Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Finding Right Work and Making Work Right

This week's Procrastinating 101 post deals with Chapter 7 of Marshall Cook's Slow Down. . . and Get More Done, entitled "Do You Really Have to Hate Monday Morning?"  In this section of his book, Cook discusses the need to "make work right" and to "find right work."  In keeping with his overall focus on the quality of our lives, and of our working lives as well, Cook holds that the way we experience work is more important than how much we get done.  He opens with the example of two ditch diggers responding to a question about what they are doing.  The first answers sarcastically to the effect of "What does it look like I'm doing?  I'm digging a &*(^&%^%$ ditch!"  The second, putting his work in context, replies that he's helping to build a cathedral.

The second ditch digger illustrates how we can "make work right."  In addition to the way that we think about our work, the way we perform our work can also contribute to this endeavor.  Relevant to this is the Shakespeare quote on my calendar for yesterday:  "Things done well and with care exempt themselves from fear."  And, we might add, from alienation.

Alienation from work fuels stress, and is the flip side of overinvestment in work--what we have come to call "workaholism."  Cook acknowledges that many of us 

  • work weekends and holidays
  • have a hard time unwinding and taking a vacation
  • break dates and put off leisure activities to get more work done
  • have a hard time distinguishing between "work time" and "time off."

But he differentiates "happy hard-workers" from "those whose hard work actually impairs their ability to live full, happy and balanced lives."  He offers these questions to help us determine which label applies to our work mentality.

  • Do you ignore unmet needs and sacrifice relationships because of your work?
  • Do you family and friends suffer because of your work habits?
  • Do you resent the time spent working?
  • Does work leave you exhausted?
  • Could all that busyness at work be in some sense an escape from other responsibilities?

Cook goes on to discuss how each of us can find the work that is right for us.  Personal values, and balance between work and family are key.  He tells us that "Discernment and fulfillment come in four stages," which are "easy to list. . . .but aren't easy to do."  They are:

  1. Know who you are.
  2. Choose what is right and true for you to do with your life.
  3. Believe that you will be able to do it.
  4. Be willing to pay the price for your choices.

He urges us to
[f]ind work that matches your disposition, your aptitudes, your interests and your values.  Follow your inclinations and intuitions.  Heed the urgings of your heart.  Seek the right way--not the safe way, the easy way or the accepted way.

He concludes the chapter with this "5-step process for making work right and finding right work:"

  • See the big picture
  • Become constantly better at what you do
  • Look for and create opportunities
  • Make a plan
  • Do something every day to work toward fulfillment of your plan

All well and good.  But I have difficulty applying this outlook to my own life, working and otherwise.  I have something in common, perhaps with early hunters and gatherers, who, Cook tells us, "had no separate work for 'work,'" which "was more a natural part of the flow of the day."  I moved away from work addiction when I left "my brilliant career."  One seemed to necessitate the other, and neither felt congruent with the family life I wanted, especially as that family became more complicated and more demanding.  I do a lot of things that feel like work in a day, but much of it has been, for years, and continues to be what sociologists call "emotional work."  In my case, this has entailed caring for children and for elderly parents.  The things I've done for pay have been meaningful, but not radically different from other caring work and the volunteer work that has taken up a good deal of my time.  I am in the process of redefining what I consider "my work," to focus on the writing I always planned to do.  But I probably have more work to do on "making work right" than on "finding right work."

I'm working on it.


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