1. As it Comes
You do work as it comes in. A customer calls, you answer. An email comes in, you take care of it. Someone texts you, you text back.
Working as things come is very easy. Other people dictate what you need to do and you comply. At the end of the day, you cleared out all the little red badges on your phone. Your voicemail box is empty. You feel useful to others because you answered their needs.
There is no schedule, no to-do list, no deadlines except the ones imposed by others. You clock out when it’s time to head home.
The trouble with working this way is that by the end of the day, nothing remotely resembling actual work has happened–or at least work that has lasting impact. This type of work strictly benefits others. That’s fine if you work in a call center or Accounts Payable, or are a stay at home mom. It is not fine if you wish to create something else.
2. Daily To Do List
For people who wish to accomplish meaningful work and keep the paycheck rolling, there is the to do list. You have things to get done that benefit both others and yourself and you check them off as you are able. If there is a moment of lull time, you use that lull to work on your big contribution projects. At the same time, you satisfy other’s needs as they come in. You never get bored because every half hour, you are working on something different than the previous hour.
This style of working is dominated by the to-do list, the calendar, and the schedule. You regiment every moment of your time to fit it all in as if you are a punch-switch robot with enough quarters to keep you going all day.
The trouble with working this way is that other people never stop having needs and their needs are the most attractive form of procrastination. Let’s not forget that your own physical/emotional needs also need to be met as well. Meetings go long, headaches form, trains are late and before you know it, you’ve done two things all day and you are exhausted and discouraged. Your carefully planned OCD calendar is in tatters. It mocks you.
3. Oxygen Mask Mode
A third way to work is to isolate yourself during your most productive hours. Stay up well past everyone’s bedtimes. Refuse to check email before noon. Don’t answer that text from your mother until after work. Turn your phone and wifi off and get the thing done. The needs of the world come only after you have shipped.
This is akin to putting your own oxygen mask on first.
Working this way takes a lot of courage. We are always afraid of the repercussions of going dark. What if there’s an emergency? What if I don’t get back to the customer and they take their business elsewhere? What if I piss off my boss? What of someone walks away?
When we do work that matters to us we risk being labelled as “selfish.”
If we constantly take care of other we risk being labelled as “without ambition.”
If we are always breaking promises to ourselves via our to-do lists, we disappoint ourselves.
In the end, we have to choose.
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