly, companies will see that you know where you are heading and you will set yourself apart from these other “lost souls” that try to sell themselves as a jack of all trades. Whichever direction you choose to go, do so with a plan and arm yourself with the knowledge and expectations needed to fit in and be successful.

Here are some links to articles on the web that can help inform you so that you may chart your course…

Take a Break, Gain a New Perspective!

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Take a Break, Gain a New Perspective!When determining whether or not to go the consulting route (vs. finding a job as an employee), there is an old adage often used: Which fallacy do you prefer? The one that suggests employees have more job security or the one that suggests that consultants have more flexibility in choosing their own work hours?

Of course, there is some truth to both but anyone who has been a part of the IT industry for any length of time also knows that neither is always the case! As my blog entry today is aimed at contractors or aspiring contractors, I thought I would share a few thoughts on the topic of using some of your “flexibility” by building in some down time for yourself.

This, it turns out, is really quite hard to do. It takes planning and conviction; and potentially some negotiating as well. A common prairie saying is “Make hay while the sun shines“, meaning that while you’ve got the work, you should be doing it. Especially for those working here in Calgary, given the down-turn in the economy, it is really hard to set some time aside for yourself knowing that many others don’t have the work opportunity that you are enjoying. Additionally, as a contractor, if you’re not working you’re not billing, and that can be a powerful detractor as well.

That said, many contractors have been “running hot” for a long time. Burn-out is becoming more common place, as are mental health issues which can range from being slightly irritable to limitless issues that can be caused by working too hard for too long in a too stressful a situation. There are rare individuals who are truly (and healthily) motivated and invigorated by this lifestyle, but most people would benefit from some respite. Most companies demand that their employees use the vacation time given to them each year and, as an incorporated contractor, you are running your own business. Part of your responsibility as a business owner is to look after the health of your employee(s)… which in most cases is just you.

How would your client/agency like you to plan time off? The key is to begin discussing this early. It gives them a chance to work it into their schedules. Also, being as flexible as possible shows that you are intent on your project’s/work’s success and will make it easier to accommodate your absence. Finally, look at the milestones set for your project and speak with your management contact to decide where your absence might have the least negative impact. There will be times/projects/clients where they simply cannot accommodate an absence request for a certain period of time, but those are more rare and most people are quite reasonable… especially if they recognize that there is likely to be a productivity and/or quality boost to your work when you return fully recharged!

One of the aspects of taking a break from work that has made the biggest difference to me is that it helps to regain a sense of perspective. When you’ve been head down/tail up working for many weeks/months straight, one tends to lose a broader perspective or, rather, your perspective becomes fixed and rooted in the day-to-day problems and issues. Creativity suffers and you can quickly find yourself in a “rut”. Some ruts are straight-up bad while others can become “comfortable” and these are the ones that can last a long, long time. The daily grind becomes routine, you aren’t as bothered by your failures, and you can become numb and ambivalent to both your work and your life outside of work. A good break changes things up, it allows you to see the bigger picture and your role in it, and it both refreshes and regenerates. That way, when you return to your work, you do so with renewed enthusiasm and energy.

If this last paragraph at all rings true for you, you may be overdue for a vacation. Instead of trying to decide whether you can afford to take a break, consider whether you can afford not to. There are plenty of benefits to taking a vacation, and this article perfectly summarizes 7 of them.

Summer is coming soon! What are your plans??!

Staffing & Recruitment Industry South of the Border

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Staffing Industry Analysts LogoLast week I attended the Staffing Industry Analyst‘s conference that was held in San Diego. In addition to taking a break from the cold Canadian winter, it provided the opportunity to get a sense of the current state of the staffing market in the USA.  This is important as the American market tends to lead the Canadian market in trends and innovation. It provides a glimpse into what may be coming for us in Canada.

