Today I was catching up with a high caliber Merchandising leader who my firm has placed in previous jobs. She had recently switched industries and was filling me in:

“I took a role two levels below where I previously was, but the pay is the same as I had before… and the company values how organized I am, so my workdays are like 6 hours.”

In other words: titles be damned, her unit price went up. Her total compensation stayed the same, but her value per hour nearly doubled.

Most of us aren’t actually paid hourly, but thinking of your output in “units”, and really understanding the value of those units, is one key to a highly improved existence.

Increasing your unit price can be approached in multiple ways. For starters you can earn a raise, you can become more efficient to reduce the number of hours you work; over time you could even do both.

Nothing groundbreaking about this, you might say. “All of us are trying to work fewer hours, but our employers won’t let us.”

This is not about asking for a raise, or WFH, or Summer Fridays. It’s about proactively increasing your contribution to your employer, not decreasing it. Raising your unit value requires total energy and output ownership -- in other words, thinking and acting like an independent professional.

Of course there’s the obvious reductive approach: reducing your commute time. Working a day or two from home. Opting out of pointless emails, meetings and water cooler activities. Or if those things aren’t possible, starting the process of changing employers.

But big leaguers will take a more powerful approach to raising their unit value: doubling their potency.

Thinking faster, prioritizing better, delegating. Managing their energy. Communicating better. Avoiding gossip. Doing the most important thing in each moment, instead of talking about how busy they are. Reading books, taking courses, getting mentored. Becoming an expert, maybe even a thought leader, on their area of expertise. Writing about what they’re learning. Coaching others.

Parallel to improving your output, you can also multiply it. A real cowboy of an employee might even do what freelancers and consultants do — hire an EA or VA with their own money.

(If you pay 1/4 of your salary to a VA and gain 1/2 of your time back in the process… you just got a raise.)

Are these suggestions outlandish? Depends on your situation. One way to help the the “unit price” mentality sink in is to hang around people who have mastered it, and see what kind of changes start happening.

Once you increase your unit value, you can cash it in however you like: work more hours for more money. Work fewer hours for better balance. Implement strategic chilling. Take up a hobby that expands your world view. The friend I mentioned above used her extra hours to consult on the side — adding to her overall compensation and furthering her learning.

My team and I recruit top creative talent for fashion and lifestyle brands. One of our learnings is very clear: the employee of the future is an entrepreneur within an organization.

There’s a misconception in the professional world that employers want all your time. What they really want is your value. How much time it takes you to deliver it (your effort / effectiveness quotient) is something that can always be improving. Employers give raises, and perks, to people who manage time effectively.

However rigid or lenient your employer, your unit value is your own responsibility. Raise it, and all parties benefit.