In my college days, I had roommates. Occasionally I learned something from them. I definitely learned that you can look very, very busy without actually doing anything….
I’ve also had my share of substitute teachers. Most of them seemed to operate under the theory of “just keep ‘em busy”. I’ve never met anyone that like a sub’s busy work. But it honestly wasn’t as bad as the busy work we give ourselves.
Busywork vs mundane work
Busywork isn’t mundane work. Mundane work is the less than exciting stuff we have to do in order to do the other stuff: the fun stuff, the exciting stuff, our real work. Busywork is working for the sake of working.
The mundane stuff isn’t exciting but at least it has a purpose. By expending time and energy doing it, we move ourselves toward our bigger goals (or at least we should do that…). Busy work doesn’t get us anywhere. Unless our goal is to look busy doing nothing worthwhile… (and why do that).
Question the mundane stuff too (being busy vs being productive)
We need to watch that mundane stuff too… Sure, it’s not overtly pointless. But is it really getting us anywhere, or are we just doing it because we usually do? Are we doing it to avoid doing something else? If we’re doing it to avoid something, or ‘just because’, we’re back in the realm of busywork and that’s not really getting us anywhere.
The mundane stuff might advance our goals but there might be a better, and faster way to do it…
Do you have to do it yourself? Many of us accept that it’s cheaper to cook at home (for a lot of things it might be). We’re paying with our time and effort rather than money. Sometimes that makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. But what about pasta?
I can get a box of spaghetti for about a buck. If all I want is one box, or less, of spaghetti noodles, the time and effort I’ll to put into making pasta probably adds up to more that a dollar. In which case, buy the box and get on with your life. On the other hand, if you love your grandma’s home-made spaghetti, you can’t buy that in a box. It may be worth the time and effort to make. (Note: This is just the pasta… Sauce is a whole ‘nother subject…)
You might hire someone to do the mundane stuff. I know a guy who loves numbers and really enjoys balancing checkbooks and what not. He’s an accountant. I like numbers, but I have other interests and skills he doesn’t have. It’s better for me to pay the accountant to do the accounting stuff and I’ll handle the world creating writing stuff and behavioral therapy with teens and tweens stuff. It works out better for both of us that way. (I don’t like the numbers that much, and he doesn’t ‘interface well’ with teenagers)
Are you using the right tool? I have a hand drill. I also have a power drill. And a drill press. And a flex shaft. And two (2) hand held micro motors. Many of their capabilities overlap. But I still have to choose the right tool for the right job. If drag out my three-inch hole saw and try to cut lath and plaster with a micro-motor, it burns out. The drill press doesn’t fit the situation either… On the other hand, I can do more precise depth cuts with the drill press and finer sanding and polishing with the micro motors. You can save a lot of time and energy just by using the right tool.
Mundane doesn’t mean busy work. But you still have to question the mundane work’s value.
Failing ‘safely’ versus succeeding
Some of us hyper-focus on mundane work, or dive into busywork, because helps avoid risk. It’s safer. Or at least it feels safer. But often the safer path doesn’t really lead anywhere.
I’ve never gotten a date by not ‘putting myself out there’. (I wasn’t always the one to ask, but I had to at least put myself into a place to be asked) Top tier publishers aren’t breaking down my door begging to publish stuff I haven’t sent out yet. (Maybe Steven King has experienced that but I certainly haven’t) Generally, to succeed you have to risk something. There’s a cost to be paid either way; the risk is that the cost is higher than the payback. Of course, if your goal is to avoid risk, you can do that. At the cost of not achieving anything else (and you may still fail… Doing nothing entails the (fairly strong) risk that the world will move along without you!).
We need to do the mundane stuff. It helps us keep going. There’s boring stuff that’s needed for life to function. But when we focus on the mundane stuff to avoid risk, that’s a warning sign. It’s time to give thought to what we’re really doing and what our goals are.
Do what needs to be done (when it’s needed)
Sometimes we need to do the safe, boring stuff. Sometimes it’s time for excitement. Sometimes it’s time to roll the dice. Sometimes we get to do what we really want to do. Knowing when to do what is key to success.
How do we know when to do stuff? A big step is knowing why we do what we do. Why does what we’re doing matter? What benefit does it give us? How does it move our goals forward? If we don’t know, we’d better figure it out. If it doesn’t move our goals forward, we should do something else!
That’s it for this one, dear reader. Seek after your goals, dear reader. Do the stuff that really matters. And, I’ll see you next post.