Before I share some of my observations, let me explain what the Staffing Industry Analysts organization is and does.  The SIA describes themselves as:

Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) is the global advisor on staffing and workforce solutions. Our proprietary research covers all categories of employed and non-employed work including temporary staffing, independent contracting and other types of contingent labor. SIA’s independent and objective analysis provides insights into the services and suppliers operating in the workforce solutions ecosystem, including staffing firms, managed service providers, recruitment process outsourcers, payrolling/compliance firms and talent acquisition technology specialists such as vendor management systems, online staffing platforms, crowdsourcing and online work services.

This organization is really connected. Their research is significant and the huge sample-size ensures accuracy.  Eagle is a member and we follow their publications religiously.  Over many years, their outlook has consistently been proven correct.

With this said, I’ll share a sample of interesting things that I learned… some of which may confirm what you already know/believe while some others may surprise you as it did me:

  • There is a world-wide shift in employment from permanent employees to contract/temporary labour.  This is both being driven by the people themselves as their preference and by employers recognizing the value of employing contingent workers.
  • Contingent workers grew from 12% of the working population in 2009 to 22% in 2016 with 44 million American workers now doing contingency work.
  • The adoption of MSP (Master Services Providers) has plateaued in the USA.  Although this offering is still growing globally, it is no longer the case in the US market.
  • Moreover, I was surprised to find that there was a marked move from outsourced, off-shored service solutions, back to in-house-managed solutions; companies are repatriating their business and technical teams to manage their own projects and operations.
  • The staffing industry in the USA is also getting crowded with nontraditional service providers such as online staffing solutions, cloud-based solutions with AI (artificial intelligence) and Robotic solutions coming on strongly.  This is resulting in a more complex and potentially confusing ecosystem.
  • Niche/specialized contingent labour providers are growing their market share at the expense of the generalists.
  • Globalization of staffing companies appears not to be growing as quickly as it had previously.  Through technology, globalization is in the reach of most companies big or small, but “buy-local” political philosophies and increasingly complex legal structure, laws and regulations are curbing the ease of expanding to new markets.

Although this is a very short list of information from the conference, you can find many more reports and statistics at SIA’s website:  http://www2.staffingindustry.com/row/Research/Research-Topics-Reports.

In summary, the staffing industry in the USA is very active and the outlook is quite positive. Technologies are coming out that will change the way recruitment agencies and the hiring companies source candidates and appears to be playing the role of disrupter for MSP’s going forward.  The overarching trend is for companies to bring their own projects back in-house after having tried off-shore or outsourced solutions.

The Significance of Supply Arrangements to Contractors

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

What are Supply Arrangements and Why Should a Staffing Agency’s Matter to IT Contractors?

Supply Arrangements: What are they and why should they matter to IT contractors?Within the staffing industry there are a dozen or more business models employed by various employment agencies.  There are the smaller staffing agencies who focus their marketing efforts on smaller companies, on very specialized niches, with a handful of very strong relationships they might have, or a combination of these.  There are the huge international recruitment agencies that tend to focus on companies with international operations and may be generalists in the sense that they support multiple lines, from casual labour to general staffing positions to professional positions to technical positions, in an attempt to serve companies that want a single vendor to handle all of their contingent workforce needs.  Between these two extremes, there are the Regional and National staffing agencies that often service or specialize in only one or two different types of hiring needs, but often limit these to provide the level of expertise/focus that means so much to their clients.  Then there are mixtures and blends of the above.

The one thing that most recruitment agencies have in common is that they work to put formalized Supply Arrangements in place with the clients that they service.  A supply arrangement is simply an agreement that defines the relationship between the agency and the company that they serve/support.  Typical to most supply arrangements are the following:

  • Term of Agreement (date range within which the agreement will be valid)
  • Definitions (define the terms used in the agreement)
  • Commercial Terms (concerning insurance, rates, timesheets and invoicing)
  • Performance (defines the service the agency will be providing)
  • Termination (terms under which the agreement might be concluded)
  • Confidential Information (how to manage and keep safe important company data)
  • Indemnity and Limitation of Liability (keeping each party “safe” and legally separate from each other)
  • Signatures/Sign-Offs/Dates/Etc.

