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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Palmer

Work Worth Doing

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

Work Worth Doing.  There is so much work to do: at work, at home, in society, and in our communities.  It is sometimes hard to distinguish work from the work worth doing.  What is worthy of your time?  Where do you have unique talents or capabilities whereby you are best suited to do the work?  What is the return on the time spent?  What is the opportunity cost of choosing one task over another?

In order to determine what work is worth doing, it is important to first understand that time is the only thing you can’t make more of. 

Here are 3 questions to ask when you are choosing how to spend your precious time:

1. Where do you have a unique talent or capability?  In the workplace, this translates into what is expected of you by your stakeholders, your job description, or salary grade.  Just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.  At your level in the organization, is the ask or task within your purview, or should it be assigned to someone else with your oversight?  Should you outline the strategic vision and provide guidance, but delegate the execution to another person or team?  

The same is true at home.  For safety reasons, you may be the only person who can cook the meal, but even young children can set a table, pick up toys or throw clothes into a hamper. What is worthy of your time and what is the work worth doing?

2. What is the return on the time you spend on a task?  In most cases it is an either/or proposition:  you can either do A or B because you only have so much time.  You can either finish this work project or make dinner in time to eat as a family at 7. In that equation, only you can finish the work, but maybe you have a partner, teenager, or your old friend Door Dash who can accomplish the dinner task.  What is the work worth doing?

3. What is the opportunity cost of choosing one task over another?  For every to-do that you work on, there is a to-do that you don’t.  ‘Busy’ is only a function of choice and prioritization.  When a friend asks if you can meet for dinner or Zoom happy hour, you have a choice to prioritize that opportunity or another.  Working late to finish a deliverable or get ahead, another social event, time with your kids, sitting quietly decompressing, exercise – when you say you can’t, it is because you have chosen something else; you have prioritized one opportunity over another.

In the office, when you have deliverables on your list and someone asks for you to work on another task, you should align on the opportunity cost of staying the path or pivoting to the new ask.  Perhaps the new is in an area you are interested in exploring or have a certain expertise.  The project you are on may be high profile or on deadline.  It is important to understand the tradeoff of our choices in order to determine the work worth doing.

And the work worth doing is also a function of time.  Is there an immediacy to one choice over another or the ability to tackle something now in order to have time later for something bigger and more fulfilling?    Does tending to your children’s needs now get them in bed on time so you can do something for yourself later?  If you can finish a few of the smaller items on your to-do list tonight, will that free up headspace to focus on a larger task, make you more productive or afford you a day off tomorrow.  

In the end, there is plenty of work to be done, but how much, in what priority and by whom are the questions to be asking.  Does delegating to another create opportunity for them:  exposure to different co-workers or clients, an expansion of their skills, an opportunity to build trust.  Does that in turn create opportunities for you to take on something new or get to the work that is worth your time or talents.

At each juncture, the question is the same:  Is this work worth doing?

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