The lights are on (ii)

Last week, I wrote about a vexing problem for many knowledge workers: Disengagement from work. Sometimes, despite your most well-meaning efforts, you zone out from work because you have either failed to find value in what you do or the work no longer challenges you. If you currently find yourself in this scenario, all is not lost. There are some steps you can take to re-engage with what you do.

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The lights are on (i)

“Well I should have thought that being bored stiff for three quarters of the time was an excellent preparation for working life.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby (From Yes, Prime Minister)

No matter what line of work you are in, it is essential that you are able to see some value in what you do. Those who do not, quickly become disengaged. Disengaged workers aren’t productive. They come to work not because they want to but because they have to. They are more likely to show up and zone out. Someone I worked with once joked about team members who logged on to the weekly staff meeting, muted their mics and continued watching tv series. I find that a perfect working definition of a disengaged worker. For them, the weekly meeting had become something to be endured but not to be engaged with.

Broadly speaking, I’d say workers disengage because of two reasons:

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Work-life balance vs Work-life integration

For the longest time, personal productivity experts have advocated the achievement of work-life balance as the pinnacle of productivity. They argued that work should be treated as a separate space disconnected from personal life. The productive worker, they said, was one who completed their tasks for the day before closing time, clocked out and went home to spend time with their family. Work was not to be touched at home until they returned to the office the next day. This sharp separation of work and personal life was easier to achieve before the advent of the internet when workers were generally unreachable after office hours.

Stacked stones
Are your work and life in balance?
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What are you measuring: business or busyness?

In a famous scene from the 1999 Comedy, Office Space, Protagonist Peter Gibbons admits to two Management Consultants that in a given week, he only does about 15 minutes of actual work. It might be amusing to ponder why he hasn’t been fired but the truth is the average office worker can become quite skilled at appearing busy. If you have ever walked into a government office and were confronted by a Staff sitting behind a table covered with files, you probably have an idea what I mean. The files themselves might not have been touched in months but it gives the Staff an excuse to pull one of them and pretend to be reviewing some important detail anytime a visitor walks in.

Not busyness
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Work from home: yay or nay

The Pandemic changed the way we live and work. Companies made annual plans at the end of 2019 and ended up shelving them as governments around the world instituted lockdown policies that made the usual way of working impossible. Eventually, many had to explore new ways to deliver services. Work From Home (WFH) went from being a feel-good experiment that HR occasionally tried to a crucial element of organisational survival. Some industries fared better than others. Workers also responded differently to the new way of working. Some took to the new freedom like a fish to water. Others not so well.

There are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
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One hour each day

If you were to google “Personal productivity” right now, a recurrent topic that would come up would be time management. We all have the same 24 hours a day yet not everyone gets the same returns from their 24 hours. This is because time management is actually a misnomer. You can’t manage time. It’s always there and it’s always flowing even if you aren’t doing anything. What you can manage are tasks and by extension, your priority.

Time never stops
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Know who you are

The first week of February is here. By now, the majority of people who made New Years’ Resolutions have given up on them. If you are a regular at your local gym, you probably saw a lot more people having a go at the machines during the first week of the year only for the numbers to slowly dwindle down to the regulars by the end of the month.

The same water that softens the potato hardens the egg

Unknown
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Smart work pays. Hard work does too

Some time ago, I had a WhatsApp conversation with a colleague on the merits of hard work vs smart work. Which is more likely to lead an individual to wealth? Hard work and smart work are terms that are quite difficult to define. When people say hard work, are they referring to back-breaking labour or to the act of working 8 hours a day? Similarly, what does smart work mean. I know someone who considers smart work to be only work done by Programmers. Going by his definition, most of us don’t do smart work. Which of the two kinds of work do you need to succeed?

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Dead-line

I once heard an amusing story about a company won the bid to create a new IT system for a Government Department. When the Company finished the job, they ran into an unexpected problem. The Government Department, having gotten used to Companies asking for extensions to project deadlines, had assumed this one wouldn’t be any different. As such, a team hadn’t been put together for the Company to hand over the project to.

When did you get started?
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Control your anger

When did you last feel angry at work? Perhaps it was at a colleague who wasn’t doing their share of the team project. Or your boss for being unfair to you? Did you miss out on an expected emotion? Or a vendor who wouldn’t accept responsibility for a poorly delivered service riled you up? It might have been a subordinate who should know better but never does?

Anger is a necessary human emotion. One that should not be repressed. Yet, you can’t allow your anger to define how you react to situations. If you throw a mug of hot tea at a co-worker or throw the vendor out the window, you could get in plenty of trouble that could damage your career. It’s even more important to control how you direct anger towards subordinates. No one likes to work for a boss who publicly humiliates them and disrespects them at the slightest opportunity.

Don’t turn into this
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