Financial Independence and the Four T’s of Autonomy

The research tells us that autonomy can make us feel and perform better. So how can we find more of it in our work and personal lives?

The capacity to direct our own lives is precious. And right now, it’s under attack.

Alas, whether you agree with state interventions across the world or not, measures designed to suppress the spread of a virus between people are also measures that suppress our autonomy.

Interventions have disrupted and imbalanced the economic playing field, impinged upon our ability to work and earn, blurred the lines of how states serve or handicap collective well-being.

And in some cases, they have overstepped the mark. Without even a semblance of serious evidence to support their effectiveness, some measures have needlessly attacked civil liberties.

In the spirit of Hanlon’s razor, let us put the latter down to a combination of incompetence and better-safe-than-sorry-ism.

A Growing Focus on Autonomy

Of course, where this all ends up remains to be seen. But events have put the issue of “autonomy” at the forefront of minds.

Redundancies have once again underscored the importance of financial independence. An enforced shift to virtual work has tested employers’ faith in more autonomous, unsupervised work. And suppression of our civil liberties has reignited an appreciation for individual freedoms.

While the outlook remains unknown, this heightened focus on autonomy will be a counterforce for good. Perhaps it will even serve as a spur to action in our day-to-day lives.

As a plethora of studies have shown, autonomy is fuel for improved performance, creativity, communication, and well-being. Unfortunately, by extension, that means the opposite is also true: attacks on autonomy can have equally detrimental effects on these variables.

It’s imperative, then, that we find as much of it as we can in our day-to-day lives.

The Four T’s of Autonomy

Let us explore the idea of autonomy in our work.

In Drive, a detailed exploration of what motivates us, Daniel Pink sets out what he calls the four T’s of autonomous work: task, time, technique, and team.

  1. Task: What we do.
  2. Time: When we do it.
  3. Technique: How we do it.
  4. Team: Whom we do it with.

The idea is simple. Find autonomy in each of these categories, and you’ll be more motivated, better performing, happier, and healthier. On average.

Now, of course, that’s easier said than done. Especially if you’re employed.

While companies are beginning to recognise that providing more autonomy in these areas may drive better results, a wholesale paradigm shift still feels like a gullible leap into the dark for many.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but that means if we want to feel more self-directed, we need to, well, direct ourselves to this point.

The Importance of Financial Independence

One might argue that we can achieve this to a point within our jobs. We might be able to shape our jobs and careers to provide more space to work autonomously and flexibly on projects. But some jobs are more malleable than others.

One might also argue that autonomy in these four categories can only be achieved through self-employment. But entrepreneurialism carries its own unique set of risks, many of which have been magnified by recent events.

“Without sovereignty over our time, it’s nearly impossible to have autonomy over our lives.”

Daniel Pink

But to me, the four T’s underscore the importance of financial independence. Indeed, I believe recent events will only serve to underscore that importance for many others.

Bottom line: a state of financial independence is something we should all be pursuing. Why? Because it permits us to better tailor our lives in a way that optimises those four T’s of autonomy. And that in turn can make us happier, healthier, and better performing.

Maximum Viable Autonomy (MVA)

But let’s face it, that’s a long game. And financial independence won’t fix all your problems.

In the meantime, for those of us working for others, we should strive for what I call Maximum Viable Autonomy (MVA) in whatever it is we do.

Part of this shift to MVA is inevitable. As we embrace virtual work, we’ll have more autonomy over our time and technique.

And as more companies recognise the benefits of workplace autonomy, we’ll be given more allocated time to work on autonomous projects. (Look no further than Google’s now famous 20% Project for an example of such programmes in action.)

But another part of this shift is down to us. Equipped with the knowledge that we can enhance performance and well-being through increased autonomy, the onus is on us to push for MVA.

This might sound like idealistic psychobabble, and I accept that some industries and roles are less dynamic than others. But the pursuit of MVA needn’t be limited to the workplace.

Autonomy in task and technique can be fostered in crafts outside of work. Autonomy in teams can be found in communities outside of work.

The underlying point is that embracing autonomy makes us feel and perform better.

For now, that autonomy may be under attack. But it’s in for an almighty awakening.

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