Story: There is this strange contradiction going on in many workplaces. People complain about diminishing capacity and feeling lots off stress. Many people feel challenged focusing, and not very productive. They get easily distracted, and do lots of “other stuff,” (most of it on their smartphones) that doesn’t add much value. And I hear lots of comments like the following from people at all levels, and in different industries: “Frankly, I feel undervalued and unchallenged. I can do way more.” “Everyday I come in and do the same s#!*… I have to talk myself into showing up after years of doing this.” “My last boss gave me lots and tough assignments. It was hard, yet gratifying. My new boss just doesn’t keep me engaged or busy. I’m getting exhausted looking for things to do.” “I’m so busy I’m stressed out. Yet if I honestly evaluate what I’ve really accomplished in a day, it’s not very much.”
You may argue that the people quoted are not very self-accountable. That may be in a few cases. There is also a phenomenon known as Parkinson’s Law. The idea is that our workload tends to expand to fit the time available for its completion. Small tasks that should take two hours to complete will take an entire workday if we have that time available. So, as is often the case, the notion of being stressfully unproductive is usually more complex and as with most things, it is a leadership issue..
Key Point: I think we would have better workplaces and happier, more productive employees if we ALL had more and harder (challenging) work. Ok… Before you get mad and click away, please stick with me a little longer. Chris Bailey is a productivity consultant and the author of the forthcoming book “Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction.” On Aug. 25, in the New York Times, he wrote the following: “When it comes to focusing at work, there is no shortage of scapegoats to blame for our wandering minds. Social media, the ever-churning news cycle, chats with colleagues — these distractions can lead to a working state of mind that is far from focused. But there’s one possible cause of frequent distraction we don’t often consider: Our work isn’t complex enough, and there isn’t enough of it. Complex tasks demand more of our working memory and attention, meaning we have less mental capacity remaining to wander to the nearest stimulating distraction. In his book ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,’ the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues that we’re most likely to enter into that state of total work immersion when the challenge of completing a task is roughly equal to our ability to complete it… Consciously taking on a greater number of complex projects is a powerful way to enter a mental state I call hyperfocus — an attentional mode in which one task consumes your complete attention. Your mind wanders less often in hyperfocus because you’re more engaged. That means you’re also more productive.”
People that have worked with me know that I give them “20 pounds of work when I know they only have a 10 pound sack.” This is intended to be respectful rather than insensitive. My experience is that people, assuming they know the purpose of the work and feel they are learning, will make great choices. They have little time to wander, get distracted or lost. They also need to have the emotional maturity and my support to know when to rest. My friends at Vega Factor, have done a lot of research and have the data to prove that people who most enjoy their work (play), understand why it matters (purpose), and think it’s important to their future (potential), generated about 30 percent more revenue than the folks quoted above. Makes sense to me.
Personal Leadership Moves:
- If you’re a leader, please design and assign work that is challenging, matters and that there is lots of it. No excuses. Even if there is lots of repetition, figure out ways to make it meaningful and challenging. And if you think it’s just a low paying job and that it doesn’t matter because people are easily replaced, well you STINK!
- If you find yourself unchallenged and/or continuously distracted, look in the mirror first. If YOU can’t change the situation, then get the heck out ASAP. You are worth it!
Doing more and challenging work in Personal Leadership,
One Millennial View: They call them “microwave” minutes for a reason. Time moves so slow when you’re doing nothing but watching seconds go by, especially when you’re legitimately hungry. In this case, I think a lot of us are starving for more action, responsibility, and challenging projects. Anyone can sit and gobble up time, but there’s no fulfillment, and that’s no way to feel professionally nourished.
Edited and published by Garrett Rubis