If these look familiar, they should!  They are the very same components that incorporated contractors find in any sub-agreement that they would sign with a staffing agency. After all, we jointly enter into a company-to-company relationship, so the terms should include the same content.  In fact, a good number of the terms that a contractor finds in their sub-agreement with their staffing agency are actually “flow-down” terms from the agency’s own supply arrangements with the end client.  That is often the reason why agencies cannot be very flexible with the terms — they have committed contractually to work with their clients in certain ways and must, legally, have their sub-contractors comply to the same terms.

Despite a lot of similarities in the terms between supply arrangements, it is extremely rare that any two supply agreements would be exactly the same.  Employment agencies are required to be chameleons, adapting perfectly to the business requirements of each of their clients.  The best agencies have detailed processes to ensure their compliance across many different agreements. For example, Eagle has tools and processes dedicated to this and is part of our ISO 9001:2008 quality framework.  That big stack of paperwork that we present to contractors at the beginning of each assignment is part of that process.  In this way, we ensure that both Eagle and our sub-contractors stay “on-side” of our supply agreement Terms & Conditions.

So, why should this matter to independent contractors?  Well, that’s a question with many answers. Here are just a few of the reasons why contractors should want to work with agencies that A) create good supply arrangements with their clients and B) have strong mechanisms in place to ensure adherence to the terms (both on their side and by their sub-contractor partners):

  • Legitimacy – Having an official supply agreement in place signifies a deep level of commitment between staffing agencies and their clients. It suggests that the company is committed to using the agency and that there will be a certain level of exclusivity.  If a technology contractor is working with a recruiter that has a supply arrangement in place, you can be confident that the recruitment agency has the right to represent you and that there will be some standardization in place to manage the hiring process.
  • Access to the Best Companies/Jobs – The best staffing agencies have the best relationships. Often there is a barrier to entry for agencies who do not have supply arrangements in place with companies.  By partnering with staffing agencies with many supply arrangements, it means that you will have access to suitable roles that come available at these companies.
  • Confidence in Staffing Agency Rates – Supply arrangements often define what levels of profit are associated with the services provided (also defined), so recruiters are working off a prescribed methodology for setting their rates. Companies agree to pay staffing agencies “X” for their services should they identify, qualify and place top resources into their open roles. For contract work, that means that independent contractors set their rates “Y” and the client is charged “X+Y” (or “X x Y” if “X” is a %).
  • Risk Mitigation – Working for a recruitment agency with a supply arrangement in place ensures that the “rules of engagement” have been set out. Working with recruitment agency who has strong compliance mechanisms in place means that the recruiter will set you up for success and ensure that you are protected against potential missteps.  Be aware of the 2 to 3 page Sub-Agreement contract!  Eagle’s sub-agreements are typically 8 pages at a minimum, but depending on the flow-down terms and requirements, it could add up to 20+ pages for your review.  Ultimately, this all protects you from risk.

Eagle has numerous supply arrangements in place with many of Canada’s largest companies across multiple industry sectors and across all levels of government.  We are national leaders in Oil & Gas, Energy, Telecommunication, Education, Health Care as well as having 3 of Canada’s 5 big banks as our clients.  Our Supply Arrangements with our clients are often 80+ pages long and our sub-agreements to our sub-contractor partners are often 10+ pages long. Although more work to put in place, this is a good thing.  Through this process we ensure our contractors’ success and, in doing so, our own as well.

Next time you’re interviewing recruiters to decide on your preferred staffing agency, remember to ask how many supply arrangements they have. A response to that simple question will speak volumes in terms of their legitimacy, access to opportunities, rates and risk mitigation.

Liar, Liar…

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Liar Liar

Shocking news — people lie!

There are many, many sources on the web showing how prodigiously people fib on their resumes and social profiles.  One such article suggests that over half of resumes and job applications contain falsehoods.  Misrepresentations can range from job titles and dates of employment to out-right lying about where one has worked and the education that they have… and everything in between.

