How to do work that matters instead of doing work about work?

Work, some people like it, most hate it. Successful people say they’ve not worked a day in their lives (and yet they have, and do!), and most people would instead get a root canal without anesthetic rather than staying at work for another two hours each day for a month, especially in a meeting.

If you are like me, a human being and student of life, I’m sure you’ve felt both of these extremes at one time or another. So how can it be that work can cause both of those reactions to people? It is because “work” means different things at different times. There are, in fact, three kinds of work:

Work that matters

It moves the needle; it causes a positive change in the world.

Work that prepares you to do a better job later

Learning, training, honing your craft off-stage, during the downtime, so you become even better.

Work about managing the work itself 

Moving the same information from one document to another, telling three people one after another about the same thing, sitting in a “sync” meeting to find out what the other is doing and what they haven’t done and in general being busy with nothing to show for it

If you can only do one thing, do the first kind of work. Get out there and move the needle. By doing that, you will learn, improve, learn some more, and eventually move the needle.

If you could only do two, do one and two. Use your downtime/holidays/time away / whatever time you carve for yourself to improve yourself and your craft. And when you’re not doing that, you’re doing meaningful work that moves the needle. You cannot go wrong.

Avoid number three at all costs. It sucks, it’s draining, and what’s worse, it looks like work to other people. You’ll look busy, engaged, occupied. You’ll use other people’s time as well as your own. It just that you won’t actually get anything important done. 

The more of number three you do, the less time and energy you have left to do number one, and so the less you will affect good change into the world around you.

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