One of the most satisfying jobs in my career was as a student when I stacked shelves in the dairy section of the local supermarket. No, seriously. I worked there for 7 years and I often felt a sense of achievement after a day of work having unpacked pallets of stock and seeing the fruits of my labour as I looked around at the full shelves. The work was highly tangible, fairly simple and repetitive, but enjoyable. But the work of a knowledge worker is quite different to that - it is often intangible, complex, ambiguous and varied, and carries pluses and minuses by way of comparison.
Do you ever hear yourself say or think that you feel like you have achieved little in a work day and would like to just get some real work done? Perhaps what we are lamenting when we say that is the lack of a tangible output that day and therefore we feel like we are not contributing to the team in a meaningful way or earning our keep.
However, as knowledge workers and/or leaders it is the intangible work that doesn't always feel like real work, but which is essential for achieving tangible results both as individuals and through others. For many employees, their activities today are contributing to outputs or outcomes not that day, but perhaps days, weeks or months later. This can present challenges for people feeling productive and a sense of achievement in their work.
So here is my list of activities that don't always feel like "real" work that many knowledge workers need to do more of: 1. Think 2. Reflect 3. Listen 4. Converse 5. Get to know people on a personal level 6. Plan ahead (more than just a few days or weeks)
The more senior the role in an organisation the more these intangible activities are your daily work. Of course there needs to be some purpose or relevance to these actions otherwise they are just unproductive time wasting. When we neglect these activities we fall into a cycle of short-term thinking and reactive working which often comes back to bite us in weeks or months down the track.
Which of these less tangibles do you currently do enough of and which should you be doing more often? How can you build these activities into your work schedule just like you do with more tangible work? And most importantly, how do you convince yourself that these "soft" and less tangible actions are real work and vital to doing your job well?
After all, many of us can't just walk out at night and look at the full milk display to know that we have done a great day's work.
Right, I am off to do some real work - sitting down and having a good think.