In a slower economy, where there are more applicants than jobs, staffing agencies have witnessed a greater “stretching of the truth” by some independent contractors.  For example, something that our company has been calling “resume blurring” becomes much more common.  This is less of an outright lie, but more of a stretching of the truth.  Resume blurring comes into play when people re-write their resumes to broaden the types of roles for which they might be a fit.  For example, an IT contractor who has been a Project Manager might now have a resume that appears that they’ve got a lot more Business Analysis experience than they really do, or vice versa.  As the two roles work so closely hand-in-hand, it is often difficult for clients and employers to weed out the candidates that kind of know the job versus the ones that have actually been doing the job and are experts at it.

Other times the deceptions are even more blatant.  We have seen instances where contractors actually “buy” resumes and other people take phone interviews for them to win them the job.  We’ve even had someone complete a skype interview for another person!  (That’s a harder one to pull off)  Regardless of what the falsifications are, it comes down to the fact that there needs to be a much deeper level of due diligence completed by recruiters.  Honest contractors deserve a fair shake and the only way this is going to happen is through deeper background and reference vetting.

Again, when the economy offers fewer jobs than there are qualified applicants, companies often feel that they don’t need the services of employment agencies as they can gather more than enough resumes on their own.  But given the propensity of some people to embellish or outright lie on resumes/applications, this is the time when they really need a good staffing agency partner the most.  At Eagle, over our 20 years in business, we have come to know a large percentage of the independent contractors in the market. We’ve tracked their careers and we have relationships with many that span years.  We know these technology professionals, we know what they do and have done, we know that they are the “real deal” and we share this information with our clients.  And for contractors that are new to us, we complete a series of interviews, background vetting and reference checks before sharing their information with our clients; in this way, we get to know them and ensure they are what they claim to be.

For the reasons listed in the paragraph above, honest and professional contractors should make it a point to build strong relationships with their recruiter partners as we can be the voice of reason helping you to compete with the desperate people (or outright charlatans) in the market.

Have you witnessed any new or innovative ways that some people try to fool their way into jobs?  I encourage you to share your stories below!

 

 

How to Improve Relationships During Your Job Search

Getting Better at This Will Improve Your Relationships with Clients and Recruitment Agencies

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Getting Better at This Will Improve Your Relationships with Clients and Recruitment AgenciesPeople crave feedback.  Most of us would prefer positive feedback but we know that the negative feedback is important too.  It may not be what you want to hear, but what you needed to hear.  For example, properly taken, feedback can give an IT professional the opportunity to make adjustments before a project gets too far off the tracks.  For this to work the best, one should solicit feedback early and often.

For independent contractors, feedback can be much more than just gathering ideas for improvement.  At its best, it is also about relationship building and requires you to be great at both receiving and giving.  When you are engaged in a discussion regarding feedback with your client or recruitment agency, you are saying that you care about the deliverable, that you care about the project, and that your good reputation and your relationship with the other entity is important as well.  It is hard to over-communicate in this respect.

As a staffing agency, Eagle cherishes our independent contractor partners that reach out to let us know how things are going — what’s going well and what could be better.  It keeps us in the loop and minimizes surprises.  We encourage our client contacts to do the same.   When we hear dissonance between the two sources, then we know we have an issue that needs to be worked out.  There’s often opportunity to “fix” an issue before it becomes a real problem.

Employment agencies do their best to connect at least once per month with the contractors that they have on assignment. If your recruiter reaches out to you to follow up, take that opportunity to really share how your assignment is shaping up.  It could be the best 20 minute investment of time that you make that day.

Calgary Job Market Outlook: The New Normal

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Calgary Job Market Outlook: The New Normal The New Normal” is a phrase that has been used to describe the aftermath of a paradigm-changing event.  As recently as 2014, Calgary’s economy/job market/opportunity outlook was very robust, then the floor fell out of the oil market.  Since then, over 40,000 knowledge worker jobs were lost and the city is sitting at 8.6% unemployment, 1.7% higher than the Canadian average of 6.9%.  Economists are predicting a continued contraction, but at a slowing rate, as Calgary find its new equilibrium.

