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Climbing pile of work

“Forcing yourself to do unwanted stuff is a high friction enterprise. You may feel like it makes you noble but it doesn’t. It just makes you numb.” Thomas J. Leonard

The trick is figuring out what is “unwanted stuff.”

Busy, Busy, Busy

Our workdays are filled with tasks, errands, meetings, interruptions, putting out fires, and best of all…. opportunities to do more work.

One of the primary reasons you are extremely busy and feeling behind the eight-ball is that you engage in doing unwanted stuff. What is the “unwanted stuff” Leonard refers to? It is “any work that adds no value.” Yes, this sounds theoretical and unclear and my purpose is to define what “no value” means so that you can cease wasting time on unwanted stuff, which can make you feel numb.

Imagine that you and I are in a large conference room filled with forty heavy leather chairs. I say that your assignment (since I am your boss) is, “Move all forty chairs from this room into the empty room down the hall.” Thirty minutes later, I find you sweaty, thirsty, and tired, reclining in one of those comfortable seats. Gasping for breath, you say, “I’m done boss. What’s next?”

“Now put those chairs back where you found them, in the next thirty minutes.” Resist the urge to curse at, spit on, or slap your idiotic boss (me)!

You instantly realize that the task I gave you (i.e. move the chairs) served no purpose. Your work provided no value to anyone. [Other than maybe provide some enjoyment at your expense, but let’s ignore that.]

Each day you and your coworkers engage in work that is like the moving of those chairs – the work serves no purpose because it is a friction-creating, valueless endeavor, and mind-numbing work.

What is value? It is simply the perceived worth of the effort as defined by the person who benefits from the work. A work task is unwanted when it does not fit a purpose, which is usually extolled by the organization and/or team’s mission. Another way to calibrate a task’s value is to compare it to the job’s functional purpose.

Let’s imagine that your job is to contact consumers by phone to generate sales leads. These calls (which you dread making) seem to fit some purpose, but do they? How do they fit into your company’s mission or reason for existence?

Your company exists to give computer users peace of mind. It offers simple solutions that provide greater security for people with home-based Wi-Fi systems. The average person with a home computer lacks adequate security because installing it is both complicated and highly technical. Your employer offers cost effective uncomplicated solutions.

Do you notice the difference?

Each call you make is not about generating leads but instead is intended to provide powerful solutions that provide the average computer user with peace of mind for pennies a day. You are providing value as defined by the people who now use your products. Without understanding why you are making contact the calls feel like an intrusion (friction) to those you call and a worthless task each time you receive a “not interested” or a hang-up.

However, once you integrate purpose into this work you realize that you are reaching out to people to help them feel less vulnerable and to make their personal data safe and secure. You feel energized and engaged because you are providing value.

Employee Engagement Tool

Here is a simple exercise and tool that will help determine if those work activities you now perform are or are not unwanted stuff.


List the top 10 tasks you perform each day. List the person(s) who benefits from the specific task. List how the person (on the left) defines the benefit of your efforts.


As you fill out this chart, you will discover two things. First, you will see that between 50 and 80% of your daily tasks either don’t have a clear beneficiary or if they do, you cannot specifically state how they benefit (i.e. define the value). The second insight you will get is that these tasks without value consume a large amount of your time and energy. That is because numbing work steals energy away from the work that does add value.

Put Your Brain into Your Work

Make a commitment to pay more attention to the work you do and cease doing those tasks where there is no identifiable beneficiary and no clear benefit. Doing this will free up more time to spend on work that is more fun and engaging.  Make a second commitment to share this tool with members of your team so they too can get involved in work tasks that actually deliver value to someone.

The noblest work you can engage in is when you perform tasks that add value and have meaning because they contribute to the achievement of a higher purpose.