As someone who loves to get things done, I am always looking for ways to save time and make the most of it. I’m not alone on that front.
There are productivity hacks, mantras, books, gurus, and many messages telling us to be productive. There’s even a Productivity Commission. Productivity in all these guises is positioned as a good thing, and in many situations it is.
However, this massive focus on productivity can make you think that productivity is always good for us. But what if your drive for productivity meant you were sucking the joy out of your work?
[Sidebar – if you’ve never watched Ken Burns’ work, you should set aside some of your summer holidays to do so. His documentary work is incredible].
In the interview, Steven talked about how, as his career advanced, he could delegate aspects of his work. As a researcher, the easiest part to delegate was the data analysis rather than the writing. However, it was the data analysis that he most enjoyed. He explained how he ended up delegating away what he loved in the pursuit of higher productivity.
This can happen in all fields. The technical expert is told that to progress they must take on a people leadership role, and yet, that’s not what interests them. Many times I’ve had people tell me I should outsource the writing of my weekly blog so I have more time for other things. And yet, if I did that, I’d be outsourcing my voice to someone else and giving up something I love to do.
Finding enjoyment in the work we do isn’t a bad thing. Like everything in life, it’s a trade-off.
The question to ask: What are you not doing by spending time on this activity?
You are likely to have already heard of the Eisenhower Matrix, which is a model invented by the then US President, Dwight D Eisenhower, during World War II. It’s designed to help you distinguish and prioritise between activities and you ultimately select from four options: Do First, Schedule, Delegate, or Don’t Do.
It’s a helpful approach. However, I’d suggest you go a step further.
Academics and researchers talk about the concept of ‘Job Crafting’. This is where you take your role and craft more meaning into your work. When we have meaning in our work, we derive more satisfaction.
Amy Wrzesniewski and colleagues at Yale School of Management found that no matter your job, you can try and craft more meaning from it. The researchers ran an interesting study with hospital janitorial staff. They discovered that cleaners who could build meaning into their work enjoyed it more, resulting in improved well-being. In this context, more meaningful work meant the cleaners didn’t see their work as cleaning floors but as connecting with patients or trying to help the doctors achieve better care.
It reminds me of the story of when President Kennedy visited NASA headquarters for the first time in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. He said, “I’m helping put a man on the moon”.
Now, all jobs have their dreary parts, so this isn’t to suggest that you never do things you don’t enjoy doing. That’s an impractical and unrealistic suggestion. It’s about balance.
So, when you are thinking about the work you do, how you prioritise and what you delegate or don’t do, I’d add these questions to your list:
- If I stop doing this work, how will it impact my job satisfaction?
- Does doing this take me away from the work I am good at (or love)?
- What am I trading off when I decide to do this?
- How can I craft more meaning in the work I do?
- Does this task align with my overall purpose?
As the Sufi poet, Rumi wrote: “Let yourself be silently drawn to the stronger pull of what you really love“.
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.