Over the next 12 months, economic conditions will continue to improve, but few believe that the economic spin-off from the Oil industry can or will reach the pre-oil-crash highs.  Some companies are gone completely — whole industries have been shipped off to be served by the global labour force.  These are unlikely to come back.  Hence, talk of “the new normal”.

As the Calgary economy does begin turning around, it is anticipated that independent contractors (contingent labour) will be leveraged prior to direct, permanent job openings seeing a recovery.  New expectations with respect to lower contract rates and salaries will need to be adopted by the labour market, which is happening already. The premiums that Calgary workers have enjoyed for close to a decade will be brought in line, nearer to those of the rest of Canada. Companies will do their best to stick to the cost-cutting plans that they’ve put in place, resulting in limited opportunity to raise rates and build larger teams; and we may see stronger interest in “generalists” vs. “specialists” as the need to wear multiple hats will likely exist.

In the vacuum created by Calgary’s imploded Oil and Gas industry, we are seeing this city’s entrepreneurial spirit sparking to life.  Calgary has one of the youngest and best educated labour markets in North America.  Prairie values of strong work ethic and the ability to tighten belts are resulting in people making the needed adaptations to take transferable skills to other new and existing industries.  Organizations such as Calgary Economic Development are actively pursuing companies/industries remote to the city, encouraging them to re-locate or open new offices to take advantage of the surplus of knowledge workers, including many IT professionals, now available.  Some nay-sayers are beginning to draw parallels between Calgary and Detroit; however, the skills, education and entrepreneurial spirit truly set Calgarians apart.  A good article discussing Calgary’s favourable outlook can be found in this Globe and Mail article.

So, what is the “new normal” for the labour market in Calgary?  Well for the short to medium term, it is certainly going to mean continued pressure on independent contractor rates and employee salaries; and many Oil and Gas positions have left, never to return again.  However, in the medium-long term, Calgary’s prospects are still very bright — there will be a period of transition, re-building and re-tooling but the raw energy, enthusiasm and talent that exists in Calgary’s working population will help the City to re-invent itself.  The hurdles will be great, but our collective determination will be greater.  Calgary’s potential remains unmatched and it will, again, be the pearl of Canada’s labour market; Calgary’s economy will re-emerge, more diversified and, in this way, stronger than before.

My city’s new normal is coming and I, for one, am looking forward to our bright future!

Contracting and the Underground Economy

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

The Underground Economy Doesn’t Apply to Independent IT Contractors… Or does it??

The Underground Economy Doesn't Apply to Independent IT Contractors... Or does it??The topic of Canada’s underground economy seems to be raised again and again over the course of years and tends to come in waves — we’re seeing one now.  In the last week alone, I’ve read several newspaper articles and even heard it on my drive in on the News Talk radio station that I listen to.

What is the “underground economy”?  Sounds pretty sinister and, I suppose, parts of it might be, but it’s a lot more common than most people realize.  The CRA defines the underground economy as:

The underground economy is any activity that is unreported or under-reported for tax and GST/HST purposes. Often called “moonlighting” or “working under the table,” it can include bartering, failing to file tax returns, omitting an entire business activity from your tax return, “skimming” a portion of business income from what you report on your taxes, and not reporting a portion of employment income like tips and gratuities.

Generally, any income you earn is taxable and you have to report it on your tax return. If you don’t file your tax return or register your business for GST/HST when you’re supposed to, or you don’t report all of your income, you are participating in the underground economy.

