My Quest to Start Working

June 15, 2009

Posted in Personal.

I have a confession: there are entire days – maybe weeks – when I don’t actually do any work.

photo from

Yeah, I show up at the office, go to meetings, do paperwork, and read, write, and forward a lot of emails.

But that’s not work.

In a typical day, I spend about five hours in meetings. These are client/project meetings, team meetings, production meetings, one-on-one staff meetings, weekly check-ins, and so on. The outcome of most of these meetings is a list of notes and action items. These action items then go into my to do list or are lost on paper because I never got around to typing them in. By all accounts, I am tremendously busy and my boss seems pleased with how much I appear to accomplish.

But in these five hours of meetings, I rarely do any work. My boss could hire a garden gnome to sit in meetings, crank out project agreements, and respond to 90% of the emails I get. Most of this isn’t work – it’s describing work. Too often we are measured by task completion and our very presence. We forget to measure value and quality.

One of my least favorite responsibilities is going back and forth over a project agreement. Project agreements aren’t work – they are talking about doing some work later. That is, let’s detail work that may or may not take place in weeks or months. (And since our agreements aren’t contracts, they don’t mean a whole heck of a lot anyway.)

Work is not the passing of time at the office. Work is about adding value and making a difference. Every morning, I drive about 45 minutes to the office and think about what I can do to create value that day.

Blogging and consulting with our clients are great because I’m helping educate others. Creating different strategies are fine, but only if we actually follow through on them. I don’t even mind writing policies or position descriptions because those will eventually enable others to do work and create value.

Nothing chafes me more than looking back on a full day, feeling exhausted from the fray of office life – and not having any sense of accomplishment. My goal, each day, is to make a connection between the work I did and some good that will come of it.

It shouldn’t be hard to do when your employer is working to change the world.


  1. Josh — June 16, 2009

    I experience a similar issue. I’d say I spend 10-15 hours in
    meetings each week during the academic year. The current approach is to spend a lot of time talking, taking notes, and writing up action items. As you mention, these are things that don’t constitute actual work, but merely describe it. It’s almost as if the goal is process, not product.

    I’ve take a similar approach to the one you describe — what are the two or three real things I want to get done today? Why are they important? For me, it’s often writing something that I can publish on one of our sites, or talking content informally with a client.

    Overall, a good post about shared frustrations and good solutions…

  2. drew — June 17, 2009

    I appreciate your openness and honesty. You’re fired.
    About a year ago I posted something similar about my own frustrations:

    Since then, I think I’ve been able to make considerable progress towards being more productive. But I still have those weeks. A big help for me was the appointment of a web coordinator who handles the majority of client interaction. Made a major difference.