One of my coachees has a common problem. He has a ton of work he doesn’t want to do (the shoulds). He has some work that gives him joy that he wants to do. He has too much work overall. He’s stuck. He can’t quite get anything done because the work he wants to do is a lower priority than the work he should do. And, the work he should do is boring. To quote him, “A necessary evil, but boring.”
What should he do first?
I have the too-much work problem, also. My pile of not-interesting work is quite small. (The only thing on it is cleaning my office.) I have a ton of research work, which is interesting, but not fulfilling. I have a ton of client and writing work, which is interesting and compelling.
My problem is that the research work will allow me to do more interesting client work next year. It’s prep work to grow my capabilities. (I’m researching online video course platforms. If you take or teach online classes with video and you like a particular platform, please let me know.)
My coachee and I have similar problems. Although, his pile of not-so-interesting work is gigantic. Mine is not.
The principle is the same. What work should you do first?
When we spoke more, I asked him if his “shoulds” were really his work. When I hear myself saying, “I should do this,” that work might not be mine to do. I might be able to delegate it, especially if I’m a manager in the organization. I have noticed that if I’m bored by something because I’ve done it before, someone else might find that work challenging, not boring at all.
We reviewed his “should” list of boring work. We discussed his concerns re what someone else might be able to do with that work. Of his 12 tasks, he realized he could delegate 3. Of the remaining 9, he realized 2 were not his concern and he should ask someone else to do them. 7 remained, and he decided a couple of them weren’t so bad, and he might even like them.
The “shoulds” can kill your joy in your work. Consider these options:
- Ask yourself if you need to do them? Are they work you can delegate or reassign? (If it’s a honey-do list for your spouse, maybe not. But at work? Maybe.)
- Ask yourself who needs this? Maybe you can renegotiate what it is.
- Ask yourself how long that someone has waited? Is the time for the deliverable past, and that thing remains on your list? Maybe you can delete it.
- Consider doing something fun and sandwiching the fun stuff between the not-so-fun stuff.
Should is a fascinating word. For me, it’s the obligation of the word that makes me a little suspicious. How many obligations do I need to take? It’s not an easy answer for most of us.
I have not yet “graduated” to eating dessert first, not in food and not in my work. Maybe you have. I still want to eat in as healthy a way as possible and choose when to have a treat.
Work feeds our souls, and for me that’s a little different than feeding our bodies. I try to choose work that feeds my curiosity, helps me learn, and satisfies me.
My dear adaptable problem-solvers, that is the question this week: What should you do first?
- How Do You Persist?
- What Do You Optimize For?