So, by this definition, it is the guy down the street that does landscaping on the side; it’s the waiter who pockets your tip without claiming it as income; it’s the small business that accepts cash without putting it through the till.  Various newspaper articles estimate Canada’s underground economy to be worth between $42 Billion and $46 Billion — in aggregate, not a small amount.  That’s a lot of tax that is not being collected and everyone from the CRA to Chartered Accountants are looking at ways to curb these practices.  I’ve seen ideas ranging from legislating restaurants to track and report tip money on T-4’s to instituting a reward program for leads that result in $10,000 or more in taxes collected. (This latter already exists. CRA’s program is called the “Informant Leads Program” and, apparently, some of the most common “sources” of leads come from ex-business partners and divorced spouses).

As the economy is suffering and government spending is being spread very thin, this missing tax revenue is being highly coveted by government. But this doesn’t impact professional and/or technology contractors, does it?  After all, most are hired via a well-defined contract and have clear paper trails including time sheets, invoices and remittances.  The answer to that question is yes.  Well, maybe.  Certainly the paper trail will help in the case of an audit but by the time there’s an audit, the pain is already being felt.

Independent contractors (IT, Finance/Accounting, Engineering, etc.) should have concerns that the government may take a broad-brush approach to contractors/temporary labour in general; lumping them all together without full consideration for their differences.  This is one reason that Eagle belongs to (and has taken leadership in) such industry organizations as ACSESS and the NACCB, which are staffing industry associations who are actively lobbying the Canadian and Provincial governments on behalf of the industry and the contractors that are a part of it.

If you wish to learn more about the underground economy in Canada, I’ve attached links to some recent new articles below.  Let me know your thoughts on this issue by leaving a comment below!

IT Contractors: Are You Being an Ant?

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Hard-working ant representing an IT contractor in good timesAesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper” is a timeless tale that makes the link between hard work, saving and the security that comes from doing both. It tells the story of a hard-working ant who spends the summer collecting food, while a more relaxed grass hopper sings the summer days away. Come winter, the grass hopper is stuck begging for food while the ants are prepared for the rough season.

In the present day, we see this story playing out on a macro-scale, right down to the individual level.  I recently attended a speaking engagement featuring Larry Berman (BNN’s “Bermans Call”) and he suggested that the future of the EU is uncertain should the Germans eventually get fed up working to older and older ages to support countries such as Greece where people can take an early retirement pension as early as 45 years old.

Closer to home for me, living in Calgary, current economic conditions are certainly rewarding “the ants”.  Although it is hard to predict when the tough-times are going to hit, they surely come; and when they do, that rainy-day fund (and all the sacrifices made to accumulate it) really does provide some much-needed security.

Along with the many benefits of being an independent contractor, one of the common risks is that these “winters” are more likely to happen, and for any number of reasons extending beyond a challenging economy. For example, sometimes projects being shut down or personality clashes cause gigs to end abruptly. Although you may have relationships with a number of IT recruiters in your region, they may not be able to find you new work immediately. In other situations, you could suddenly get sick or have to take time away from work for a period of time which, again, would leave you in a stage with no revenues.

In any case, the story referenced above can be used as a lesson for independent contractors to always be gathering for the winter. Perhaps that means taking on multiple contracts when they’re available or ensuring you’re always setting some cash aside for times when IT jobs aren’t coming as quickly as you’d hope.

There are many benefits to taking an “ant-like” approach to both your work and your life, as discussed in this article from Success, but should there be a balance? Just because you’re in a “summer” period, does it mean you have to work 24/7 to prepare for a “winter” that may not arrive for a while? What approaches have you taken as an independent contractor to prepare for winter and balance your life?  I encourage you to leave a comment and share your ideas with our readers!

9 Simple Tricks to Beat Procrastination Today

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

“Don’t put off for tomorrow… what you can put off for the day after that!”

Ahh, the mantra of a procrastinator.

I recently came across a brilliant TED Talk about procrastination, why it happens, and what exactly is going through the mind of a procrastinator.  It is both humorous and insightful.  I’ve shared this video with my family and my daughter is sharing with her class in high-school.  It is impactful because the presenter speaks truth.

