What Do You Do When You’re Working?

by | Process

I usually start off my day in my home office. I’ve equipped it nicely with a large, clean desk, a sofa for relaxing and reading, and rows and rows of books I purchased before I started carrying them all in my pocket. I write, think, read, and prepare for the day.

I used to have at least a few hours in my office in the morning before I needed to get moving on the day. Now that we have three children, my morning time has diminished significantly. Our youngest, Ava, bounds out of bed at the first sound of activity so I try to sneak past her and usually manage to steal at least a half hour or so of quiet time before she peaks her head through my office door looking for a morning hug.

This morning Ava snuck into my office with an announcement: “I only have a few minutes here, because I have to go to work.”

Ava’s “office” is the closet of our refinished basement. I often see her tucked away in there with her Barbie activity laptop typing away for several minutes at a time. Curious, I thought I’d probe a bit. “Ava, what do you do when you work?”

She thought about it for a few seconds, eyes turned upward. “Well, I… I do things, and…” She paused again. “Well…I don’t know. They haven’t told me yet.”

So Ava, who spends perhaps hours a week nestled in a basement closet typing away on a non-responsive computer, is waiting for a non-existent manager to give her instructions about what to do in her fictional job.

This thing runs deep, people.

We all do lots of things as a function of our job. We have roles and responsibilities, tasks to check off, etc. But what do you do when you work? What are the things that you can uniquely do, that you shouldn’t have to wait for permission from anyone to knock out of the park? Are you doing those things, or are you waiting for someone to invite you to do them?

Seth Godin has written about not waiting for permission, and Steve Pressfield tells us to “do the work“, and we hear these things over and over again in the echo chambers of the web, but in the end it’s not what we know it’s what we do that matters. We can do a lot of work without ever really working. Call it avoidance. Call it fear. I call it abdicating your contribution. Robbing yourself, your co-workers, and (while we’re at it) all of the rest of us of the value you are uniquely wired to bring to the world.

So what do you do when you’re working? I mean flat-out, full-tilt, walking-on-the-edge-of-the-abyss working? We/I/they need you to do more of that. Get to it, please.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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