Everyone wants to do great work. Everyone wants to make a difference. Everyone wants to make progress and build a fulfilling career. But how many people do you think know that the work they’re doing makes an impact? How many people do you think work not just to pay their bills, but because they really care?
But there are a lot of people who intend to make this transformation where their work has a meaning. However, they are often limited by their understanding of doing work that’s valuable; work that matters.
And that’s pretty common. I mean who goes on to find meaning in every task, right? It’s unnecessary hard work. One would rather toil the entire day and endure their mean colleagues/bosses, rather than find for the elusive enjoyment in work.
If that’s what you feel, stop reading right now because this blog is not for you.
If you get the sarcasm, keep reading.
In one of their researches, Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen found out that “knowledge workers spend a great deal of their time — an average of 41% — on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others.”
That’s a lot of lost time!
And an even more astonishing thing is that people are themselves responsible for this wasted effort.
So why do we keep doing meaningless work? Because getting rid of (meaningless) work is not that easy. Sometimes it’s our bosses who delegate their share of worthless tasks to us (which we happily accept). Other times, we cling to tasks that don’t add any value but we want to appear busy, so we spend considerable time working on those tasks.
Is there a way out of this?
Yes! We can add more value to our work if we decide to be selective in our tasks by consciously thinking about the impact they create.
I’ve a perfect example to share here. As part of the marketing team, we always used to design greeting cards for our famous festivals/occasions to put up on our organization’s social media page. We did it every year, without giving it a thought if putting up these cards made any impact or helped us in spreading awareness about a cause that we believe in. We put immense efforts in our social media posters, trying to come up with different ideas every year, but never really tracked any engagement.
Until, one day we did.
We figured out that for people it was just another greeting as shared by nearly a million other companies. So, we decided to stop doing this banal exercise and channelized our efforts towards creating more meaningful engagements.
This not only saved a lot of our time and effort, but also helped us see how we can further use this learning in every other task.
I want to share a few pointers that might be of help to you–
Recognize work that adds value
The reason why it’s difficult to do meaningful work is because we don’t recognize what comprises meaningful work. It’s like aiming for the moon and not knowing the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
We keep ourselves so entangled in low-impact work that it’s hard to move our attention to work that matters. So, to begin with, you can start looking at your schedule and list down all the activities you do in a day. Pick even the most trivial meetings or tasks like “Responding to people who filled contact-us form”.
Once you have the list, take one task at a time, and explain to yourself how this activity contributes to your organization’s goals. Does it align with your marketing plan? Does it increase your productivity? What were the three insights you learnt by doing this task/meeting last time?
You can also take this interesting self-assessment to identify what matters to you the most. This will give you an idea where you are spending your energy without getting much value.
Learn to say no to low-value work
Saying NO at work is the most difficult thing in the world. That’s because we have the notion that if we say no, our teammates will think that we’re not a team player.
As a result, we end up piling up work after work from people who are smart enough to delegate their “low-value” work to us. Or, even if it’s not always low-value, it might add up to our huge pile of work that we’re not ready to handle yet.
So, learn to say no. Have those difficult conversations and politely refuse by explaining why you can’t take up more work as of now.
Prioritize your tasks
It’s natural to pick up easy tasks first because a) they are accomplishable and b) after they’re ticked off, they make us feel good because it’s one less task to do.
However, it’s the difficult tasks that need deep thinking and more time. They are also the ones that produce maximum value. So, instead of picking the easy tasks first, pick the difficult ones and take out dedicated uninterrupted hours to come up with creative solutions.
You can also work with the Eisenhower matrix to decide between urgent, important, not urgent and not important tasks.
Set up boundaries
Even after we sit down to finally work after countless meetings, we aren’t spared a peaceful moment. Coworkers, family, insurance agents are constantly chasing us for our attention.
The only way to get out of this is to set up strict communication boundaries for yourself and your team. Let everyone know that you wouldn’t want to be disturbed for, say, next 90 minutes. Log out of your email, Skype, or put it on DND to let everyone know that you are doing work that needs your 100% attention.
Find joy in work
Needless to say, if you do all of the above, but don’t find joy in doing your work, nothing will work. You’ll continue to produce mediocre outcomes as always. The process of identifying low-value work and implementing strategies to produce valuable outcomes is self-directed.
So, if you are stuck in doing something that you don’t like, or you lack the right skill set to do that job, get acquainted with the knowledge and skills to do justice to your role.
I hope these suggestions help you choose to do work that matters and help you grow immensely in your role.