Some people are serial procrastinators but everyone has times when stuff– sometimes important stuff — gets put off to the detriment of their work, their home projects, or their relationships.  So, in addition to the TED Talk link above, I thought I would share some of my own advice on how to manage important things that just can’t be deferred.

  1. If it is important but distasteful, just do it now. Drop everything else and complete the task.  End of story.  It will be done and over with and you can get on to something else that you care more about.
  2. Put a time limit on it. Look at the task (or break the project down into a series of tasks) and determine what a realistic time frame should be for completing the task (each task).  Say, you have all afternoon to complete a task, but realistically you should be able to complete it in an hour and a half.  Without the time limit, many people will kill the whole afternoon working away at it.  Although this isn’t exactly procrastination in the sense of putting something off, it does waste a LOT of time that you could use more productively… perhaps working on the project that you have been putting off.  Additionally, a time constraint can be a motivator of sorts so another aspect of this is if you have a month to get something completed and the task won’t take more than a week, set the time limit to be one week and commit to this.  That way you won’t find yourself “cramming” to get the work done in the last week of the month. This is especially good if there is a chance that there may be an overage of time needed if something goes sideways or if other new and urgent work should happen to present itself during the last week of the month. Starting early allows you to more easily manage the unexpected.
  3. Tell someone about your time limit verbally or through email. Be specific.  Two things are working for you here: one is that you now have someone else who has expectations of you that you won’t want to disappoint; the other is that you’ve committed to a specific timeframe that may also act as a motivator for you.  By drawing a line in the sand in a very visible/obvious way, the onus to actually complete it goes way up.
  4. Rotten jobs don’t get better with age… see point #1.
  5. To-Do Lists. Without to-do lists, busy people may procrastinate without even knowing it.  Things, sometimes important things, will slip between the cracks and never get done.
  6. Prioritize. When you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and the sheer volume of tasks that you’ve undertaken is keeping you from starting anything, it is time to “ruthlessly prioritize”, tossing those tasks that aren’t critical and be done with them.  This way you clearly know what you need to work on first, second, third… and you are clear to commit more confidently to your list of projects/tasks.
  7. Understand that what you produce may be an input for someone else. Business/work needs to get done and, in today’s world, it is often that you are working as part of a team.  Identify which of your tasks have a deliverable that someone else needs to start or complete their own piece of the project and give this a higher priority.  It is one thing to hold up your own success in work or in life, it is quite another to hold up someone else’s.  This can be a great motivator in itself.
  8. Start. Often what keeps one from completing a task is the inability to envision the complete solution so you never even begin; you just keep putting it off for later when you have more information.  Just starting the work, even if you don’t know where it will all go, is often enough to generate the ideas and insights that you need to complete the project.  Or it will, at least, help to more clearly define the gaps that you need to research so that it can be completed.  Once begun, people find that the task isn’t nearly as daunting or complex as they’d expected it to be.  So start and you will greatly increase your chances of completing.
  9. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it. [quote: W. C. Fields] Love this quote.  A certain practicality needs to be taken when reviewing something that you just don’t want to do.  There will be items that can’t be avoided, that you know really shouldn’t be avoided, or that you just won’t allow yourself to avoid — these things need to get done (use one of the 8 points above to motivate you).  But there will be tasks that just don’t matter as much to you or that you really are poor at doing.  Sometimes you just need to “cut bait” on something you’ve started and let it go.  Either delegate it or drop it all together. In the end, you may be happier for this.

I hope that an idea or two presented here might help you out of your own “dark playground” when your “panic monster” comes calling!  [References to the video, you really do need to watch this! Maybe later??]

Bonus 10th Point:   Ask yourself if what you are doing right now, this very minute, is driving you to accomplish one of the tasks that will move you closer towards completion of your key business or personal objectives.  There are a lot of distractions out there that will feed your procrastination.  If your answer is “no”, then stop what you’re doing and re-focus yourself on one of your outstanding high-value tasks/projects. [Why I mentioned this idea last:  If you answered this question honestly, right now, you’d probably stop reading this article and get back to work! 😉 ]