Finding the Payoff in Your Work

When I was a little kid I was always on the search for odd jobs. A couple times my Uncle Mike brought me to a warehouse he managed where they distributed VHS training videos in all sorts of subjects. One of the jobs I did there was to take huge boxes of VHS video tapes and stick stickers on the front of them before putting into other huge boxes. It was one of the greatest jobs I ever had.

The reason why: there was an immediate payoff (and maybe it’s related to singular focus).

I could see hour by hour, minute by minute the exact output of my work and set up little games to challenge myself to get better. If I did 2 boxes of video tapes the first hour, I would challenge myself to get 2.5 boxes done the next hour.

How many times do you get to the end of your day and think “what the hell did I do today?” Sure, you know you went through hundreds of emails and sat in hours of meetings and did SOMETHING today – you just have no idea what it was and there was no payoff at the end that lets you realize your impact. It usually after months and months of a large project to realize any payoff when it launches.

What would happen if you or the people on your team were absolutely clear, every day, about what the payoff was that you were working towards? How can you tie your daily actions to overall longer term goals?

Whatever you do, just please don’t set up some little system where you make the number of emails you send in a day or the total number of minutes you spend in a meeting any criteria for success.

Dealing With Random Senior Leader Requests

Have you ever received a request or task from someone higher up the leadership chain that, at first glance, seems to make absolutely no sense to you? Have no fear, everyone above you is much smarter than you and you should just shut up and get it done.

OK, hopefully you’re reading on to know that I’m joking. Let’s face it, those requests come every now and again and it’s important to think through how to deal with them. Here are a couple ways:

  • If it’s something with an incredibly short implementation time and has no impact on anything else long or short term, just do it. Much like the rules of GTD.
  • Ask probing questions. Try the ‘5 Whys’ trick to get an understanding of what you’re really being asked to do. Maybe you’ll develop an entirely different solution than the one being requested, or be able to better understand it and recommend something already in place. The other benefit is that with all of your questioning maybe the requestor will just get tired of answering the questions and cancel the request.
  • Hurry up and wait. Lots of time these requests are merely reactions to something urgent. Giving lots of attention immediately and outlining a plan lets the requestor know that you’ve heard him/her and respect the request. That being said, when you understand it, wait a little while before you actually do it. Sometimes (you’ll get better at understanding which ones are which) the request will actually go away and you’ll get a note that it’s not needed anymore.
  • Inform others up the chain of command. The more people you tell, the more people that will either back up the request or agree that it’s not necessary. If they agree it’s not necessary, without you telling them that of course, usually they’ll be the ones to go back to Senior Management. If enough people agree with the request it’s probably worthwhile.

Take a minute to think through these types of requests, just please don’t be a robot and do it because some senior leader asked. If they’re any good they’ll usually appreciate the fact that you thought it through first.